I am sitting at my desk after work, fingers lingering idly somewhere near the keyboard, thinking that now is a good time to be writing fiction about killer flus and viral pandemics, when I can look out my window and see not how it might go, but how it is. It’s a cynical thought and callous, too, viewing a worldwide health crisis as mere meat for my stew, as realistic flavor for my otherwise contrived and formulaic prose.
And, then the power goes out…
In the middle of a pandemic? Really? Really?
The TV is out, the refrigerator, too. My laptop is plugged in but I turn it off, saving the battery for later, when I might need it. The phones are charged but, ditto. I don’t want to use them unless I need to.
I can’t wash clothes, make coffee, toast a bagel, or run a space heater, and it’s a little chilly. I’m stuck, sitting in the living room, natural light softly beaming through alabaster window blinds, waiting for the power to return so I can return to writing without using up what little energy I have, so I can resume my First World 21st century life in self-isolation. And, I’m beginning to get angry.
In the middle of a pandemic. In the middle of a pandemic that has most of the people in this country locked indoors with only their televisions sets, video games, computers, and each other for company.
The powers that be have done a very good job of keeping most Americans from feeling a fraction of the full weight of this pandemic. One thing that is certain to make you aware that the threat of death and societal collapse is just one or two bad days or decisions away is the loss of electricity. So, for the power to go down indefinitely (according to the electric company customer service rep), well, that is forcing me to consider how much worse this would be if we lost electricity, how wild we…
And, then, then…
This is it. This is more like it. This is more like what a pandemic would be, how it would feel. Let me get my notebook.
Oh, yes. Streets empty, self-isolation, palpable feeling of fear and denial in the air, power out, face masks and toilet tissue at a premium, and…
McDonald’s is still open.
Grubhub is offering free delivery for orders over thirty dollars for select restaurants.
Is this how the world ends?
In all of the end-of-the-world scenarios I have read (or even a worldwide pandemic), no one ever envisioned it being like this, with people ordering organic produce and craft beers from Whole Foods and pulling up to the curb at P. F. Chang after work for hand-folded crab wontons and and crispy honey shrimp.
This isn’t the Lord of the Flies Anarchy vs. Order that we were promised. It isn’t the chaotic, panic-fueled nightmare we feared it could be. This pandemic has been marked by acceptance and obedience, by self-isolation and convenience (for some). It is civilized and restrained…as long as They keep the lights on and food on the shelves.
Maybe that’s why life, the world, my neighborhood feels so surreal. The COVID-19 pandemic defies our imaginations. It has made a lie out of every fictional representation.
A real pandemic shuts the world down and leaves us quietly shaken behind our locked doors.