I have never been in jail. Nor do I know anyone else who has. Nor have I worked with the incarcerated, although it is possible some of the kids I taught in high school ended up in prison. Aside from reading countless books, watching too many movies and binging countless series that involve prisoners and the abuses of our penal system, the closest I can come to feeling imprisoned is how the pandemic impacted my freedom starting in March, 2020.
The closest I can come to feeling imprisoned is how the pandemic impacted my freedom starting in March, 2020.
COVID changed my life, and I remember the exact moment I realized I would no longer be free to do as I liked. We had just purchased a condo were in Indianapolis for our grandkids’ swim meet in late February, 2020. It was hot, humid, and crowded in the bleachers, with people screaming encouragement to their swimmers. As we left the pool area, my grandson said, “Gramma, don’t push that door open with your hands. Use your elbow.” He had learned that at school to avoid illness, but I felt like he was a prophet of what was to come.
Of course, by March life as I knew it changed drastically. We purchased a condo in February and put our house on the market. Great timing. As our yearlong sentence to isolation in pandemic prison began, we were busy cleaning out 45 years worth of “stuff” — lots of things tossed after taking photos of them. Still, there was much to donate, but no place open to receive things. We created a mountain in our basement, hoping that Goodwill would open its doors soon (eventually they did). In those early days when we knew nothing about how COVID-19 was transmitted, no one wanted to touch anything. We stayed away from our friends, kids, and grandkids, but we were really busy preparing for our move.
In April, disaster struck. A pipe burst, resulting in a flood that forced us to let strangers into our house, many unmasked. In addition to the flood restoration team, we had to hire floor finishers and carpenters. I remember hiding as far from them as possible, terrified that my husband or I could end up hospitalized with COVID and on a ventilator. At the time, we were wearing surgical gloves and masks made from bandanas and doing all of our grocery shopping online. Of course, no one was coming to see our house and we were set to move May 15.
As Jefferson asked at the beginning of Act II of Hamilton, “What did I miss?” My granddaughter’s prom, which was “virtual.” My other granddaughter’s middle school graduation, which didn’t happen. Two of my grandson’s June birthdays. We were isolated and now consigned to hard labor, unpacking and setting up the condo. In retrospect, this was a good thing as it kept us busy for a month. We were still washing our delivered groceries, leaving mail unopened for three days, wearing surgical gloves to use the building elevators, and meeting our across-the-hall neighbors by propping our doors open and talking through the cloth masks everyone was buying that promised to be safe. We voted by mail for the first time and had our first ever two-person Thanksgiving. Aside from finally selling our house (for much less than we had hoped), it was a pretty bleak time.
Before the cold weather set in, we were able to visit with our in-town daughter’s family, masked and wearing winter gear, on their porch and in their backyard. On January 25, 2021, I got my first COVID jab after waiting in a long line at the Civic Center. The other thing that helped to mitigate our prison sentence was Zoom. I could now connect with my close friends and even reconnected with one I hadn’t seen in decades because we had moved to different parts of the country some 40 years ago. We zoomed our grandkids and siblings. We took classes over zoom. Our second lifeline during this time in pandemic prison was streaming. Who knew there was so much good stuff out there? Our favorite was an Australian series, Off-Spring, seven seasons about the antics of a Melbourne obstetrician and her chaotic family and personal life. She is funny and engaging and the series (still on Netflix) is both charming and moving. We also read more books than ever, and I continued to write.
Finally, parole was granted as booster shots and N-95 masks made it safe to venture out of our year of isolation and fear. As we cautiously stepped back into an altered version of normalcy, years two and three of the pandemic brought increasing freedom. This past summer, we only masked in large gatherings and returned to restaurants. We saw family and friends mask-free. I was shocked by how much our out-of-town grandchildren, whom we barely saw during our year in prison and two more on parole, had grown. All but one tower over me now.
But COVID keeps evolving and lately I hear of many who are sick. As I sign up for my seventh jab, I hope not to be returned to Pandemic Prison. The time of isolation and fear changed me. Life is slower now. I have learned to treasure the time I spend with family and friends. I don’t mind having to be a bit more careful, but I hate the element of fear that is seeping back into my life.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.