By Annie Louise Twitchell
Author’s note: my best friend says this requires a tissue warning. Mom, you’d better listen.
These are fictional snapshots, but many are based on the stories I have heard from my communities over the last fifteen months. While I am a journalist, this is not journalism writing; this began as a way for me to let go of some of the stories I have carried in my heart for so long, but the stories are not mine to keep and I think it is time to share them.
The child is nestled underneath a heap of blankets in the corner of the couch, peering through the screen at her classmates she cannot join. Learning this way feels distant and disconnected but she tries anyway because Mom needs her to try.
Mom keeps calling Gram, as often as she can, but she can’t always get through. She used to visit every week and now they drive by the nursing home and wave out the car windows, knowing deep down that Gram can’t see them. Mom can’t stop crying. The child wonders if she will ever stop, and loses track of the lesson once again.
He pulls a covering up over his mouth and nose before climbing out of the cruiser and approaching the house. Another call. Another isolated and hurting individual.
He knocks on the door and the weary man shuffles to open it, dressed in a worn flannel robe. They stand in the in-between space created by the doorway and they talk — it seems like hours — until the man decides he does need help. He shuffles back inside and comes back with his shoes in one hand and a blank expression on his face.
“There’s no one here to tell where I’m going,” he mumbles, seeming lost and small. “There’s no one here.”
“I’m here,” the officer says in a quiet voice. “It’s going to be okay.”
The baby won’t stop screaming. There’s no more formula on the shelves and she’s hungry. The young mother feels ready to give up, sit down, and scream along with the baby. She takes a jug of milk to the checkout line and waits, six feet away from the next person.
A pair of bright eyes smile over a colorful floral mask as the older woman takes four cans of formula from her cart — already bought and paid for — and holds them out. “Here, sweetie,” she says. “I think you need it more than I do.”
She hasn’t hugged her husband or children in weeks. She works in the hospital with patients on ventilators and she lives in the in-law apartment over the garage. On her days off she sleeps, wishing she could forgot how much her patients are suffering. Wishing she could bring them back. Wishing it was different.
He fought overseas and now he’s fighting here at home, but this time his weapon is an N95 mask and a thousand crates of gloves and gowns and hand sanitizer, and his enemy is a microscopic virus.
He’s dropping off the last shipment of the day at a rural fire station. In the mountains, they’re the frontline defense. They’re the first ones on call and they need to have protection.
He meets the chief and they exchange a handful of sentences as they unload the truck, but mostly they let the silence fill the spaces between them. There is so much to say that it’s better to say nothing.
“Thank you,” the chief says as the soldier prepares to leave. “Drive safe.”
The soldier nods to him and climbs back into the truck. Everything that needed to be said has now been said.
She spends hours among the shelves, more time than her salary compensates for, but it’s better than sitting at home. She fills dozens of bags a week with a hand-picked selection of books for the people who would normally flood the library. She needs this as much as they do.
The dirt road is impassable with the school bus, but he has a few minutes extra in the schedule, so he parks at the bottom of the hill and carries the box of food through the mud to the house perched on top. The kids run to the door, screaming happily, and he sets the box on the porch. They’re tearing into the bags before he’s gone a hundred feet back towards the bus and a smile breaks out on his face.
She was laid off and the company only paid two weeks’ wages; not enough to make up for the loss of her husband’s income and not enough to pay for his cancer treatments, which are harder than ever now. She’s pinching pennies and counting dollars and praying that they can make it through until some form of relief comes through.
The cafe was their dream. When the people left, so did the money, and now they’re standing in the middle of their space making the hardest decision of their life: to try and stay afloat, or to fold. They don’t have many options and in a few weeks the virus has killed their dreams and crushed their hopes.
She’s been recovering from the abusive relationship and slowly learning to trust people again, and now she’s thrust back into a world of isolation and fear. It’s so hard not to let it drown her. It’s so hard not to give up. It’s so hard…
They’ve been bouncing around from home to home for years. She’s stubborn and overprotective, he’s autistic and nonverbal. They have to leave another home but there’s nowhere for them to go now.
This time it really does seem hopeless.
He’s tucked away in the office late almost every night, tracking the case counts and outbreaks and research, and trying to get the information out there. People want to know. People need to know.
She’s going mad, stuck at home all the time, but the boys are at very high risk and she can’t put them in danger. She can’t. She tries to stay connected through Facebook and phone calls but it’s not the same. The boys, too, are restless and hurting. They’re rays of sunshine; they’re not made to be cooped up in a box.
Normally he’d hang out with kiddos at school, watch their sports games, read books in class, join them for a game at recess, but he can’t right now so instead he answers every call for a birthday parade that he can, and does his best to give the kids a good day even in the middle of a sea of bad days.
He doesn’t know how to help. He’s not much good at talking on the phone and he doesn’t have much money to give, but he has time and tools and his hands, and he builds a mini food pantry and watches with quiet pride as the community pours in to fill it.
They’re here. They’ve been holding onto each other with everything they have and they’ve been fighting for each other every moment of the way.
The loss and grief will color their souls forever and they will remember what it felt like to be so alone and so powerless, but they will also remember the tiny sparks of light and the warmth of a smile and the knowledge that they are stronger together.
They are humanity.
They are us.
One Reply to “Pandemic Portraits”
Awesome writing. Although these aren’t my stories, many people I know went through similar situations. Our story is fairly “ normal”normal. We had very trying times but the biggest thing for me was being hearing impaired and not being able to read lips. It was very isolating. To be around others but not being with them because I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Keep collecting these types of stories. Their importance grows every day, month and year. I’m the future, people will understand better what’s happened.