I went to the store today. The process of going to the store right now, obviously, sucks; and while I could probably treat it more casually than I do, I treat it like an undertaking, a production. I get up early, to be there before other people start showing up. I wear a mask, gloves.When I get back I shuck off all the clothes I wore and immediately wash them, and immediately shower to decontaminate.
But of course I’m not fully decontaminated. Unsurprisingly, the ravenous detail-hunger of the obsessive compulsive mind proliferates anxieties in the face of the invisibility, multiplicity, and final irreradicability of germs and contaminants. The lack of a discernible end to the possibility of cleaning surfaces and one’s self means that the avenue of Further Action with regards to cleaning stretches out, in a very real way, into eternity. Even when you do pull yourself away from the compulsion to clean that unsolvableness rankles in the mind like a canker.
So shopping is a stressful, complicated experience. But this morning, in the face of all the complication and worry, as I was pushing my cart past the aisles, I looked at a small marquee for a beauty product. It was near the endcap of an aisle, glinting blandly in the flat flourescent store lights. The marquee itself was made of cardstock, and it was slotted into an acrylic stand or holder; the store’s flat bland fluorescent lights turned the acrylic white at the edges, and also I could see the whorls of fingerprints left in oil on its surface.
And there was a caesura in the turbulence, where I felt a strange peace inside: the kind of peace that wants to reach out and touch other things and that is almost a kind of love. I wanted to open my heart and spill the encompassing light inside it into this ragged unplace, this slice of mundanity crumbling under the new strangeness of the pandemic.
The feeling passed. I locked back into the grim business of COVID shopping, following the markers indicating which direction to entire the aisles from, and gliding in the strange silence of the uncrowded store, punctuated mostly by the loudspeaker’s automated and criminally serene refrains.
In general, something has been taken from me and I’m not sure if it will ever come back. This disaster has recolored massively the nature of my engagement with my surroundings.
The almost comforting symbolisms I used to see around Streetsboro aren’t there anymore. Like the Giant Eagle parking lot, for instance, always felt like an apocalypse and desolate to me. Daylight would fall onto its cracked asphalt, white and bland like florescents, and there would be miniature suns reflected blearily from the hoods of every dirt- or salt-stained car. More pleasantly when I walked back to my car on an evening errand I liked to watch the sun set into a bank of thin summer clouds, making them lavender and ruinous, and turning pale yellow itself like a coin of soft gold.
All across Streetsboro there were correspondences like this. All of the places I regularly visited had their particular emotions, their themes, their personal evocations. And these evocations changed over time too, or in different seasons or weathers, or even different times of day. And while they were of me, they didn’t give me a sense of ownership over any of these places. Nor did they bring me any closer to Streetsboro as a place. I don’t love it and never will (how could I?). But they provided loci, some way to ground the processes of thought in an actual place and, if not enact revenge on Streetsboro for its terminal ugliness, than at least flout that ugliness by finding some kind of meaning or possibility of meaning in it. They were an integral context.
But now, all these reliable evocations seem not present. Driving to and back from the store, there was nothing there; Streetsboro, as I normally conceived and interacted with it before the pandemic, wasn’t there. I drove through the town as if through a cardboard set. The construction workers on 43 looked like actors, out merely for my benefit. The sun was flat and hidden behind flat clouds. The parking lot looked plasticene, fake. The cars were all rentals from a massive lot in some glittering distant metropolis where the business of illusion is conducted. Barriers rose up and everything was inaccessible and unsignalling.
And so the pandemic’s dragging loss deepens. I think it’s important to make a note of this because, in another way, we’re all acclimatizing to this existence – on some superficial mental level, at least. Nothing feels normal, nothing is normal, but, lost in the practical, boring billion details of the day (of any day), my mind assumes a superficial normality, putting a distance between it and the alienation and violent internal sorrow of our situation. Unable to mend, fatigued by the constant confrontation with real catastrophe, I let in a kind of pragmatic blandness, a morphine but also, if taken uncarefully, a definite neurotoxin. And maybe, now that I think of it, this is why those old connections aren’t firing in the world around me.
When I got back, I put away the groceries, shucked off my clothes and put them in the wash, showered meticulously to decontaminate, and then lay down until I fell asleep. I slept one of those heavy, obliterating sleeps that, even if they only last for an hour or so, cause you to wake up with no recollection of who or what you are, as blank as an infant.