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Love In The Time of COVID19

I woke up at 5a this morning to go to Walmart to buy toilet paper. I had looked up online that they would open at 6a. I got there at 6:15 and the toilet paper shelving was bare and the place was as crowded as a Saturday afternoon. I had to leave. I drove to Food4Less and they weren't open. I drove around for a while 'til I was nearly out of gas looking for a store selling toilet paper. I could feel a low-grade panic attack creep up my spine and I felt that familiar urge to cry. How was I going to do something so simple and ordinary as wipe my @$$?

When I got some gas finally, there wasn't even any TP in the gas market. The weight of what was happening in my country, America which I love so much, finally hit me. Cars drove around in the early morning streets like usual but inside them were people desperate to buy things, essential things, things we took for granted until now. Was the guy who pulled up behind me in the gas station on the same trek for personal essentials as I was? When I crossed over the interstate I turned and looked in the direction of the usual morning rush-hour and instead of a nearly unbroken stream of red taillights, I saw a smattering of cars like the first droplets of rain that beget the hurricane to come.

Wondering, with a pit in my stomach, how far or how long this would go, I pulled into the Smart&Final by my house. They would be opening soon, but they had a sign on the front that said they had no toilet paper. How was I going to take care of my most basic needs? Is this what it was like in the Soviet Union in 1982 when the world laughed at them for not being able to have even toilet paper for its people? Lines for bread that stretched for blocks?

Turning my 4runner over, I backed out and decided to give up; go home and use what little toilet paper was left 'til all I had was the empty core. My panic faded as I drifted into a floating sense of bewilderment. In a last ditch effort I pulled into the Vons parking lot, even though I had written them off as absolutely not having any toilet paper. I parked. As I got out, I saw a woman carrying a big pack of toilet paper under her arm.

"Did you get that there," I asked her, jutting my chin at the Vons store front.

"Yes," she replied, her eyes the color of the blue packaging, "but I don't think there's any left." Her voice belied that she too had been one of us anxiously driving about. "They're only letting in a few people at a time and there were only like twenty packs."

"You're fucking kidding me," I said, anger and dismay and that floatiness still swirling inside me.

"Do you need some?" she asked.

"I could get by a day or so," I lied, but working with children as long as I have, you get used to lying so that others don't feel awkward.

"I could give you some," she said, a strange bewilderment in her eye that seemed to say 'what have we come to?'

"I can pay you," I said, implicitly reflecting her inner thoughts that somehow we had all slipped through a Soviet-era looking glass.

"No, that's alright," she said starting to tear open her package, "I felt really bad buying this much. I don't need this much. Here, take four."

We exchanged thanks and paper products respectively and I wanted to hug her, but I couldn't even do this for fear of violating the norms of our New World. All I could say was, "God bless you" and drive away with a prayer for her unlimited good on my lips and in my heart.

(Published elsewhere with the title The Gift of the Magi, but I decided to stop spoofing O.Henry and start spoofing Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And 100 Days of Solitude is most likely the next title in my short, short stories series.)