IWAS SITTING AT THE ORLANDO AIRPORT on March 9, waiting for my flight back to Canada. Normally I would be on the alert for the funny bits on offer at Disney World’s global gateway—poking fun at parents herding their flocks of tired or hyper kids; at the man in front of me at security, whose foot odour, when his shoes came off, made me and the rest of the line want to retch; at the four-dollar Mickey Mouse pen I was forced to buy because I couldn’t find a writing utensil in my over-stuffed purse; at the couple with the stroller who almost ran me over as they raced to their gate. (Actually, I’ve made that dash enough times that I inwardly cheered as they made it just in time, the doors closing behind them with a chunky clunk as they jogged down the jetway.)
Funny bits there were, but not enough to make a meal. Having arrived a full eight hours before my flight, I had time to absorb my surroundings in the context of the day. It was ominously subdued. Little did we know that, a few days later, President Trump would restrict most travel into the United States, and that within two weeks Canada and the US would close their borders to each other. We would learn that schools would not open for at least two weeks beyond March Break. The kids would be thrilled with their luck. Parents, not so much.
There was calm in the terminal as everyone went about their business, the soothing sound of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 piped through the P.A., relaxing travellers on a subconscious level. I felt as if I were in a movie, the only character who knew that catastrophe was coming, and I had to get home to my kids as fast as possible. I felt that at any second an announcement would be made that all flights were cancelled, and chaos would ensue as the masses abandoned their bags and raced towards hotels and rental cars, trying to reserve anything through their phone apps as they ran, dragging their children and trampling the weakest of the herd.
Even though there was little outward talk about the impending outbreak, the contrast between some travellers wearing surgical masks and others wearing mouse ears —some within the same family—demonstrated that people were alert to the threat.
My mind had plenty of time to play this all out, what with my eight hours on ice. My ride to the airport necessitated the extra-early arrival, because my husband dropped me off in an attempt to get out of Dodge early, instead of staying on for four more days as planned. His new flight left before mine from a different airport and so instead of arriving four days after me, he arrived four hours before me. He had a premonition that things were about to spiral out of control, and thank goodness he did.
Oddly, around me, no one seemed to be talking about the virus, possibly because, like me, they were focused on the task at hand (getting home), and also, like me, wondering whether or not they had enough toilet paper once they got there (recollection fuzzy).
I knew this TP and hand sanitizer hysteria was going on, and I knew it would be okay in the end, but it was too early to find the humour in it. My usual gauge is to wait until Saturday Night Live breaks the politically correct timing barrier. But there’s no Saturday Night Live, or any late night comedy, to guide my appropriateness these days.
Once I boarded the plane I found it to be incredibly dry, making me want to cough. Trying not cough when you need to cough to makes you look like you need to throw up instead, so before some ungodly hybrid gag escaped I took a healthy slug from my water bottle, thus averting mayhem and an aborted flight. Understandably, sensitivity runs high these days.
We returned home well in advance of the self-isolation announcement, and so once on the ground my husband went looking for toilet paper. After three attempts, he found a store which still had some in stock and paid an exorbitant amount for it. I should mention the name of the store because it disgusts me that they would gouge their customers in a time of need. I won’t, because I still live here, but shame on them.
Now I’m at home on Day Five of March Break with three kids and no plans, which under normal circumstances would be cause for an anxiety attack. But these circumstances are anything but normal. We have contained ourselves to our own nuclear family and we’re getting on fine because what choice do we have? We do have an isolation rule whereby if someone needs to get away for a while, we respect their decision and grant them space.
Socializing is done through emails, phone calls, texts, and social media. I’m catching up on some long overdue communications with friends and family, and I’ve cleaned my fridge, which may not have happened until we next moved, so that’s a bonus. We’ve rummaged through the basement and found every board game we own, as well as a 1000-piece Where’s Waldo puzzle, which we’ll probably complete in just a couple of hours given our numbers and competitive drive. Netflix fills several hours a day. We live near a park, so at least the boys can run and kick a ball around, otherwise I’d lose my mind. I’ve also installed a meditation app on my phone, in case I need to be talked down from a ledge.
I’m optimistic that Canada will not end up like those countries that are in lockdown, heavily policed and ready to fine anyone on the street without the proper documentation. Canadians will not allow that to happen.
Now is not the time to criticize the timing of how our government reacted to this pandemic. Now is the time to look forward and act responsibly. We’re not perfect, but as a country, as a province, a city, a town, and a neighbour, we look after each other. And we’ll get through this.
So hang in there, and if you’re feeling a little squirrely, throw on some Mozart—I’ve become a fan. ♦
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