It feels like the beginning of a dystopian movie. I step out onto the street, cart in hand, ready to pick up groceries for the apartment like I typically do. People are strolling by with bags, masks on, and gloves covering their hands. They keep to themselves. We make eye contact and nod over the social distance between us. Some of them don't have anything on, but they stare warily as I pass through.
Life seems normal. But deep down, I know everyone is freaking out. The stores I used to frequent are now shut down, their gates pulled down over the front, with signs hastily taped up saying 'Closed until further notice. Sorry for the inconvenience. Stay safe.' They're everywhere, like a picture out of the history books. My friends and I had joked about the decade being the roaring 20s but forgotten about the outbreaks of the influenza virus pandemic right before the 20s began, the Great Depression, and the long faces. History seems to be repeating itself, this time with different characters in similar scenarios.
The supermarkets have lines out the door with a security guard only letting one person in at a time. He stares at me with beady eyes before letting me in. Before the doors close behind me, I hear him tell everyone to go home and that the store is closed for the day.
There's not much I can get except snacks and junk food, but I don't get them because they aren't filling. The shelves are empty of things I need. No flour, canned food, pasta, meat, heck, even the produce aisle looks a little sad with its bareness. The other customers in the store are speed-walking as if racing for the items they hope might still be left in some forgotten corner or harassing the grocery store attendants for supplies that the store doesn't have.
The security guards patrol the aisles for people taking more than they should, but even still, it's not enough to prevent them from trying to take everything for themselves. Some people get by with taking an extra roll of paper towel, and others get by with stockpiling multiples of toilet paper spread out through other family members that came with them – just so they can simultaneously follow and break the rule of 'one per customer.'
Money is getting tight, and most people living in my apartment are not working except for one of my roommates, who has the luxury of working from home. They've agreed to pay for most things since the other roommate, and I don't have any form of income. Still, it's too much stress to put on any one person; To make enough money for two grown adults in addition to themselves.
I've been personally furloughed since the owner shut down the restaurant where I worked as a waitress. The managers have spoken to me and told me to get unemployment. I've filled out the forms and hit roadblock after roadblock. NYS Department of Labor tells me to call them to further the process. I called, but the line was busy. I tried again the next day, but the line didn't even ring. This back and forth went on for the next few days before I gave up. My only hope is that they process the application anyway, and a check is on its way to me. But I can't depend on uncertainty to pay for things.
I've only got a bit of emergency cash saved, and it's stressful having to wonder where my next income is coming from. My landlady has yet to mention freezing the rent, but she also hasn't told us to get out. That is the silver lining, I guess. My roommate talks about going home and that we should go to Maine to live with him in his family's spare apartment.
Even then, I still have no way of working. No one is hiring, and the unemployment office is not working with me. I can't even contact them to speak with someone. Like, seriously?
I've applied for multiple grants to get one-time checks of $500. It's not much, but it's more than what I've been getting. I've heard back from some – who say they're overwhelmed and don't have the funding to send anymore – another dead end. Others say to apply again in another week or after a few days. How many loops do I have to jump through?
My college professors still expect us to attend class, but how can I? I'm spending most of my waking hours researching and applying for so many funds in hopes that something will come my way. I try only to realize how unrealistic it is for some people. College students who are living with their families don't have to worry about losing their homes or paying bills as much, if at all. Their parents cook for them, provide shelter, and bring in whatever income they can for supplies. The students can hang out with their friends, meet over Xbox, or go to the local parks despite the 'stay at home' ordinance. Sometimes I see them, no masks, gloves, or 6 feet of social distance. How is that safe?
On the other hand, my roommates and I have to worry about making rent payments on time in hopes that the landlady doesn't evict us. The housing authorities have said she couldn't kick us out, but it would sure make living with her hostile and uncomfortable. What about the groceries? I'm the only one willing to go outside to get the supplies, but with everyone else wiping the shelves clean, I'm struggling to find even scraps.
Everyone is becoming vegetarian in my apartment – not by choice, but because vegetables and fruits are all I can get at times. Other times we eat canned foods and pasta with just marinara sauce. On other days, we silently agree to have only one meal a day when we open the fridge and see how empty it's becoming. But I guess we're fortunate because we still have food.
When my roommate brings up Maine again, the idea seems more appealing. There are no cases in the town that his family lives in, and there are tons of fresh produce and supplies – plenty of room to move around if we get tired of each other. Then comes the urgent message: "We have to go soon because they'll shut the borders any minute. Then we are stuck here for however long this last."
My parents live in the south, and they're telling me to stay put in New York City instead of trying to get to them. Traveling would expose me to the buses, the subways, the airports or trains, and the people who are driving me around. Too much risk of exposure. Too much risk and too much stress for them and me. They're getting older, and I'd never forgive myself if I brought the virus to them.
Overnight, I decide, perhaps it's best to go to Maine and get out of the city for a bit until it calms down. In the meantime, save money. It's a financial decision, I tell myself; rent is much cheaper. $600 for a two-bedroom apartment, and we split it three ways. $200 a person. I have enough emergency cash to cover for a few months and enough to pitch in on a moving truck.
But if I'm being honest with myself, it's a lot of things. Financial decisions aside, I wouldn't have to worry about contracting the virus every time I walk out or touch a surface, I wouldn't have to stress about trying to find the supplies I need because it's abundant there, and worst case scenario, they'll teach me how to hunt, raise animals, or grow food.
So, I guess, to Maine we go to wait out the apocalypse.
Hello Maine...I guess