Author’s note: These are unprecedented and anxious times. We feel alone and isolated. It’s important to take the spread of Covid-19 seriously. It’s imperative that we do our part by staying home. It’s also important to seek joy and show kindness to others. I offer you this small bit of levity today.
Per the shelter-in-place orders, we’ve settled at the family cabin. It’s quiet and calming when we’re on each other’s nerves, and when the kids need a break from online schooling, they can go into the woods. It’s inevitable that we need things from civilization, though, so we’re grateful for curbside service at the Public Market and Jebbia’s and for meal delivery from local restaurants.
In addition to supply runs, which we make as infrequently as possible, we also order from online retailers like Chewy and Amazon. Granted, they’re running a little low. Now is not the time to request free, two-day shipping on frivolities, so that monkey-shaped potato peeler is going to have to wait. They’ve asked customers to be patient and let them prioritize necessities.
Americans apparently consider bidet attachments to be necessities, because they are selling out. I’d been considering one for months before the outbreak; now, it appears I missed my chance. All of the models under $500 were snatched up in the great Bath Tissue Run of 2020. I did, however, need an actual necessity last week — a tube of antibiotic ointment. Rather than risk exposing myself and others in the store, I placed an order on Amazon. It felt oddly exciting to enter the cabin’s address for delivery. We’ve never had anything delivered out here. Nothing but wasps ever went into our creaky mailbox, and the mailbox post rotted several years ago anyway. I think the box fell into a ravine.
This delivery thrilled me, and yes, that’s goofy, but at the moment, we’re all a little squirrelly. Isolation isn’t normal, and we’re starting to realize just how weird we are. Have we always talked to our kitchen sponges? And why did we think undergarments were such necessities all these years? We’re getting along fine without them, now.
As the week went by, I focused on the impending delivery. I wondered where it was in the Amazon warehouse. I wondered if the UPS truck would make it through muddy potholes and around Amish buggies. Tracking the ointment’s journey became a daily ritual, not because I was desperate for the product but because it gave me something other than my anxiety and our weird new life to focus on.
By the time it shipped, the stupid cream had become an obsession. On the scheduled day of delivery, I woke up excited. After all, we hadn’t seen anyone for a week aside from two stoic muskie fishermen and a gaggle of Canada geese. Every time we went for a walk, I worried I might miss the UPS truck, which was silly because the driver needed only to drop the box. In fact, I normally go out of my way not to be spotted by delivery people, because freelancers who work at home often do so in an unbecoming state of relaxation (though we try to at least brush our teeth). But I needed to witness the arrival of that tiny tube. It was a link to the outside world I missed so much and was so frightened of. The box became my touchstone.
Like I said, isolation makes us squirrelly.
At 5:18 p.m., I heard a rumble. I went out onto the porch to listen, and over the crest of the hill came my long-awaited visitor. UPS had arrived. I stuffed my feet into boots and ran down the driveway. The driver hopped out, package in hand. There it was. There he was. Another human.
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And then I remembered everything. Virus. Social distancing. Sheltering-in-place. The excitement washed out of my body, and I took a step back.
“Hi,” I said. “I’ll just stay here, and you can put the box down on the ground.”
“Good idea,” he said. “Have a nice day.” He climbed back into his truck and pulled away. And then it was just me again, standing there in the woods, staring at a little brown box in the mud, wondering if it was contaminated.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, the risk of Covid-19 transmission from a delivered package is low. You’re more likely to be infected by the delivery person — or to infect them — than the box. Experts say if the virus could be transmitted via package, it would have arrived in the U.S. from China long ago. (Business Insider) Nevertheless, the virus can live on cardboard for 24 hours. So I just looked at the box for a while until one of my kids came outside to check on me.
“Mom, why are you standing on the driveway staring at a box?”
“It’s complicated,” I said.
It’s not as simple as washing your hands. I learned this when I went to Sam’s Club to pick up an order. There are a lot of factors. You and the employees have touched all of the items. You’ve touched the cart, your wallet, your credit card. You’ve touched the receipt, your trunk handle, door handle, keys and phone. Which one do you wipe down first so you don’t contaminate the others? I got into the car, sanitized my hands, then wiped the wallet, cards, keys, phone, steering wheel, shifter knob, door handle, the bottle of wipes itself and my hands again. (Here’s a helpful video that demonstrates safe grocery handling procedures.)
Back in the woods, I finally picked up the Amazon box and brought it into the house like it was a radioactive fuel rod. I dropped it into the sink and used a knife to cut it open, then the ointment’s packaging. Without touching the tube itself, I let it fall out, sprayed it with bleach, and gathered the box in my hand. What to do with it? The kitchen trash was a terrible idea. It would just sit there and be all Covid-y in my house. The garbage outside was a little safer but still a risk. The box felt hot in my hands. My face itched. I had to get it out. In a rising panic, I yanked open the back door and chucked it onto the lawn.
It’s been lying out there for four days. I feel like it’s watching me. Last night, I tried to set it on fire, but the cardboard wouldn’t catch, and, really, the last thing anyone should be doing is fighting the coronavirus with lighter fluid.
Today, I’m expecting a delivery from Hello Fresh; tomorrow, a shipment of kitty litter from Chewy. I have no idea how I’m going to handle myself, but I suspect I’ll soon have a bumper crop of boxes out there, like garden gnomes, grinning at me from under the forsythias. Better safe than sorry, folks.
I hope you’re all healthy and at home if you can be. If you’re working, you’re an essential part of our community. Medical personnel, grocery store workers, delivery people: thank you for your hard work and courage. The Ohio Valley owes you a huge debt of gratitude.
• Laura Jackson Roberts is an environmental writer and humorist in Wheeling, West Virginia. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Chatham University and serves as the Northern Panhandle representative of West Virginia Writers. Her hobbies include hiking, travel and rescuing homeless dogs. Visit her at laurajacksonroberts.com.