This morning I was awakened by the annoying screech of an alarm on my phone, which sat inches from my disheveled head. I jerked awake, annoyed. One of my cats jumped off my back, where she sleeps whenever I am splayed in upside-down spread-eagled form. My small dog, who I have suspected as losing his hearing, merely shifted and broke his snore from his bed next to mine.
My county had announced a mandatory “stay-at-home order.” With the increasing spread of the dread novel corona virus in the Denver metro area, the governor and now my own county were ordering citizens to hunker down in their homes, save for “urgent” trips—to the grocery, gas station, medical or veterinary care, etc. I rolled over and turned the sound for “alarms” off.
As I lay gathering my wits, my thoughts turned to this first day of official ostracization from society. For years I have worked seven-day weeks. I have three businesses and I juggle my time between the demands of those duties and family obligations. I live alone and am used to much time on my own because my businesses are all based out of my home. Clients come to my home hair salon, I write my books in the dining room, and I care for dogs and cats for vacationing owners throughout the house. Apart from hair clients, I can go hours and days without people and traffic easily.
Today I had two new hair styling clients booked to the tune of $200. In this age of pandemic, when people are forced out of work by government shuttered businesses, that is a lot of money. I did not know these two people; they were not yet part of my regular clientele, most of whom all are now long-term friends. I had no idea where they lived, who they had come in contact with, or if they would ultimately scam me in this time of hardship for all. Since I work out of my home, I accept only clients that I have developed an innate and proven trust in. But even with them, there was that invariable first time/first meeting. I felt perplexed.
I have lived through extreme poverty and that trauma never leaves. Should I gown up, wear a face mask, and spend two hours with someone in close proximity? My mind turned to several facts of my life’s responsibilities.
First, I live alone, so no one will care for me if I become ill. Five pets—three cats and two elderly dogs—depend upon me. Who would take five animals if something happened to me? I have a trust fund for them in my will and three contingency plans for adoptions in case I die. But obscure plans will not replace me or our home life and intact family to my old pets. They have all come from rejection, shelter chaos (I am the classic “foster-flunkie), illness, injury, and confusion, to a home of classical music, sunny windows, loving care, good nutrition, and companionship of a human who understands most of their needs. Was the potential disruption of our communal harmony worth $200?
Secondly, my 91-year-old mother was recently in the emergency room, hospital, and currently in a temporary rehabilitation center. All have been locked down so she has not seen any family members in over a week. When they release her from rehab, she will have to be moved from her independent living apartment to a neighboring building wherein she will be set up in an assisted living apartment. She is not an easy patient. She is not an understanding person. She has been a handful for all medical staffs, the family, and mostly, me. Yet somehow I will need to coordinate with the residence a physical move of all her belongings to another building, set up a new apartment, and deal with her emotional distress and physical maladies when she is re-homed. Moving companies are not available, so the residence staff and I are attempting to navigate this uncharted event amidst a state- and nationwide-shutdown. How do we uproot an extremely medically fragile woman and plant her in a new environment without outside physical help, while allowing the needed family members to go in and out a vulnerable facility while moving her things?
Third, I am in the so-called “high risk” age group that is increasing threatened by this highly infectious and lethal disease. Although I am remarkably healthy and work at it, luck has also been good to me. Just two months ago I had major surgery and came through quickly, completely, and remarkably unscathed. But a silent, invisible virus is an enemy no human can win a battle with. Even if I only become ill and do not require hospitalization or a ventilator, I have full realization of what “down time” means to me and my pets. I cannot be cavalier and take for granted that I will be immune to a disabling illness at home, or a frightening death. Who will care for my pets immediately when everything in society is shut down? Who will liquidate my home possessions in a time of high unemployment and social distancing? How will my responsibilities to clients, friends, family, and the organizations I volunteer for be dispersed?
Are all these possible scenarios worth $200? Interestingly, when I called to discuss my situation and concerns with the new clients, they still attempted to maneuver me into servicing them immediately. My uneasiness skyrocketed. No, my health and life will not be worth $200 from people I don’t know and have never worked with. I offered to postpone their appointments to next week and they had no choice but to do so. Perhaps they will show up, or perhaps they will find someone more desperate for $200 than I am and not wait.
Because I live frugally, I have a financial safety net. I have every expectation of surviving fiscally for some time of unemployment–barring any unexpected and severe medical disaster. I have worked through many financial recessions, stock market and real estate downturns, and was able to come clawing out the other side of each event intact, if not considerably less wealthy. But since my twenties, I have not had to go without food or a roof over my head. Most of my peer-age acquaintances are already retired. I have three viable businesses that bring in income. I will never be rich, but I will eat and sleep in safety. I will work until I can’t.
Ironically, since the Great Recession of 2008, I have worked seven days a week, with one week vacation per year. My days usually run around 10-12 hours. I was beyond exhaustion in December, 2019 when I found out I had to have immediate hip surgery. In January, 2020 I took two weeks off, had surgery, and slept. The surgery was far easier than the previous ten hip surgeries I have endured, so the sleep was motivated by the emotional release from responsibly and constant running from one duty to the next. The acceptable “recovery” time ameliorated any guilt I usually felt if I fell behind in my obligations. I read, watched movies, cleaned drawers and files. I also decided to not work so hard anymore.
Business was gearing up again when the great pandemic hit a few weeks ago. China, Iran, Italy, Spain, France, Great Brittan, New York. . .the virus inched its way across the globe with remarkable and frightening speed. Now it’s here in Colorado. Our heroic state governor has called for all citizens to hunker down, as many other governors have done—in spite of a lack of leadership from the federal government and an incompetent in overwhelmed president. When Republicans on the federal and state level called for rebellion (lead by the Republican president) to lead life as normal and ignore medical community and scientific calls to action, I decided I would comply. Anything the Republicans are for, I can determine to be self-serving and short-sighted. And so, I will close my businesses. I will attempt to stay safe, healthy, strong, and able to address my responsibilities.
After all, what good would $200 do me or my pets if I am dead?