by Winter Ross
published in Medium.com
I have read article after article on how devastating pandemic isolation is. The agony of being alone! All the “undiscovered” ways people have found to cope with this problem. Never has extroversion been so debilitating! And personally, I am puzzled; sympathetic, but puzzled. I know there are untold numbers of us introverts, agoraphobics, hemits, HSPs (Highly Sensitive People) and misanthropes whose lives haven’t changed much in these so-called unprecedented times — or even whose lives have become more comfortable in the silence and peace of their places.
It’s a subject for another essay, but I use the term “places” because plenty of people don’t have homes. Every reporter seems to assume that staying “home” is a basic inconvenience rather than a privilege. As a retired woman “Traveller” (British spelling), I get by as a house sitter/pet sitter/artist-in-residence, camping in between gigs. I became a Traveller briefly in my twenties before jobs and kids slowed me down. I picked up the lifestyle again when rent became more than my social security check. Although I live alone, the name fits a lifestyle I refuse to apologize for. The road keeps me sane. There’s something about the neither-here-nor-there escape from stress that keeps me going. But I lack community. I’m often in places where I don’t know anyone. Once, I spent five winter months caring for a house and two cats, binge-watching Netflix because I couldn’t let the wood stove go out in one of the coldest towns in the country. I was glad when spring arrived but it was no big deal. I hadn’t had a television in years so I caught up on this strange culture while I worked on a sci-fi novel. It was a lonely but ok winter, when I look back on it
I must have inherited my loner temperament (please don’t call it a condition) from the grandfather I barely knew. Within 10 minutes of my family’s yearly visit, he’d have escaped upstairs to his study where high-pitched childish voices were muted. He was always kind: teaching me to play checkers on a rainy afternoon, quietly putting together a few pieces of a puzzle with me in the evening. But I saw little of him. Like Grampa, I seem to wear my nervous system on the outside of my skin. Overwhelm has always defined my life. A book he sent me for my thirteenth birthday on alien abduction seemed to explain it. Most of my teenage summer nights were spent writing anguished poetry, looking up at the stars and trying to call in the Mother Ship to please come take me home.
I personally locked down on March 6, in a friend’s second home, two weeks before the state mandated it. The plan had been to assist my friend when she came through, to take care of her dogs when she traveled. But I found myself there alone actually glorying in the opportunity to simply Be somewhere.
At the beginning, the next door neighbor would stop in with two of his toddlers to chat, escaping briefly the new baby, the constant cartoon network noise and the boredom of no work. His kids drove me crazy. I spent the short time of their visits snatching small antique objects from their hands and locking doors before they could reach the handles. I finally came up with an excuse to end the visits by announcing that there were pins and needles all over the floor from my sewing projects and the place was a child hazard. It was a relief when the neighbor got the hint.
The town never did close down completely, I think. I’m not sure: I only left the house for the early elder-hour grocery shopping and stocked up for weeks, when I did. I made a game of eaking out the leftovers and cutting down to one meal a day if possible. Anything to keep from opening that front door. I realized my introversion was blooming into full-fledged agoraphobia. I made myself go on daily walks on back roads bordering cattle pastures; sewed masks and modeling one myself, forced myself to drive to the Post Office and mail them to far-flung friends on the Navajo Nation. I dragged a ladder out of the garage and painted the trim on my camper red and gold. I’ve spent much of the time fascinated by the news and learning to freelance. Indeed, the neighbor has hired me to write copy for the disinfecting business he’s starting.
Now, eight weeks later, it’s obvious that the sweet confinement in a house to myself, is coming to an end. The dogs have been dropped off here now, so I have company — annoying company that wants me to play with it all the time, smears its wet noses on my freshly showered skin, literally dogs me from room to room and sheds all over the area where I used to do morning yoga. That I can be irritated by a couple obedient, sweet labradors surprises even me. I have become keenly aware of how much humans bother me, too. When walking the dogs, I speed away from lonely people out for a bit of sun, who ask to pet them. I feel guilty, but the call of sanctuary is stronger
I’ve been as influenced as everyone else to indulge in the opportunity for self study and inner awareness that the covid lockdown has provided. But the motivational videos promising to help me change me or help me be me, have finally become tedious. That crap was for my youth when I really cared about why I wasn’t the Pollyanna-Barbie my parents and partners always wanted and a career demanded.
I don’t know what will happen next. Who does? But soon, I’m going to have to pack up, open the front door and drive off in my gypsy camper into the scary world again. I tell myself it will be interesting. Because I’ve made it all the way to old age and I’ve learned to cope with who I truly am. That Mother Ship is probably never going to show up. And I’m ok with that, too.
Winter Ross is probably not the only writer with a listing on Housecarers.com. She gets mail in Colorado, taught writing in New Mexico and after working at a retreat center in Hawai’i, is spending lockdown in Nevada. She is a National Association of Press Women award-winning short story writer and Darkhouse Books author.