With the coronavirus crisis upon us, Anthracite Unite has launched a special Call for Submissions for a project we’re calling Pandemic Diaries. We want to hear about how working class people in our communities are handling life as this historical crisis unfolds. What are you experiencing? What are you feeling? What are you struggling with? What’s going on around you? How are you and your family / community responding? We’d love to hear from you!
What follows is our first entry, a moving essay by Megan Handley called Touch. Enjoy!
by Megan Handley
Stir, flip, whisk. The small rotation of tasks feels like an overwhelming amount compared to the hours I have spent sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, doing the same work. I can hear the television droning on from the other room…
“You will be okay! The only groups most at risk groups are the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and the immunosuppressed. Most of us having nothing to worry about should we practice social distancing.”
Clean, grill, pour. Any monotonous sound to cover the fact that my national news does not seem to care that so many are at risk simply because it isn’t them, does not touch their lives personally.
I’m one of those immunosuppressed with underlying health conditions. I am kept alive by a medicine that surges through my veins every five weeks. With just one touch, I’ll be sick. I have a better chance of surviving a house fire than I do standing in line next to someone who is unknowingly carrying COVID-19. For that reason alone, I am homebound, leaving only for drives to feel the touch of the cool spring air I’m missing.
As I sit at the dinner table with my freshly made waffles, the news continues on with an interview of a college student.
“I’m not worried about the virus. This is my spring break, and I’m going to enjoy it. At this point, I’ll just get sick and get better.”
Frustration builds up in my throat, making it hard to swallow. I reach for my ice water to chill the heat running through my stiffened bones.
The next day, I go to visit my elderly grandmother who has been quarantining as well. We stay six feet apart, sharing much needed conversation as she eats some of the freshly baked lunch I’ve brought for her. We bond over how our government and media have taken our groups and placed monetary success over our lives.
She tells me how my Papa talks to her on the phone every day, how it’s nice to hear his voice when she can’t go visit him. He usually doesn’t remember why she can’t come, but he knows it’s important, and he cares about keeping her safe. She tells me it was touching to know that somewhere, deep down, he remembered, even though he is not there.
The next day, I go for a drive to drop off food at my boyfriend’s house. We communicate through making and sharing meals without touching, a small token to show we are still caring about each other.
In an unplanned turn of events, he’s outside of the house as I pull up to my parking spot. He grabs the box from my trunk, and with not even the loving touch of a hand, he waves and walks into the house, the shutting door feeling like an unpassable border. Tears stream down my face as I drive the familiar road home. Just over ten feet away, I feel farther from him than I’ve ever been.
The next day, my father asks me to go for a walk on the one sunny afternoon we’ve had. It’s unusual for me to see him at this hour, but being a self-employed small business owner, the government has insisted he brings no more money home to feed our family.
Walking the wooded path before us, people pass on either side, laughing, running, living life as if anything is normal. The only outlier is the small piece of cotton that covers the faces of a few passing by families. As we pass body after body, I wonder to myself if they are one of the many lives that is actually valued. Over the whooshing of the cars on the highway beneath us, we talk about how there seems to no end in sight. I watch the unconcerned couples walk the path, their hands engaged in the touch my body aches for.
That night, I sit in my room early into the next morning. The small gleam of a high moon and bright stars sends a stream of white through the broken section of my blinds, reaching for me, attempting to tell me there is an end, there is a light for me to make it to. I just have to be patient, to be touched by the moments when the physical sense is lacking.
If you ask someone immunosuppressed a skill, they should know how to get back up. After being sick for a large part of my life, I know how to recover. I know I’ll feel touch again.
Megan Handley is a sophomore at Ithaca College studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Television Radio Production with minors in both Journalism and Writing. She was born and still lives in Forty Fort, Pennsylvania. An avid reader and writer for her entire life, Megan has big dreams of not only working in the creative media industry, but one day being a published author. Megan’s focus in her journalistic work is to make a difference, providing real life stories of what it’s like to live with invisible illness.