How to Remember the Pandemic

Unless some variant of the COVID virus spills over our immune defenses to sicken everyone, we might be seeing the virus through the rearview mirror. As we grieve for the people who died of the virus, let’s think about our pandemic lives for a moment. The virus has changed how we talk and eat.

I wasn’t infected by the virus but was touched by the words coming out of our tight lips. So taken by its infectious ways, we were spreading a pandemic vocabulary like a disease. I honored the new vocabulary by calling the virus “the covid.”

We have said a lot about the covid. The virus has SPIKE proteins. It can leave you SYMPTOMATIC or ASYMPTOMATIC. Wherever you are, put on your FACE COVERING. Leave the N95 or KN95 masks to FRONTLINE and ESSENTIAL workers. The frontline workers bag groceries and the essential workers treat them. We are all vulnerable to the AEROSOLS. If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, get TESTED. QUARANTINE. Speaking the language of the pandemic bound you to the few people you got six feet close to.

Minding these words, dreams of eating black mole in LA or good croissant in Paris were swept away. I looked at my pear tree in my rear patio. The tree was bred not to bear fruit. In its shadow, a mourning dove and its occasional partner perched on the rotting lattice below my home office window. The raised blind eventually got stuck up.

At home, off work, I followed step by step the words of the US Surgeon General to make my own face covering out of whole cloth. I draped the folded silk scarf over my face and held it in place with two rings of elastic cut from the tops of my running socks. I kept wearing the silk mask until the sock elastic stretched, and my nose could not keep it up. I switched to a precious N95 mask though it was supposed to be for frontline workers. You use what you can to make you feel secure.

On the congested streets of San Francisco, people wore their masks to suit them. Most of the masks were not properly fitted, but a lot of people looked good. Practical people wore the blue surgical mask. Others wore masks that formed irregular contours against their fat or emaciated faces. Today, as we edge toward herd immunity, half of us are wearing masks. Word got out to wear masks as a way to flag our lingering fear mixed with the wave of solidarity. I am happy that my mask shields others from the curses thrown at this avoidable disaster.

We have to remove our masks to eat. As the covid descended on us, I stopped writing grocery lists. I tapped items in an app to deliver me groceries. Two dozen eggs (One dozen wouldn’t do anymore.) One gal 2% milk (I was drinking more coffee than ever.) Two lbs. of apples (I wanted to live.) Eating was left to the devices of the internet and the judgment of “shoppers” to buy milk and eggs for me. A few times, I was in a race to drink the one gallon of 2% milk before its expiry date, the day after it was delivered. Milk chunks do not cure the covid.

I drank milk and ate basic foodstuffs. Flour might have been in short supply, but, early in the pandemic, my brother-in-law mysteriously turned up with a 20-pound bag of organic whole wheat flour from India. I stored the bag deep in my cupboard and quickly forgot about it. Ten months later, I opened the bag to make bread in my machine. Meanwhile, I resorted to bleached flour from Mexico. I had heard of its being used in pastries piled on the lowest shelves at the grocery. My robobread turned out like a bear claw. I was at a loss for words.

Since going to the grocery was off limits, so was strolling the farmer’s market. No one knew back then that the virus had a snowball’s chance in hell to infect anyone while wind whistled through the food stalls. Since organic haricots verts were not within reach at home, I bought canned organic string beans through my shopper. And then you have to live with what you’ve got. I used the beans, which could have been paper from my shredder, to marry with a spicy tofu recipe. The beans came out scorched around the spicy roasted tofu. At last, they had flavor.

Canned organic string beans were added to my food vocabulary. So was fava.

When we had places to go, I watched a patch of dirt come and go by my rear driveway. The lockdown came. The patch still got midday sun, so there was hope of eating self-sufficiently. I planted plump fava beans, shaped like little Buddha heads, in the ground. Two weeks later, shoots began their six-foot trajectory. Taller than me, nearly every inch of fava was edible. I snipped the tender shoots at the tops of the plants and ground the scoured shoots with organic pine nuts, organic oil, sea salt, and lemons, so many lemons. The tree could have cared less of the sickness everywhere. Dollops of fava pesto were frozen in Ball® jars to survive the winter of our lives. When I serve up fava pesto, I think pandemic.

As we speak as if we’ve not spoken before, as we eat the fruits of our labor at home, I watch people glide past in life again. I wish I could say to them hello.

Jay is a science and technical writer. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and cat.