Since Friday, March 13, 2020, I have worked and exercised and sometimes slept in the attic of our house, which my beloved calls the Silk Room. It got this name because of my poor French. We were listening to a Radio Canada programme about stream-of-consciousness writers, mainly James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. I was able to follow along, more or less, well enough to notice that they weren’t mentioning Dorothy Richardson. But for some reason they kept talking about the silk room, which sent me off into a reverie about silk brocade wall hangings for Virginia Woolf, or yellow cigarette-stained silk wall coverings in Trieste for James Joyce. Eventually my bilingual husband explained that I was confusing soi with soie. Of course. A room of one’s own, not a silk room. But it stuck, and so the Silk Room became the name for my workspace. Better than lair of the madwoman in the attic.
The time has come to leave the silk room. Double vaccinated, I can now go out in the world. But do I want to? Anxiety kept me home for days. I have lived in seclusion because of health issues that would enable COVID to put me in a critical condition (I’ve had pneumonia several times, and my immune system runs on steroids, literally). Worse, I have the example of the aforementioned bilingual beloved, who nearly died of COVID. I was so afraid of catching COVID that I wore a mask to walk outside. While aware of my privilege in being able to work at home, I’ve been content to not mingle.
Of necessity, my first outing is to the pharmacy, to pick up prescriptions and a new-to-me EpiPen, which they will only release after a demonstration. I whiz around the shop in excitement. New toothbrush? A thermometer that works? Anti-bruising cream? But the salesclerk blocks me at the end of each aisle with offers to help my search — with offers to get me out of there, which I appreciate, really I do. I have a Jekyll/Hyde moment: one part of me wants out of there ASAP, and another, the one that hasn’t set foot in a shop in fifteen months, wants to browse. I paid, went home, and showered.
On Sunday, July 4, I underwent my first real test of public life by going to the outdoor farmer’s market at Lansdowne Park. I had trouble getting out the door: where is my wallet, where are my glasses, where are my walking shoes, should I take bags in the bundle buggy? Where is my mask? Not on my face, not for the walk to the bridge. The Bank Street bridge is always busy with pedestrians, so I was masked well before getting to the market, which did not have a line-up, despite my mid-morning arrival. I loaded up on vegetables at the first stand I came to, pointing at kale and garlic and cherry tomatoes and zucchini, buying twice what I needed in my mounting excitement. Then I walked swiftly through groups of people who were Too Close and who didn’t seem to mind as much as I did, to check out the takeaway stands. Followed by a sweaty anxious walk back. At home I had a shower, and thought about all the things I had touched before I washed my hands.
During these two encounters, I spoke to four people. Two deck dinners with friends left me so exhausted that I fear my socialization skills have gone as flaccid as my muscles. Add two outdoor visits with other friends plus three cashiers (grocery and bakery) for a total of thirteen human interactions. That is hardly preparation for the socializing I have ahead of me. Later this month I will be making family visits, including at a shared cottage. Anxiety plus poor social skills — now there’s a heady mix. Am I looking forward to it? You bet, with trepidation.