Hope’s #MadCovidDiaries Tuesday 14.4.2020
My partner and I have avoided going into Tesco since the lockdown. (We have been eating a lot of beans and lentils. We ran out last week.) I volunteered to go in on Thursday. My partner went in today. Each of us waited outside while the other one was inside. There’s a big Tesco up the hill in town and a smaller one at the bottom of the hill.
Tesco is a world unto itself, I have discovered. This is probably old news to most; it was not like the two-in, two-out policy of the chemist that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. We made a crude mask for me out of some old boxer shorts, which looked ridiculous and probably didn’t do much by way of protection. But, I wanted to wear something around my face because I read an article before the lockdown started here which was written by someone living in Italy and describing what life was like there in the middle of March; they said people were wearing cloth masks to reassure one another, rather than for protection. (Unfortunately I can’t find this article now as I have forgotten the author’s name and it is predictably un-Googleable due to the flood of news stories which come up first, but if anyone else has read it and remembers what it is then let me know via Twitter!)
So I put on these boxers around my face and went into the big Tesco on the hill. Some of the staff were not wearing any masks or protective gear at all. There was a one-way system ostensibly taped onto the floor in arrows, but no one kept to it. I shuffled close to packets and jars to give the person on the other side of the aisle space. I was walking carefully around a corner one time opposite the self-service machines and two people came behind and in front of me at once, so I was trapped. I didn’t know what to do and stood there a bit too long while they both were getting closer to me. The shop assistant shouted at me to move. I just scurried back the way I came around the person behind me. I probably didn’t leave enough room but that couldn’t be helped because if I’d have stepped any further away I’d have bumped into the people at the checkouts. I worried I’d upset some people in the vegetable section by being too close to them, even though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. I was just waiting behind them and they were probably worried I was approaching them. Someone behind me had been waiting and when I went to choose some red onions they pushed past me, frustrated that I was holding them up. I waited in the queue to the checkout which, thankfully, was marked with two-metre boxes in tape on the floor. But, the person behind me crept into my box to peer around the corner, curious about how long the queue was.
I tried my best and it wasn’t good enough. There were some people I saw who were being very careful, and I thought they were kind. But it doesn’t take much for the fragile protective respect hovering in the air to shatter. All the way through this there was this noughties pop music blaring obscenely loud, louder than it ever normally is in that Tesco, oozing this bloated false cheeriness through the shop that made me feel nauseous. It was obvious they’d put it on to try to inject some happiness there, make it feel less solemn and strained, but it made it much, much worse. I couldn’t concentrate; I walked around and around forgetting the food I needed and taking much longer than I should have done. Partly because of this, and partly because I was trying to be cautious, I carried the shopping basket which got heavier and heavier for too long and for the next few days my forearms were throbbing. I like climbing as a hobby (though of course I haven’t been for a while) but holding that basket made my arms ache way more than even the most intense climbing sessions have before. I am small and relatively speaking can’t carry that much, but I am strong for my size. I was a bit disconcerted by the aching of my arms.
I watched my partner waiting outside the shop and I wanted to get absolutely everything for him. I wasn’t panic buying, I only bought one of everything, and there wasn’t even that much to get— I had separated my list into ‘essential’ and ‘if I have space’— but I was gripped, even amidst all the stress of being in there, by this massive urge to get everything that was written down, for my partner. So I carried more than I should have and I hurt my arms. When I got outside I still hadn’t managed to get everything, because my fingers were bright red and peeling from holding the basket. I’d been confused and missed out some things I thought I’d already picked up, but he told me I’d done a good job, and I was proud. I was always going to the shop and picking things up after work that he asks me for— before the pandemic, I mean— but now this simple act of care, performed by people living and eating and surviving together, has acquired this vast significance.
I will use the word ‘love’ because everyone recognises, in their own way, what we mean by love. I have been in a vaguely recognisable form of love only once before when I was sixteen; it was poisonous and I hated it. Although my partner is kind, immeasurably kind, I do not love him because of his kindness. Simply, I love him because he is himself and he exists. I am not sure if this sort of unconditionality is healthy and I am aware it makes me vulnerable, though with him I am safe. I am also not sure if my absorption in my love for him is usual, or if it is a trait of my Asperger’s; I can drown in thinking of or looking at him for hours, and, as someone who has always written things— diaries, stories, songs— I am able to recognise that at present my thoughts are at their most articulate and their most beautiful because I feel I understand him. I believed so strongly at that stressful point in Tesco that I could communicate my need to care for him and protect him by buying all the things we’d written on that list together the night before; I felt if I could do it then I would be proud of myself. I am not usually proud of myself; I have struggled for years to care for myself, to accept myself, to even stand being myself. I wanted for many years to kill myself, as an act of care to the world. But loving my partner and coping in Tesco made me proud. It made me, when we’d got home, unpacked and washed our clothes, happy. In a few weeks, it will be our two-year anniversary.
Today he went into small Tesco by himself while I waited outside. We did this so that I wouldn’t hurt my arms again. I don’t know if he felt the same as I did— probably not. I probably overthought it. But I’m glad I did.
Image: Me in Durham, 2018. I did not do the graffiti, I just thought it was nice.
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