We are all facing unprecedented challenges under the looming threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even a trip to the grocery store has become challenging. There's a run on essentials which sometimes leaves our neighbors without the things they need.
In her commentary, Texas Public Radio contributor Yvette Benavides describes her own recent trip to the supermarket.
One of the most consternating aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is the idea of sheltering in place at home and lacking a basic necessity. This simmering dread has led to legions of San Antonians panic-shopping as we all fear and face the unknown.
On a recent trip to my neighborhood grocery store, in the hand soap aisle a woman who looked to be in her 70s waved her hand before the emptied tiered shelves saying that it was impossible to find hand sanitizer any place.
She asked me if I had read about how you can make your own hand sanitizer. I had. I fished through my purse for my cellphone and Googled the recipe.
Eschewing social distancing, we read the small screen of my phone together, giggling at the unlikely research we were doing.
“Nombre,” she said, “I’m too floja to make that. I’m just gonna keep washing my hands.”
No, I don’t think she was too lazy to make it. Even with only a few ingredients, the task just seemed too daunting for being such a life-and-death necessity that people would hoard the stuff and leave others without even a travel-sized worth.
In the water and beverage aisle another woman stood wide-eyed.
She said into the air, “What am I supposed to do? The people don’t leave anything for the rest of us. I can’t even buy the potatoes I like. I don’t have enough toilet paper at home. I can’t even buy what I need for the week.”
We’ve heard the dire warnings from the CDC and the WHO or our own city and state leaders, it’s easy to imagine ourselves in those worst case scenarios, bereft of basic necessities or worse, too sick or too afraid to become sick to venture out to get what we need. Our brains can’t process these dystopian conditions, particularly as they are global. The feeling of there being no place to hide, no place to be free of the threat, affects our emotions. It’s hard to be rational.
I asked the cashier what it’s like at 8 a.m. when they open the doors to the restless throng of dozens of shoppers that wait outside for hours each morning.
Between the beeps of my purchases, she shook her head and said, “They run straight to the TP — like they’re on a game show on that food channel. They come for the toilet paper and the meat. They don’t leave anything for anybody else.”
I nodded toward the basket behind her. It was full of items, including toilet paper.
“Is that somebody’s?” I asked.
“Yeah. Someone who was trying to take too much. You want to take some?” she asked pulling out a single roll. “Two for a dollar. Oh, but you can only take two.”
Sure, I shrugged. Two beeps and they were in a bag and in the basket I pushed to my car. It was a strange feeling. I hadn’t come to the store for toilet paper. But I was walking out with two small rolls of a brand I’d never seen before.
I looked around for the two ladies I’d talked to. I would have shared it with them. I closed the trunk on my bags — my week’s worth of groceries — and the new unplanned stash. Driving home, I felt the weight of it all.
Yvette Benavides is a Texas Public Radio contributor. She teaches creative writing at Our Lady of the University. She is the co-author of the forthcoming book "San Antonio 365."