Essential

I just wanted to listen to the rain. It is, likely, one of the last morning rains we will have until winter and I wanted to lie there and listen to it. I would call it a simple pleasure, but I am aware that it is a complicated privilege to have a bed, a roof, and a window. I couldn’t listen to the rain because my alarm was going off and I needed to get up, get dressed, grab my backpack, and walk two miles to work.

I am an essential worker. I don’t work for a hospital or as an EMT, I am in retail. Retail management, to be precise, (no, I won’t tell you who for) but I want to take a minute to talk about being an essential worker.

On the positive side I get to have a daily routine. Five days a week I take the long walk to work, which allows me to participate in a scientific study of PPE waste (you can get in touch with me or the LSU professor who is running it if you want more information). I am earning money, not enough, but I have an income. Sometimes, I get to video chat with friends. I’m getting a lot of reading done.

Everything else is on a scale from absurd to baffling to frustrating to terrifying.

Absurd is that we are even open. Everyone I talk to, friends, customers, other essential workers, asks the same question “Why is YOUR store essential?” I give them the boilerplate company answer, I don’t tell them that it is just a loophole for greed and indifference because I don’t want to start yelling. We are terribly understaffed because many employees chose to self-isolated. Everyone has to work three people’s jobs now. Sometimes we have to close during the day because we don’t have enough staff to cover legally mandated breaks.

Baffling is that even I have lost track of time. Being in retail your grasp on days of the week is tenuous to begin with. You don’t work a regular schedule, so mostly you just count days until the next time you have a day off. But everything is the same day now. I know specific days: when we get our delivery and the day I call my mom after work. Past that, there’s no demarcation. I spent most of Tuesday thinking it was Wednesday, I was very confused at 7 PM when I found out.

Frustrating is the customer interactions. “No, sir, we are out of those. … No, I don’t know when we’re getting more. … No, no one else has any either. … Because people stocked up or bought them to resell when this all started and the supply chain is empty. … No, we are not taking any returns right now. … I can give you the corporate number, but they are the ones who instituted the policy. … Please lower your voice, I don’t have any ability to change this.”

Terrifying is everything else. Is this the interaction that infects me? Will I know if I am infected (I could be an asymptomatic carrier right now)? Can I get tested even if I have symptoms? What if something else happens, I have an RSI in my foot, if it gets bad enough to need treatment can I even see a doctor? Are these psychological issues I’m experiencing symptoms of PTSD (we now know that extended periods of low level terror can cause it)? Will this end? If it does will the company continue to demand the blood from the stone they’ve gotten from us during this? Will I still have a job? Am I going to die, suffering and alone? Will I be remembered when I am just one person in the statistics?

People seem to want to thank us. I’d rather you didn’t. I would prefer you help us. Vote for candidates who will protect workers, who will strengthen unions, and who will fight the Moloch we are being fed to. Vote for initiatives and ballot measures that do the same. Protest. Do something, because if things keep going like this you will be the next one forced out into the world, unprepared and terrified, because we will all be dead.

I just wanted to listen to the rain.