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(All 100% true, here and throughout)

Not that many years ago I discovered a snake on the living room carpet at the old farm house. It was curled and poised, vibrating a familiar sound. A rattler! (Hey, I watch the movies!) Kornflake our dog (RIP), front legs half buckled, was quaking while staring at it.

I locked him away and when I returned the snake was disappearing through the slats of a furnace vent angled between the floor and carpet. Oh NO you don’t! I could not stand the thought of him disappearing. We still had a waterbed upstairs and I could just imagine … Is THIS how I die?!

I dove across the carpet and grabbed his tail with one hand, hoping he didn’t torque his body into a U and pop his head through a neighboring slat, and …Is THIS how I die?! My cell phone was in my other hand. I dialed someone for help …

Obviously the story had a happy ending since I am not dead. Even the snake was released. Turns out we think he was a bull snake. They mimic rattler sounds as part of their survival techniques. Still, I tackled what I thought was a rattle snake.

AND ... I used to ride in barrel races. Owned two motorcycles. Survived two terrible car accidents, fought sepsis (almost two weeks in hospital) after an appendix eruption, was administered CPR in the recovery room after a different surgery and braved a knee replacement. Is THISorTHISorTHIS how I die?! Not yet.

AND ...I traveled thru England alone for my 50th birthday in a rental car. Screaming often but never loosing my freedom to travel and stop when and where I desired. Is THIS how I die?! I began a newspaper and magazine writing career in my 40s with only a handful of college credits. Wrote books after that with no formal training. STILL ALIVE!

I am brave. VERY brave. “More guts than brains,” is my explanation for any success. And somehow I didn’t die from any of that.


(Reminder, all true.)

We have a local online auction and it turns out my bids were highest on four items, two items were (1) each twelve-ounce bottles of Purell. Yes, PURELL! You know what kind of gold that is right now. I probably paid twice the value, but can’t blame price gouging since I was bidding. Anyway, pickup was today. (Well, a couple/few days ago now; it’s taken me awhile to settle down enough to write this one.) We usually go inside for pickups, but under current circumstances they now have a pay-ahead option and they’ll bring it to your car. Figured since I was heading out I’d also pick up some groceries at the local co-op.

This all sounds so easy. Tra-lalala.

Then I started thinking about my last trip out over a week ago. That is what incited me to pay double for Purell. On that trip I'd incurred a couple silent mini freak-outs after: 1) a drive-through bank episode and 2) RX drug drive-through for prescriptions, after which I longed for a bottle of Purell in each of our vehicles.

At the RX pull-up I touted to George, riding shotgun, “Look! I brought my own pen. I am NOT using the one they pass to everyone else.” So I asked them not to pass me the pen. The kind clerk explained it was already attached to the clipboard, which she waggled at me, pen dangling. “Don’t pass me that either, please.” I watched her unclip the document I had to sign from the clipboard. ALREADY CONTAMINATED! Is THIS where I die?! But I either had to sign it or forfeit my blood pressure meds.

Thus the mini freak-outs were triggered after being forced to push buttons (THIS scares me now!?) multitudes of others have pushed (bank), touch other things multitudes touched, and then of course you touch your steering wheel, your gear shift, your electric window buttons, the seatbelt and YOUR FACE YOUR FACE YOUR FACE... WHY DOES MY FACE ONLY ITCH NOW AND WHAT IS THAT THING IN MY NOSE THAT MUST COME OUT?!?!?!?!

So yes, by my own choice I paid double for two bottles of Purell, one for each car. Heretofore, this will be how I combat germ attacks at drive-throughs.

But back to the auction/grocery trip. As I gathered my keys etc. for the journey, my heart began racing. I felt my cheeks redden. “STAY HOME!” #StayHomeMN #StayHomeStaySafe I felt a little queezy. But I remembered the snake and all of the saddled-up above (this is who I AM!) and readied myself to push through the paranoia attack and git ‘er done.

I’m a careful person, I told myself. Sensible. A terrific hand washer and town crier. I wore down an entire tube of lipstick writing on the mirror above George’s sink: WASH YOUR [BLANK] HANDS! This was of course an act of love. :-)) I did express my odd unsettling to George about my trip though. He offered to go instead. And/or to go with me. Although I'm a mere 74, he’s over 80 and COVID-19 is claiming a higher percentage of "older" folks and especially males--50% more often than females … “NO, GEORGE. You are staying put.”

The martyr in me couldn’t help thinking, I shall fall on the sword for my beloved, even though I often yell at him. But just in case this wasn’t where I die, I began a mental checklist and my physical preparedness.

1. Only take small wallet and open apps for phone checkout so you don’t have to touch buttons or machine at co-op. Backup plan: take your own pen.
2. Put money for auction pickup in envelope and leave in trunk area of SUV so can just push the hatch button from inside.
3. Stuff a couple kitchen grade rubber gloves (bought a box a couple years ago at auction too) in my pocket to use at co-op.
1. Only take small wallet and open apps for phone checkout so you don’t have to touch buttons or machine at co-op. Backup plan: take your own pen.
2. Put money for auction pickup in envelope and leave in trunk area of SUV so can just push the hatch button from inside.
3. Stuff a couple kitchen grade rubber gloves (bought a box a couple years ago at auction too) in my pocket to use at co-op.

Heart drumming faster, I headed for the lower-level garage in our condo building. Which first means the elevator, a space small enough to confine me with anyone’s germs who sneezed or coughed and “aerosoled” the potentially deadly COVID-19. Honestly, I tried to hold my breath. Buttons. Door handles. Is THISorTHISorTHIS where I die?! I made it to my car, which had been parked long enough for any previous pharmacy drive-through germs to have died. I practiced remotely opening the hatch (a button, of course) since I don’t think I’d ever used that feature.

I started the engine, pulled out of the garage, then realized I’d forgotten my phone and the envelope with the pay for the auction items. I pulled into a parking slot outside then drove back inside since that way I wouldn't have to touch the entry keypad for the front door.

I ran upstairs and got my items, for a moment considered staying home. Which felt safe. I assessed myself. I. Was. Not. Thinking. Clearly. Fear scrambles thought processes. My heart was careening. But I'd prepared for this journey. I wasn’t about to let fear win. We needed to procure the Purell and some groceries. I heard my dad (RIP) in my head... After getting thrown from the giant horse in the picture he said, "Get back on that horse or you’ll be afraid next time." I can't be sure, but that shot might even have been taken the day that transpired. Perhaps that's why there is a photo.

I put my phone and the money in my jacket pocket and went outside to get in my car ALREADY FORGETTING I’d pulled back into the garage! I now HAD to use the front door keypad to reenter the building, and another door to pass through into the garage. GET A GRIP! Is THIS where I die?!

At last I arrived at the auction pickup. Where I couldn’t manage to get the hatch to open. The lady, who I know well enough to call a casual friend, started to walk up to my closed window, then backed up to almost the required six social-distancing feet. The look on my face probably scared the crap out of her. (Yes, I said crap! And much—much--worse.) I apologized through the closed window and said she’d have to use my hatch button, which she did. Is THIS where I die?! People touching my car?! She took my envelope and went inside.

Suddenly a man I’ve never seen working there before showed up with my four items. NO BAG! He tossed them into the back … I could picture COVID-19 germs flying everywhere. He said the woman would be back out with change. CHANGE! CONTAMINATED MONEY! Is THIS where I die?! But I had exact money , I sputtered. Turns out if you pay with cash they deduct some kind of fee from your total. My refund was put in the back with my items, where I determined they would stay for at least four days until the germs died, and I drove away.

Should I bother with the groceries? I was already utterly exhausted from staying in my CAR! But I drove on (back on the horse!), practically panting by the time I pulled up in front of the co-op. I sat in the car as I donned my rubber gloves, grabbed my own shopping bag (DO NOT TOUCH THE CART HANDLE!), took a deep breath outside the door (hoping nobody had just coughed in that space) and entered.

I scouted the first aisle in the small co-op. Fairly clear of people... I set off, trying to decide whether to speed through or try to THINK long and hard enough to get everything I needed so as not to have to repeat this hell for the next many months.

Stop one: no eggs. Stop two: I love the co-ops little salads, like sweet potato Craisin blends or quinoa blends … They are all packaged in plastic, which I vowed not to touch in the fridge for three days. I put one in my bag. It missed the bag and fell to the ground where I stood staring at it before I finally picked it up and yes, put it in my bag. In my head, I could already smell the bleach.

A woman came toward me with her little hand-held basket. She smiled and … MOVED WITHIN MY SIX FEET! Is THIS where I die?! I’m gonna fast forward here except to tell you that every single aisle I went in, there she was—even when I skipped an aisle to avoid her. And that smile...or was it a sneer. I decided she was either a hit person or a mass murderer and my task was to stuff my one bag and get the hell OUT!

I almost ran to the fresh vegetable aisle. Where I was paralyzed watching a man touch two sweet potatoes before selecting the one he wanted. A woman took a plastic bag, decided she didn’t want it and stuffed it back into the holder. Another guy stood in front of the onions I needed for what felt like 46 minutes while he tidied up each of his many plastic bags. MOVEMOVEMOVE!

I couldn’t decide whether the bigger risk was to take no bags or bag everything. I opted for NO bags, using my gloved hands which had now touched every refrigerated door in all previous aisles.

Is THIS where I die?! I seemed to be compounding my own chances to a YES!

The checker was a young man, one I’d never seen before. I took my contaminated stuff, put it on the contaminated conveyor belt, watched a likely contaminated young man (probably recently at a large college house party with throngs who'd just returned from Miami beach) touch the contaminated cash register and every single one of my groceries as he bagged them. I distracted myself by getting out my phone so as NOT to touch the keypad.

And then the machine wouldn’t accept my phone process, which I’d used without a hitch many times before. I made that poor guy, probably freaked out by the panic in my eyes, give me FIVE FRICKEN’ tries before I finally gave up and got out my credit card.

By the time I got back into the condo with the groceries, I’d again braved the elevator (I’d have to use the hand rail in the stairwell, so nope!) and touched countless everythings. For a long time I stood in our entryway trying to figure out WHEN to take off the gloves. What order to unpack groceries? Where to set them while I unpacked? What all I’d need to wipe down, how many times … ??? I was so thirsty from sweating nerves I felt almost faint, so I shed my coat and left it on the floor where I decided no one would touch it for three days. I brought the bag into the kitchen and set it on the counter before I thought THAT through. THE COUNTER!

George came in to ask if he could help. “STAY AWAY! DON’T TALK TO ME!” I needed to safeguard him best I could, and I was on the verge of a complete meltdown.

I shed the gloves (according to a video I’d watched beforehand about how to not contaminate yourself taking them off) to put the groceries away (after trying my best to disinfect all plastic containers), all the while taking note of all items already in the fridge everything new was now touching in my fridge. An entire fridge full of contamination.

I looked down and noticed I hadn’t removed my shoes. A doctor I’d recently heard spoke about shoe removal in his garage. His garage!

I finished unpacking, alternately washing my hands every few items, sterilizing the counter tops best I could and and placing my shopping bag in the hall which I decided I wouldn’t touch for three days.

I finally crashed into my lounge chair and wondered, Am I contaminating it?! Is THIS where I die?! I used the electronic buttons to elevate my legs (had I washed my hands enough or was all that now contaminated?), gulped more water and noticed … I still had not removed my shoes. "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!" I said in my own voice, now unfamiliar to me.

I started to cry. I wept and then SOBBED torrents of tears. I could not stop crying. My body heaved. Odd noises escaped me.

Whimpering, again aloud I said to myself, “You used to be a cowgirl. A gypsy. A snake wrestler. And now you are utterly defeated by two errands and your fear.” And I sobbed some more. It took a long while for my heart to slow down.

Later that night, after talking to nobody other than a brief crying short version to George, I received a text message from our youngest. By coincidence (grace, gift, cosmic Divinity) he'd been watching old 8mm movies from my youth. He’d stopped a frame, captured a photo and sent it to me. The timing! SUCH HAPPY TEARS I SPROUTED! It’s the photo you see above and below.

Who am I? When I texted that question to my son after a brief description of my fear, he said nothing. He just sent the picture again. Oh, my heart ...

Turns out I am a cowgirl, a gypsy, a snake wrestler. I am prudently alert, conscientiously aware of germs AND I am gripped by fear. ANNNNNNNNNNNNND my imagination is both my gift and my enemy. "Worry is a misuse of the imagination." I long ago read that and memorized it.

We are living through a pandemic. It is wise to let our fight-or-flight responses point us in right directions while harnessing our fears best we can. And tears are grace. Like a pressure cooker, they keep our heads from exploding.

When all crying was over, I finally spoke sanely to George and fessed up, through more tears, “I felt not only like a wimp, but a failure to execute things in a proper order.” His response, “You are doing the best you can. Thank you.”

And there you have it everyone. THERE YOU HAVE IT!

We—as in you and me—are doing the best we can. Together we will be brave and frightened. Together we will cry, yes. But we will also find reasons to laugh and love and be kind to ourselves and those we love and those we don’t know.

The young man at the grocery store was probably just as afraid of my germs as I was of his. I’m sure my wild eyes alone terrified him.The medical community is HEROIC. I cannot even imagine … People who are keeping our food supply, transportation and healthcare functioning deserve our applause, our handouts, our tips, our gratitude. Send them notes. Write letters to your newspaper editors. Post this on social media.

This is a TwinkleGram I did not want to write. But the cowgirl in me braved the sea of failures and words, the snake wrestler grappled with them, peeling myself back to naked honesty, and the HERO in ME—and there is one in EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US-- wrote it.

May you each find that cowgirl, poet, seamstress, avid reader, letter writer, baker … whatever Best(s) of You there are and pass them along, while also keeping appropriate social distancing and/or staying at home, if possible, and staying safe. WASH THOSE HANDS OFTEN!


A Final Thought:

Will that harrowing defeating trip to the auction and grocery store be what I die from? Well, in all honesty I guess that remains to be seen, even though I'm sure my imagination ramped up germ-spread reality tenfold. But for now I’m going to say NO, it won't, and carry on.

"AMEN!" I said aloud as I typed AMEN! and laughed and began sobbing … again. As soon as I push send, I shall pour myself a whiskey. Make that a double.

PLEASE forward this message to anyone you think might be feeling alone in their fears. Please. I'd like to think this story is out there helping as many folks as possible buck up and carry on, even after the worst defeats. xo

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