Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Amy Connolly: “Facing our fear is something we will be doing over and over again as the world opens back up and possibly closes back down again in the coming months.” Photo courtesy of Amy Connolly

Amy Connolly of Falmouth says her two children normally love going to Target for a shopping excursion. But since the coronavirus outbreak, the public outings have been infrequent, particularly for her young son. Connolly said she knew he needed to get past a growing fear of exposure.

On Saturday they ventured to the store, and saw other shoppers coping with their own fears and uncertainties.

“This was the first time my son, who is 9, had been out to a public place in over two months,” said Connolly, 46. “He was scared to come but I knew that it was important for him to face that fear a little. Fear grows over time if we don’t face it and I could feel his fear growing in both of us.

“I know that most of us will face COVID-19 at some point. There is no way to know what that means until it happens. I know people die from the flu. Yet, when I have the flu, I am not afraid. When my kids get the flu, I am not afraid. They have faced pneumonia after the flu and still I was not afraid. I never feared they would be hospitalized without me by their side. I never feared they would die. I never feared they would be faced with a parent on a ventilator. Despite all this, the risk to go out was outweighing the risk to our mental health to stay home. I am responsible for taking care of both my own and my son’s physical and mental health.

“We had our homemade masks on. Our coats, too thin for the weather. We laughed about how silly it was to be standing in the freezing cold with snow falling in May. How the masks actually helped us feel a bit warmer. We noted that the line (outside the store) was moving along. This wasn’t so bad. The couple in front of us kept turning, smiling and commenting as my son and I chatted. We were all in need of human interaction. We dutifully stood six feet from one another.

“Eyes have a way of showing fear. Perhaps I noticed this because that was the only part of the face I could see as I looked around, but so many eyes flickered with fear. This was in contrast to the numbness I could see in the Target employee’s eyes. One doesn’t feel fear every day without going a little numb.

“As patrons exited, others were let in. ‘One for one,’ the employee kept saying. The store felt empty. I took a disinfectant wipe from my purse and wiped down the cart. On occasion two carts would face off in the aisle and one would inevitably turn away for fear of getting too close. Employees seemed to disappear as we walked along. I wanted to say, ‘We are safe. We haven’t been anywhere for weeks.’ We did our shopping. Some things needed. Most not. I admit. We could have skipped this trip to the store. Did any of us really need to be there?

“(This trip) was about the attempt to feel normal in a very abnormal situation. I felt like this when I had my first baby and my world was turned upside down. I was overwhelmed with everything. Going to Target was something we could handle together in those early days. My son would sleep in his baby carrier for an hour while I wandered the aisles. Some days a smile from a stranger gave me some hope that I could handle this. It gave me some strength to be able to say, ‘I can do this.’

“Most of the shelves today were well stocked and it felt normal, despite the itchy mask that fogged up my glasses. My son complained he had trouble breathing. We both have mild asthma. I coached him to take slower, deeper breaths hoping it was more anxiety than asthma. We both have anxiety, too. My thoughts went to the possibility of kids being required to wear a mask in the fall when school started. Would he be able to handle a mask all day? My mind wandered the consequences of children learning to socialize without facial cues.

“Then we would come to an aisle with empty shelves in stark contrast to the rest of the store. The exercise equipment. The toilet paper. The hand sanitizer. The rice. What does that say about us that we hoard toilet paper? I found a bottle of hand sanitizer from a brand I had never heard of before. A sign posted reminded shoppers to just take one. It smelled like something I would have drank as a poor college student. I was pleased to find a big bag of Jasmine rice and plenty of kidney beans in the taco section. The regular bean and rice shelves were empty. I felt as if I had discovered a secret.

“As we checked out, my son happily used the scanning gun at the self-checkout. I had the feeling back that ‘I can do this!’ My son and I were facing our fear. It was OK. It was somber but brought on a feeling of relief too. We weren’t alone in our fear. That was evident from every other set of eyes we met along the way.

“Facing our fear is something we will be doing over and over again as the world opens back up and possibly closes back down again in the coming months. As we begin to slowly go back to work. As we meet our friends again.  As we send our kids back to school. As many of us, who haven’t already, meet the disease face-to-face. We exited the store as two more shoppers were allowed to enter. I headed in the opposite direction of the van. My son, with a twinkle in his eyes, steered us in the actual direction of the van. OK, so ‘We can do this!’ Together.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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