GhosTown

GhosTown
Jan van Eyck: Saint Barbara (1437)
"I am the ghost haunting this GhosTown."

For many, myself included, errand-running had become our only socialization. We'd either be alone at home or out to the shops. We acknowledged that this form of interaction lacked intimacy, as we only rarely knew those we encountered, but they nonetheless performed a valuable service for us. Their presence proved reassuring that we might not actually be quite as lonely as we usually felt. We could exchange pleasantries with somebody more sociable than a cat while temporarily feeling part of a bustle. Since The Damned Pandemic descended, though, those Main Streets and town centers have ceased attracting. We're more likely to slink around the edges of them rather than attempting anything like our former full immersions. Our social lives have retreated into suspension. We might still warmly anticipate a post office visit if only to revel in the long-familiar context of it, clerks always chatty from standing so very near the center of the universe. One does not very often visit the post office.

I shop as if I were deep sea diving now, checking my gear before entering, and lingering no longer than absolutely necessary.
My fellow shoppers lurk as threatening adversaries, spotted from the corner of my eye as we both avoid any more intimate eye contact. I mostly attend to keeping my distances, avoiding aisles where shoppers cluster, even entirely shunning stores where a parking lot seems unreasonably full. I enter in penitent isolation as if apologizing for my fleeting presence, as if I were not really there. I never linger to consider anything not previously entered on my list and I navigate only paths of least resistance, scrupulously maintaining my distance as if I were an oversized ocean liner trying to birth at a tiny hamlet's dock. I feel as if I were taking up too much space.

I inevitably leave without finding everything on my list, as if my lungs would have burst had I tarried any longer. Shelves remain sporadically stocked. I'm likely to find a few of them bare and leave feeling as if I'd intruded somewhere I didn't belong, as if I'd embarrassed the stock clerks by seeing right through their padded deceptions. The shopping centers, those not already shuttered, seem on the edge of evaporation, gap-toothed with vacancies. I spent an idle afternoon searching for a three ounce bottle of some miracle plant fertilizer, stopping at a succession of shops, each more forlorn than the former, without finding what I was seeking. I'm learning to more fully appreciate not finding whatever I go seeking, for these searches still hold vestiges of my once more vibrant purpose. Those searches stand in for my former socialization. In three of the stops, I entered and quickly exited without speaking with anyone, like a ghost floating through. I daily feel increasingly invisible, even to myself.

Interactions define our edges. We are our selves largely because of everybody else surrounding us. When their presence fuzzes, it only follows that we feel ourselves fuzzing as well, less distinct, perhaps on an edge of extinction. Pandemic Fatigue is not simply a product of impatience, but of a particularly disturbing form of absence. The GhosTown hollowness a Main Street holds when one acknowledges that there's no safe place to go into there anymore. Restaurants, previously in the business of dispensing revelry, trade in amplifying opportunities for me to take advantage of myself, a self I hardly recognize anymore. I might dream of taking a table and ordering myself a meal but my self seems strangely absent then and thoughts of encountering spacial squeezing chase away my appetite again and again. I drive by longingly, knowing that I dare not stop, wondering what I think I'm preserving. I am the ghost haunting this GhosTown, haunting myself.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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