I’m sorry, Cheryls.
Being excessively privileged during a pandemic requires always being aware of one’s privilege. We haven’t seen all of our grandchildren in over a year, some who live close by being the sole exception last Fall. Our social lives, like many, have been experienced almost entirely in two dimensions; with a weak wave and a vague sense of relief when each Zooming session ended. Research since indicates an increase in emotional stress when what we used to call video-conferencing replaces social gatherings. I joined a weekly Zoom poker game, and a weekly Zoom playwright’s group, and officiated a wedding over Zoom. Janet took up crosswords and planned (and executed!) house renovations. Her book club met outside in the rain and over fire pits.
We were reminded weekly that we were most fortunate, as everything we needed was delivered. Our tips were generous, but could not begin to make up for the risk these people took in those jobs. I thanked them often, but often felt I should be apologizing.
We were exhausted for no good reason. Increasingly “Did you empty the dishwasher?” “No, I forgot but what does it matter?” [Never say this.] On more than one occasion, coffee grounds were dumped into a trash can that lacked a liner, because I couldn’t keep two tasks together in my head. “Put trash out, replace liner.”
Finally, about three months in, I was confronted with yet another chore not completed or dish left out. I just muttered, “Goddammit Cheryl.” “What?” “Cheryl. I hired her to start helping out here but she just isn’t working out.” I looked at Janet for a moment, hoping an element of absurdity would help us move past an awkward moment. It worked much better than expected. This became our running joke, and deflated many tense moments over the remaining months. Step on a tack? CHERYL. Last glass of wine disappears from the bottle? CHERYL.
We planned meals, went on a keto diet and lost weight. Every once in a while, though, as the room darkened and we realized it was past the dinner hour — we would just bail on our carefully planned repast and have burgers delivered. Motivation was absent, anhedonia loomed. Several times this past year, Janet resolved to conduct one of her signature “deep cleans” for the house. It sparkled for a few weeks or so, until the floors once again resembled more forest floor than hardwood. Neither of us, ok Janet, couldn’t get motivated enough to sweep and scrub floors on a regular basis.
March marked a year in relative voluntary confinement. I found myself looking for something to mark the grim occasion, when it hit me. It’s been a year of frugality here, so when I turned to Janet with my idea, I began with: “Don’t be angry.” [Absolutely never start a conversation this way. With anyone, really.] Her shoulders raised, her hair clenched. “What did you do?” “Nothing yet. But… I think we need a Roomba.” She paused, then her shoulders slumped into a weak smile. “Yeah, we really do.”
We named it Cheryl.