I peer through the glass doors of the freezer aisle at my grocery store in Fraser, Colorado. I eye the bags of frozen cherries like a predator circling its prey. Red and sweet, pitted and bagged—they offer the promise of freshness without the expiration date.
For my family of three, I would normally buy just one bag.
But they are on sale, I think, as I put two in the cart. Then I add a bag of frozen raspberries and some kale-berry smoothie concoction. I justify the excess: I am doing the right thing to stock up. The more I buy, the longer it will last, and the longer I can stay away.
Stay away and stay safe.
I fill the cart to brimming in spite of the last-minute substitutions I am making: no spinach, so I fill a produce bag with broccoli. I grab some extra crackers, because the chip aisle is almost bare. It’s not so much that the store is empty. But where eighteen varieties of rice stood, there are now just two. By the time I get to the dairy case, the alarm bells are going off in my head: Buy it before it’s gone!
I take a deep breath (behind my mask) and remind myself that the next truck is probably coming over Berthoud Pass, full of all the things that don’t grow at 9,000 feet: bananas, honeycrisp apples, and avocados. Like the animal I am, I reach for things I never normally buy: frozen chicken pot pies and a bag of unbleached flour. (I don’t even bake—at least not well.)
I have read enough apocalyptic teen fiction to know what comes after a pandemic: canned food brimming with botulism, water that needs to be boiled before drinking (not to mention bands of vigilantes and an impossible love story to keep the readers’ interest).
My imagination is not usually so active on a trip to the grocery store. Fearing fellow human beings is not a mantra by which I live my life. In this safe mountain town, we rarely lock our doors. We do not own guns. We have never been robbed, threatened, or fearful of our neighbors. We have never over-stocked our larder more than after the occasional trip to Costco for school snacks and affordable jars of nut butter. But now I am afraid.
Full-time residents in our county are angry that “outsiders” are coming in, taking our resources and taxing our limited health care system. Their Facebook comments slash the screen with ugly warnings: “Stay out! We don’t want you city people up here in our clean mountains, mucking things up.”
So close the pass and stop the trucks delivering groceries, toilet paper, and pet food? Stop the ambulances going down to Denver hospitals with patients suffering from broken bones, cancer diagnoses, or babies on the way? Does it not occur to the trolls that if we shut “them” out , we effectively lock ourselves in?
Many of the things I am reading about this pandemic are hopeful. I would love to join my voice to that chorus.
But I can’t. I think what scares me the most is the hoarder inside me. I didn’t know she was there, and even if I had a notion she might rise up, I thought I could resist her. But she is convincing. She whispers in my ear: Take care of me and mine. Forget about “we” and “us.” Because isn’t that what the hoarding is a sign of? Isn’t that what we are all expressing when we read the headlines and see the death toll ticking upwards? We take a collective schadenfreudian sigh of relief: as long as it’s not me nor mine.
Until it is.
When I return home and start to unpack and sterilize my bounty, I tell my husband of my fear. He makes a valid point: If it were our family doing the majority of the hoarding, there would certainly be a shortage of gummy worms rather than toilet paper.
Nice to know that in a crisis, at least we agree on the necessities.
Anna Szczepanski is a librarian living in Winter Park.