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Being single in lockdown makes cashiers, drive-thru kids targets for small talk

Columnist Wendy King finds herself in desperate need of conversation these days

It was almost a year ago when we were first being informed and educated about COVID-19 and asked to limit our comings and goings and our social interactions.

I remember driving down a local street and seeing some little kids standing in their driveway with their dad waving to people. It was such a sweet gesture and clearly powerful since I remember it a year later.

They were saying, “I see you."

The first lockdown was hard, but we were so hopeful then. We thought it might last a couple of months.

But, here we are.

This current lockdown seems much harder.

I know that because I find myself searching the horizon for a glimpse of another human being. I can see recycling buckets come out to the curb and then disappear, so I am fairly sure there are still people behind those shuttered doors in the neighbourhood, but I haven’t seen one in days.

I am certainly complying with the stay-at-home order. I just am finding it tough. I feel like I am suffocating.

I think I miss small talk.

I noticed I have turned into my parents. Whenever we went shopping, I’d find Mom listening to a stranger’s sob story in line at the checkout. Never failed. She was very empathetic. My dad, like most other men of a certain vintage, would have been found on a bench somewhere in the mall discussing world events with a new-found friend.

That’s me now. I am in desperate need of conversation.

I feel bad for the poor kid at the drive-thru.

Me: “Hi. I thought I recognized your voice through the speaker. How are you? How’s the family? Do you have family? Any pets? I have a cat. Are you busy? Feels cold today. Any specials? My coffee was made perfectly last time — great job!”

Him: “Drive up, lady.”

Me: “OK, great chat. See you tomorrow. Hope you’ll be here. Have a good night. What are your plans?” 

It's basically the same at whatever store I am allowed to go into. My eyes get big as saucers in anticipation when I view the cashier. If he or she is friendly, I am in my glory. Those little nothing conversations, which I always found tedious and time wasters, are now my lifeline.

Do you find it disconcerting that people don’t make eye contact anymore? 

It feels like everyone is in fear of one another, which I guess is exactly the truth of the matter. 

Beware the rebel who goes down the aisle ignoring the directional arrow. I feel my body tense. Do you find yourself trying to make yourself small? Turn your body away? I practically hyperventilate until they have passed. Yet, I don’t want to seem rude, so I act like all is well, but I can’t wait to burn rubber with the wheels of my wobbly shopping cart.

With these new more contagious variants of the virus (U.K. and South Africa), it feels like you are taking your health in your hands whenever you go out. Have I picked the right store at the right time with the healthiest people? It feels like a gamble. I hate being afraid of people.

What got me thinking about how badly I am handling this lack of social interaction is thinking about how good I’ve got it.

What about children who haven’t been able to play with their friends for almost a year in some cases? No school or periodic school? No after-school activities? They are suffering from all this distancing physically and mentally.

Young people, whose life is all about their peers, must be having a hard time. What if they don’t have a stable home to stay home in?

The older population? Visits were likely a bright spot in their week. How are they coping? It must feel like jail if they are confined to a long-term care facility.

For now, I guess we reach out as best we can through e-mail, phone calls and Zoom meetings.

I try to contact a few different people each day. It's no big effort and it benefits everyone. 

Not everybody is comfortable admitting they feel sad, scared, unsure or angry.

Studies are now being done showing that long after the virus is gone the emotional scars will remain.

I venture to say everybody is struggling with something especially as this pandemic drags on.

Small talk is a big deal.

So, when some oddly chatty lady wants to converse in line, just keep your distance, keep your mask on and humour her with a reply.

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About the Author: Wendy King

Wendy King writes about all kinds of things from nutrition to the job search from cats to clowns — anything and everything — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Watch for Wendy's column weekly.
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