In a pre-Covid-19 world, I would rush out the door at 8:50 am to get to work for 9, frantically patting down my body for my essentials while walking down three flights of stairs with my bike on one shoulder and whispering “phone, work phone, keys, wallet, money.” This morning, on my first day back at work since the lockdown in Italy, my whisper was slow and went something like “mask, disinfectant hand gel, ID, autocertificazione.” I was early. I hadn’t slept. The new normal.
Yesterday was my first day back at work since lockdown restrictions slowly began lifting here in Italy.
The night before going in to work for the first time in 4 weeks felt a lot like the night before my first day of high school. But in high school, I didn’t have to think about what to wear because I had a uniform and went to an all-girls Catholic high school and was always (it happened twice, I’m dramatic) sent to the principal because teachers thought I was wearing lipstick BUT MY LIPS ARE JUST NATURALLY RED AND I HAD TO WIPE MY LIPS TO PROVE I WASN’T WEARING MAKEUP but that’s a teenage trauma story for another time). I made my lunch because I didn’t feel like searching for an open snack bar to pick something up. I got my clothes ready. I showered.
And then, I got in bed, was attacked by four different mosquitoes and prayed the bites wouldn’t swell because I’m very allergic to most Italian mosquitoes, thought about all of the terrible men I worked with in Vancouver restaurants and replayed the conversations in my head with all the epic comebacks I would’ve said to them, got up for water, got up to pet the cat, turned on the salt lamp, turned off the salt lamp and slept for maybe 32 minutes before waking up at 7 am to get ready for my first day back at work.
How do I make my hair wavy? Oh god, I burnt my neck with the straightener. Is this thing on? Where does blush REALLY go on your face? (PRO TIP: Don’t wear blush, it will dirty your entire face mask). I felt a noticeable lack of fluidity in my morning routine. But I got my shit together, said bye to my dog and I headed to work.
Walking through the front door of the building felt okay. I avoided the door handle. The happy-go-lucky security guard who ALWAYS WISHES YOU “BUONGIORNO, BUON PRANZO, BUON RIENTRO, BUONA SERATA” was there to say hello, but he had a foreign object in his hand: A THERMOMETER. There was a co-worker in front of me and we waved at each other — the entire day involved a lot of waving — but I couldn’t figure out if she knew I was smiling or if my eyes were lifeless and she thought I was being a jerk.
The security guard took my temperature (36.8°C because I’m Canadian and wear tank tops in the winter), squirted my hands with so much hand sanitizer, gave me two pairs of gloves, two masks to change every 4 hours and I was off.
I usually take the elevator even if I’m only on the second floor (DON’T JUDGE ME EVERYONE DOES IT) but now, we all take the stairs because a tiny elevator is not Covid friendly. When I got to my office, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Everything seemed normal. But then I saw it: PLEXIGLASS. It was everywhere. The rumors were true. All desks were divided by plexiglass so clean you would 100% walk right into it if you had a few negronis and there was a disinfectant spray for every individual office to use. In the bathrooms, there were instructions on how to wash your hands properly — how embarrassing, I know how to wash my hands ok! In the halls, there were reminders about keeping a safe distance.
I think my boss disinfected his hands about 86 times throughout the day and almost broke his keyboard with the impressive amount of disinfectant spray he used. I’ll let you know if he still has hands next week.
But it felt a lot like we were pretending everything was normal. Pretending we weren’t all extremely uncomfortable with a mask digging into the back of our ears. (I’m not complaining, health care workers are my heroes and I am one of the lucky ones, but 8 hours of wearing a mask is so distracting when you’re not used to it!). Pretending we couldn’t see our reflection in the plexiglass as we talked to our co-worker about how we would call another company from the same office while standing 1,8 meters apart. Pretending we don’t all look completely ridiculous and uncomfortable with foggy glasses and our new fear of door handles. The uneasiness felt like constant micro-aggression, taking up head space when all you wanted to do was focus on your work. I even accidentally touched my eye and felt like I had to squeeze a little disinfectant gel on my eyeball just in case. I didn’t, but I was panicked about it for a solid hour.
People were generally shocked when I told them I was going to be physically heading back to work once a week. Yes, I can do my job from home (but I have noticed working from home is not for everyone — OH GIRL). But facing the back-to-the-office fear that was building in the back of my mind was something I needed to do. It helped my mental health and I’m sort of happy to be going in once a week. However, yesterday at about 9:38 am, I was panicked and ready to go home. But the fear slowly went away. The entire day was sort of like a hands-on session of pandemic fear desensitization therapy.
At lunch, I went to the garden in back of the Villa where I work with Chiara and we talked about her love for Coop (an Italian grocery store) vegetarian nuggets, the beauty of Arezzo and all of a sudden, everything felt alright.
This pandemic has drowned us —or at least has drowned me— with so much fear. Who knew fear could be so contagious? It can be really hard to not cry for health workers who are dying and working in terrible conditions, feel for everyone who is grieving loved ones they can’t touch and saying goodbye to the life we once knew. Things might not be the same for a really long time. And that hurts. I don’t know when I’ll be able to fly to Canada to see my family and that gives me anxiety. What if something happens? But I can’t live in a world of what ifs. The only way to move forward is to accept change, so as hard as that is, that’s what I’ll do — or try to do to the best of my ability. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll talk about vegetarian nuggets in a Florentine garden at lunch to remind myself that things aren’t so bad and we’ll be okay.
Be safe xx