Once an ordinary grocery store, it had turned into a haphazard battlefield. Scattered with polymer gloves and surgical masks, the floor now posed as a deleterious minefield of germs.
I readied my weapons just as I entered work; a half-empty bottle of hand sanitizer and a pack of disinfecting wipes stuffed into the pocket of my apron.
For the past three years, I have been working at the same grocery store and was never referred to by a title. This all changed when the stay at home order was issued. Now I’m being called a hero, an essential worker but in reality, I was just as scared as the panicked shoppers.
Overcrowding was an issue.
Every day was a new battle. Me against the customers and them against me. At times they would get so close, I could feel the warmth of their breath grazing the back of my neck as if I had a gun pointed at me. A surgical mask and a thin pair of gloves were my body armor against this new, invisible enemy.
Customers yelled and screamed at me when I wouldn’t let them in, but their words dissolved into their face masks. I only heard broken phrases and mumbles, but their eyes spoke louder than their voices. I could see the dread and anxiety in them.
The store doors opened at 6 a.m. They would wait outside the doors hours before the store opened, lined up in perfect formation with their shopping carts ready to barge in like tanks. It was an undeniable army, but of anxious shoppers desperate to rush and hoard, snagging any and all food, even the ones usually deemed inedible.
Water bottles, toilet paper, and disinfecting products were the items of choice for most. They were gone as soon as the front doors opened. I saw people fight over them as if they were gold bars, or as though their life depended on it.
Shopping carts were filled to the brim with all types of food as the checkout lines wrapped around the store in all directions. I became accustomed to the sound of cash registers beeping nonstop, my new white noise. Customers regularly ignored the social distancing rules as something recommended, but not yet enforced.
A typical workday would be 10 to 12 hours a day. I would be on and off the register to help stock up the isles that were just constant empty shelves of steel and wood. By the end of my shift, I felt like the soles of my shoes had molded into the shape of my feet. Anxiety and stress were my weaknesses.
It has been three months since the stay at home order was issued. The store isn’t as hectic as it used to be. It isn’t a battlefield anymore. It has rejuvenated into a grocery store again. Customers are complying with the rules that are in place.
From time to time we still get a rush of customers that come in, but gone are the days of hoarding and panic shopping. The shelves are filled with all types of food products. Water, toilet paper, and defecting products are back in stock.
I have been working part-time shifts again with a splash of eight-hour shifts.
I have found ways to cope with my anxiety and stress. Video games and music are my outlets, my escape. They help me forget about the hardship reality I deal with day in and day out.