Hoarding talismans

I don’t think anyone ever really knows what they’ll do in a crisis before it happens. I finally figured out that my approach to handling the pandemic is really a misplaced reaction to the idea of my husband’s death.

Instead of running away from it or (better yet) facing it head on, I’m going into hyper-preparedness mode about the pandemic. I’m normally pretty minimalist in my decor yet I’ve been filling up all the empty space in my house with things we may need someday. We are privileged to have more space than we really need.

That spot by the bay window in the kitchen where I always thought a little bistro table would look cute now holds a case of Diet Coke for my daughter and a backup case of sparkling water for my boys. My pantry, fridge, indoor freezer, and chest freezer are all packed full.

My beautiful dining room with the high ceiling above my beloved bought-used-at-a-discount Pottery Barn table is now surrounded with cases of both toilet paper and paper towels on one end. I’ve taken over the entire dining room, save for the family still being able to eat there. I also have an ironing board set up in there with my sewing machine and piles of fabric for making masks.

By now, my hyper-preparedness is spilling over into almost every room except the kids’ bedrooms. Another delivery of toilet paper is on my bathroom floor, next to the two (!!) 25-packs of my razors and the 6-pack of my allergy nose spray. As soon as it looks even remotely possible that we could run out of something, I’m back on Amazon, Target, or Costco’s websites to order more to be delivered.

Perhaps the most ridiculous purchase I made was not the case of toilet paper, like my husband initially thought, but the 28-pack of Swiffer dusters I bought in hopes of encouraging me to dust more often.

It’s not a good look for this former minimalist, I’ll tell you that much. Unquestionably, this is the messiest my house has ever looked. In my defense, though, I’ve been sharing my supplies generously with people who need them. I’ve already given away almost a quarter of my toilet paper. I made a (what was huge to me) cash donation to the local food bank and probably will make another, and helped a friend with her rent. I’m not just keeping everything for myself while I let others rot. That’s not who I am.

At the same time, I realized that every little order I place, every mask I volunteer to make, is my little way of hoarding talismans, doing magic spells to try to keep people safe. When my daughter goes out, I make sure she has the mask I made for her. I found a place that may still have hand sanitizer in stock so I can try to find some for her.

But it’s deeper than just wanting to protect the people I love. It’s a rare slip into magical thinking.

If I never run out of anything, my husband won’t die.

If I make enough face masks for him, my husband won’t die.

If I stock the pantry enough, my kids and I won’t starve if he does die.

For the same reason, I also have an extremely aggressive savings plan to reach by the end of the year and I’m over halfway there already, even despite all the hoarder-like stocking. I’ve only ever seen the amount of money I am trying to save once in my lifetime, when we got the proceeds from selling the house we owned here before at a nice profit.

He and I have talked about this. We know that no day can be taken for granted anymore. Right now, he’s cancer-free, but that could change while he’s off chemo. And if he catches COVID-19, he very possibly might not even make it to the end of the year.

There’s really no way to make sense of death when it seems so imminent. Something primitive in my brain took over and said that now is the time to stock up on everything. I don’t think his death is that imminent, as he seems perfectly healthy right now. But once you hear the phrase “stage IV cancer” applied to the person you love most in the whole world, something beyond rational thought takes over.

So I’m being quite unlike myself in having this incredibly messy home filled with a ton of stuff. But really, all the *stuff* is just a substitute for the control I don’t have, which the pandemic triggered in me. I’m trying to hoard enough talismans to keep away the event that I never want to arrive.

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