The knock on the door came as a surprise, given that it was eight o’clock in the morning and I was still in bed. Like a lot of seniors, I had just begun my daily ritual of reading the obituaries, in my case in The Gazette, on my iPad.
“Just a second,” I called out. “I’m not decent.”
Two minutes later, I was partially hiding behind my partially open front door, staring into the lovely blue eyes of my next-door neighbour, Oona. I was slightly out of breath because, at 79, just getting out of bed can be a challenge. All those arthritic bones twisting and turning — and then untangling yourself from the sheets. Not to mention scrounging around for my dressing gown and slippers (no bedpan yet, thank God).
So there stood Oona, still perky in her mid-60s, smiling pleasantly and forgetting all about self-distancing.
“It’s about your plumbing,” she said.
“Well, I’m still getting up to pee two or three times a night, if that’s what you‘re asking,” I replied (checking to see if the sash on my dressing gown was still holding).
“No, I mean the actual plumbing in your bathroom. Have you heard any weird noises coming from there?”
“Yes,” I said, “but that’s only after I’ve had smoked meat and beer.”
“Be serious. I’m asking because the woman in the condo directly above you has the plumber coming this afternoon. He might want to check inside your apartment. Will you be home?”
“Probably. If I DO go out I’ll leave the front door open.”
Oona was about to retreat back into her own condo when I asked her, “What happened to your tan?”
“What tan?” she said, puzzled.
“Haven’t you been away on vacation? I figured you were lying on a beach somewhere.”
During pre-Covid times, Mona and her boyfriend, Martin, would escape our winters by travelling throughout Europe or Africa. They’d be gone weeks, even months.
“I’ve been stuck here,” she said, sounding frustrated. “What makes you think I’ve been away?”
“Your car hasn’t moved from your parking spot in a month.”
In the past, that usually meant she was at Martin’s house in the Eastern Townships. He’d visit her here on weekends, and take her home in his car if they had a trip planned. “And there weren’t any lights on in your place.”
“I just stayed in my room,” she said. Then: “I’ll be so glad when this (Covid) is over … and now they’re talking about another variant. When will it end?”
I then inquired about Martin who, after a nerve-racking year of repeated delays, recently had quadruple heart-bypass surgery — and has been slow to recover. “He’s lost so much weight,” Oona said, worried. Then she began to tear up.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Look, if you ever feel like company, you just have to knock.”
And so these difficult times continue, even as most Covid-19 restriction cease. Streets in my suburb are still mostly deserted after 9 p.m., even on weekends. Bars and restaurants are still suffering. Malls, too.
Many of us prefer to stay home, maskless. After months of semi-isolation and self-distancing, we’re leery of crowds, unless we’re at a Canadiens game. And we get bored: You can only take so much reading, television and computer-time before restlessness sets in.
I suspect the only people worse off are young people, especially young parents, whose lives, and their children’s lives, have been turned upside down. For them, these last two years must seem like an eternity. Especially if financial and health problems are added to the mix. And there appears to be no end in sight; just different coping strategies.
I actually had a young female bank employee break down in front of me a few months ago. I was getting four money orders (in U.S. funds) for my two granddaughters’ upcoming birthdays and Christmases.
When the girl handed me the money orders, I checked to see if everything was in order. It wasn’t. “You’ve spelled my last name incorrectly,” I said. “You’re missing an “r.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
That meant starting all over again. Two minutes later, she handed me the “corrected” money orders, but again misspelled my last name. She was short an “s.”
I could see she was getting more and more agitated as carbon copies began piling up in front of her. She was running out of workspace and fidgeting uncomfortably in front of her computer. She looked about ready to drop everything and leave.
“Look,” I said, “would it help if I left you alone? I could go away for 10 minutes while you get things straightened out?”
“Are you sure … if you don’t mind?”
When I returned, the four money orders were made out correctly.
“Sorry, about that,” she said, holding back tears. “I’m just so fed up with everything. And these masks aren’t helping. By the end of the day, I can’t wait to take it off.”
“No need to apologize. I don’t know how you can stand it day after day.”
A month later, I returned to the bank. She saw me coming, and I could sense a smile behind her mask. And maybe even a little embarrassment.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I said. “And don’t worry … I’m not back for more money orders. I just have one question.”
“Do you remember how to spell my last name?”
“No … but I know one thing: There’s a double ‘r’ and a double ’s.’ That, I’ll never forget?”
You can bank on it.