Neon Light Street Light

Speaking for myself, the Pandemic changed a lot of things. For over a year, I seldom left my house and I was fine with that. Each excursion into the outside world was an anxiety-provoking ordeal. Eleven months ago, my insurance company pointed out to me that I hadn’t seen a doctor in 2020, and would I please cut that shit right out? Okay, I said, and started making appointments. Then Pete and I had COVID. We had mild cases, but when we had the opportunity to get vaccinated in the spring, we jumped at the chance. Even so, I mostly stayed in the house until late September and in early October, I was called into the office twice a week. I hate it. It’s awkward. The building is cold and I have to put on shoes and socks and pants, damn it. I have to put on pants.

But the Pandemic also introduced something new in my neighborhood: mutual aid with strangers.

Over a year ago and after the end of the quarantine, Pete and I and our neighbor Andie started putting books, mugs, extra Mason jars, clothing, tables, all sorts of extraneous things in boxes on the sidewalk with a sign that said FREE. People took books because everyone was spending more time at home. Some people were reluctant to take things if we were on the porch. We encouraged them to take whatever interested them, and when they did, we put out more stuff. This has been helpful as we empty my mother’s house. It’s been more than two and a half years since Mom died, and now that stepdad Tom has moved out, we are still sorting through a shocking amount of useless, stored stuff.

This morning, I was studying, then went out for short walk. The air was crisp and cool; the sunlight bright. During the time we were all at home, I would walk this same path and see lots of my neighbors had the same idea. They put out tables or rugs with unneeded objects for anyone to take. Three houses down today, I found this table, which I had not seen before. I remembered a box I’d forgotten about a couple of months ago, and time passes so strangely now. When I got home, I put out the box on the sidewalk and added five matching mugs that someone else could use. I’m going to look around this afternoon for other things to give away.

Before the Pandemic, I would have bet against most of my neighbors talking to me. Andie and I spent a lot of time on the porch this summer working from home, her more than me. New people moved in across the street and Andie declared their antics, “the best TV ever.” There’s a small boy who appears to be boneless. His father does pushups in the yard and parks his van on the lawn. The boy’s mother may have had enough of absolutely everyone and everything, and there are visiting cousins. Their friends stand in the driveway and drink until all hours and the little boy stands around with them. I’m almost sad it’s winter and this circus has been driven indoors. But who knows, maybe they’ll stay another year. These neighbors studiously avoid eye contact and do not interact with anyone outside their circle of friends. Other neighbors now seek out conversation. Last week, a neighborhood tuxedo cat was out walking a man and when the cat stopped to talk with me, so did the man. That’s never happened to me before. Andie tells me it she sees them regularly. I’m still concerned about meeting up with crazy people, but I am cautiously thinking about getting out more.

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