It was early evening on a Sunday. Summer’s heat had not quite taken over, and I had the windows open to catch a breeze. Although COVID-19 has precluded parties or get-togethers in our quiet neighborhood, I heard voices in the yard next door, so I had to check it out. Walking out onto my back deck I spotted a deer in my neighbor’s yard, a big buck looking back toward Gary’s house. After my initial surprise, I could see it was not a live deer, but now I was curious. Gary and his family have not lived here long, and I do not know him well. I had met the family briefly, but since then, Gary would hail me if I was outside while he was mowing. I hail him back, smiling at how good it feels.
Gary and another man walked over to the deer and appeared to be examining it. That was it, I had to find out. I walked over to his yard and said, “Gary, you have a deer!”
He looked at me sheepishly, maybe a little embarrassed. “We’re doing target practice,” he said, “bow and arrow.” He introduced me to his friend, a polite good ol’ boy named Bobby. Bobby reached out to shake my hand, but I moved back, just touching fingertips.
“Oh,” I said. “My husband used to do some bow hunting.” I realized Gary had never been in my house to see Jerry’s “stuffed animals”: deer head, black duck, fox and several fish. Jerry quit hunting years ago, but his trophies remain. Now I couldn’t invite Gary in even if I wanted to.
Bobby nodded his head, “Yes, ma’am, I’ve heard so much about you.”
You have? I wondered. Ah, yes, the widow woman next door. “Well, I brought over some cookies to Gary’s family to introduce myself. I guess I will have to make some more.”
“Yes, ma’am, cookies would be most welcome.” I wanted to scratch my head over that. I wasn’t planning on making cookies for Bobby! I decided he was just being polite.
Out of things to say and feeling awkward, I said, “I just had to check out the deer. Bye now.” I walked back to my house.
This encounter was unusual for me. I rarely initiate contact with my neighbors, and don’t know many of them. The only neighbors Jerry and I had known well had sold their house to Gary. They were an older couple like us, and I miss them.
Since Jerry died and I have been stuck at home, something has changed within me, and I feel I would do anything for human contact. Not just waving, not saying, “Fine,” if someone asks how I am. I need someone I can touch. I need someone who understands what I am going through and will hold my hand.
I need a hug.
Sometimes I hear Gary’s three-year-old daughter squealing next door and I want to go over and play with her! I taught three-year olds in a daycare center years ago. I love kids and I love that age especially. But I can’t do that; I feel like I am on the fringe, outside looking in.
My sister and I talk via Facebook chat every Monday. Although we don’t cry much, she is the only person I can cry with without feeling embarrassed and vulnerable. She lost her husband a few weeks after Jerry died. I cherish my phone calls with Denise, but she is in New Jersey and I am in North Carolina. I would love to have her closer than five hundred miles.
So this is where I am. I am not so much sad as starving for human companionship. Sometimes I say, to myself but probably out loud, “You can do this, lady, buck up.” But I can honestly say this is new for me. It is more than grief, but I am sure that is part of it. This is not a normal life. I never knew I liked hugs so much, but now that I can’t hug, I think about hugging complete strangers!
I know how hard this isolation has been for so many, going on three months now. I am better off than a lot of others. I have some options that others do not. It helps when I am around people, so I am volunteering with a local organization, and it has been good for me. I go there twice a week for a couple of hours, and recently have taken on more responsibility. We wear masks and observe social distancing; I enjoy the interaction. My writers’ group has been meeting outdoors every week, maintaining social distancing. We have been together for years and care for each other. But we don’t hug, not now.
Today I went to my first class at the Y in three months. It was outside in the parking lot, early enough that it wasn’t too hot. I enjoyed seeing old friends. We wanted to hug but we didn’t.
I know there are people out there who love me, and I know those friends will be in touch as soon as we can get together. My daughter, Stacy, is coming to visit this month.
Ah, at least she can give me a hug.