Was it just a week ago I was getting a sad office lunch from a dingy food court? Oh sweet, sweet dingy food court. As we all hunker down at home while the rapidly escalating COVID-19 crisis takes over our lives, I’m realizing that there’s one group of people who are completely mentally prepared for something like this. That’s people like me, who assume that the worst is going to happen at all times. It turns out that neurotic anxiety about extremely unlikely scenarios comes in pretty handy when you’re standing in the middle of a cleaned-out Loblaw’s during a pandemic. I’ve been anticipating a disaster for so long, now that it’s (sort of) come, I feel bizarrely calm. When do I get to scream “I WAS RIGHT!!!!!”?
I’m a prepper, albeit an extremely bad one. I semi-regularly hide cash—mostly from myself—around the house in case the banks collapse, admittedly usually while under the influence of ONLY LEGAL weed. I’ve had three dusty bottles of water in my basement for so long, they’ve probably evaporated. I even keep a stash of expired painkillers in case I need to barter for essentials in a future dystopia. I haven’t gone camping since I was 11 and I don’t know how to light a fire, but I have some amazing anti-inflammatories I can trade for a tomato if the price is right.
Like Arya reciting her kill list on Game of Thrones, sometimes I lie awake in bed going over the things I’ll need to take in my “go” bag. “Medication, glasses, i.d., cash, family photos in waterproof container, change of clothes, phone, charger…” I whisper to myself as I definitely don’t drift off to sleep.
This Totally Healthy fixation was kick-started with the arrival of my kid. Before that, if disaster struck, I would have just pulled a Charlize Theron à la The Road and walked into the street to be consumed by cannibals. But now I have to survive, goddammit, so I need to play out every scenario in my head: What I would do, who would I call, what do I have, what do we need?
I have planned—in detail—what to do if my neighbour’s house catches fire. (Briefly: call 911, stash the kid in the car, ring every doorbell on the street then smash through the window of the neighbour’s living room with a hand ax, singlehandedly saving her entire family while calmly instructing my husband to put the cat in her carrier and collect our wallets and passports. He is amazed by my clear-headedness and can’t believe how well I reacted under pressure!)
Other scenarios I’ve rehearsed include earthquakes and a tsunami, in Toronto (what? Climate crisis, people!). And among the crucial skills I’ve taught my 9-year-old—how to dial 911, how to play Monopoly, how to spread his own peanut butter on toast—is what to do if a zombie is after you. Yes, really.
“There’s no such thing as zombies,” he tells me flatly.
“WHAT DO YOU DO?”
He sighs. “Just keep running.”
No, I’ve never spoken to a therapist about this, why do you ask?
This hypervigilance would make sense if I’d fled war, or endured hardship or gone hungry a day in my life, but nope, nope and nope. So I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe I was a starving wastrel hurricane survivor in Victorian England in a past life. Or maybe always expecting lightning to strike is just encoded in my Jewish genes. My ancestor: “Oh, Moshe, look, our nice neighbours are all coming over and they’re bringing pitchforks. They are just so helpful!”
Or maybe I can blame my mother, who has been stockpiling, like, everything since 1974, because you never know when you’re going to need 40-year-old skis or a can of creamed corn. When I was little, we had a cold storage room filled with wax beans and pickles like we were farmers about to hunker down for the famously long, harsh North York winter of 1838. I don’t know what we were stocking up for, but it was definitely a better deal if you bought eight.
Unfortunately, while years of being scared of a crisis of this magnitude means I’m not panicking (yet), it doesn’t mean I’m actually more prepared than anyone else. Like most people, I have toilet paper, kids’ Tylenol, matches, two jars of peanut butter and some canned soup. Oh, and cash. WHO’S CRAZY NOW, HONEY?
If anyone knows where I stashed that $127, please come on over and tell me through my living-room window—there’s an expired painkiller in it for you.