Living at home for my senior year of college was not in my life plan, but honestly, neither was a worldwide pandemic. Another thing that wasn’t in my life plan was going to work at the small-town grocery store that I had grown up shopping at. Except, that’s my reality now, so I’ve fit it into my life plan.
I realized early on in the pandemic that some big changes were coming my way, and I don’t know if I was ready to face them, but they came anyway. One big change was having to take on a larger amount of financial independence in my own life. I was living under the veil of “ignorance is bliss” in regard to my financial situation. I didn’t work when I was living at school, so why would I work now? Well, that veil got ripped off soon after the world locked down.
I searched for jobs that would fit in with my schedule. Balancing a full class schedule, an internship, a (socially distanced) social life, and any shred of my mental health with a job seemed impossible, but I saw an advertisement for positions open at the local grocery store and I applied the same day. Honestly, there weren’t very many places hiring in the midst of a global health crisis.
Working as an essential worker during the COVID pandemic has revealed a lot about people, and human nature in general, to me. I always used to think that people would do something to benefit others pretty readily, as long as what they are being asked to do did not cause themselves any harm. That is not the case. I guess I was just too optimistic about human altruism for my own good.
People refuse to wear masks correctly, or often at all. Every time I walk into work I hear customers telling someone how COVID is a “plan-demic”. I had a man put a paper bag over his head with eye holes cut out instead of wearing a mask because he thought the NY state mandate was over the top. I’ve seen fights break out in the baking aisle because someone wouldn’t pull their mask over their nose. I saw two women threaten each other in front of my cash register on Christmas Eve because of how close one woman was standing to the other. I have people pull down their masks to tell me their phone numbers, I have seen people lick their fingers to separate the money they hand to me, I’ve seen someone basically hack up a lung without even covering their mouth. I’ve seen it all.
Before working as an essential worker, COVID was definitely something I was concerned about, but it wasn’t always present in my mind. Now, I am constantly scared that today is the day I bring it home and expose my mom. I get tested as often as possible to make sure that even if I am asymptomatic, I did not catch COVID from one of the dozens of people who I see every day who refuse to wear their masks correctly. I think I am slowly going bald from the amount of hair that I am losing because of stress.
Working in a grocery store while living at home was not my plan for my senior year of college. It is not glamorous, and most of the time it is not fun. But, I remember how hard it was to get food for my household earlier in the pandemic, and even now, food shortages are still happening across the country. I am not looking for praise, but what I am asking is that you take a second to realize that the people you see working in grocery stores, restaurants, fast-food establishments, etc. are real people who are putting themselves at risk to support their families and help sustain yours. Say thank you, be respectful, and please just wear a mask.