We are restless, impatient. We pace our apartments, hold our breath in the checkout line, worry over distant relatives. We watch the news, see the death toll growing and feel our blood rush. We bite our nails and our tongues, wait for unemployment checks, get into Facebook arguments and struggle to sleep. With life on hold, anxiety can flare at any moment.
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Candace Moegling, 53, is the mother of two high school boys and a reading teacher for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. When schools closed, it all became so much more stressful. “Trying to teach reading online was, and still is, challenging,” she said. “There were many issues with technology, as you can imagine." She found solace in painting. This piece, created with alcohol ink on plastic, reflects the stress she feels of parenting, teaching and living in a world rocked by COVID-19. “Kinda of how I’m feeling — a little all over the place,” she told members of her art group on Facebook.
— Submitted by Candace Moegling, St. Petersburg
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Do you hear the sound of paper tearing
when a man spews venom at another shopper,
protesters march and shout shoulder-to-shoulder,
college kids collect in crowded places,
twenty-somethings stand six deep at bars,
families host big backyard barbecues,
fans stand and cheer in a sports stadium?
That rustling sound —
it comes from the mask-free
ripping up our compact of care.
It’s a personal choice, they claim,
ignoring the high cost —
long lines of caskets awaiting cremation.
— Submitted by Donna Peltier, St. Petersburg
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“I have been taking beginning clay sculpture classes at the Morean Center for Clay, but they were interrupted by the pandemic. At home, I continued working by myself on a piece modeled after Marlon Brando shouting, ‘Stella’ in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.' I’ve renamed it ‘Oy, Corona,’ since it expresses our feelings of anguish during this awful time. In this photo, he’s outdoors overlooking abandoned sidewalks and streets. I’m looking forward to being back with my teacher, Kyu Yamamoto, and making something happier.”
— Submitted by Marshall Seiden, St. Petersburg
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Joan Costello created an audio picture book that tells the story of a dead dove in a nearby yard, the encroaching virus, as well as her worries as a 67-year-old woman: “My familiar allergies now look like symptoms of COVID-19. Trying not to panic in the grocery store, managing my unmanageable hair, running out of toilet paper — there are endless things to worry about.”
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— Submitted by Joan Costello, Clearwater
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“Doing our best at home with big changes. Husband working from home and daughter finishing up freshman year of college, now at home. Hoping for the best for everyone.” Clark called this submission “Journaling through."
— Submitted by Deborah Clark, Dade City
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The first page of the police report for Galen Wood, the first business owner in Pinellas County to be arrested for violating social distancing orders.
— From the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
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Excerpt from an essay by the student body president at St. Petersburg High School, written for an English assignment:
Watching movies and reading books as a kid, I would hear fantasy stories of good vs. evil, large battles, fire-breathing dragons and the end of the world. I always wished to live in a world where something of the such took place, something out of the ordinary, so that I could say I lived through it and that I was the hero who rode off into the sunset.
I have never wanted to retract a sentiment so badly.
COVID-19 is no small matter. In my 18 years of life, nothing has shut down the world like this event. [...] Prior to this quarantine, I cannot remember the last time I took a break. People often say this is a good opportunity to take one … but I didn’t ask for their opinion, and I didn’t ask for a break. It is second semester of senior year, I am 18 years old, and I am ready to go. After recently being accepted into the University of Florida, my life was set to take off, and now, I’m still stuck on the ground.
As I turn on the TV, I see no baseball to watch. When I open my computer to do schoolwork, I am briefly reminded of a world I used to live in. When I see my baseball jersey in my closet, I am reminded of my 13-year sports career that was abruptly cut short.
In light of all this, I turn on my PlayStation or I pick up my phone as it is now my only communication with those whom I was inseparable from just 21 days ago. For a brief moment, I am lost in joy, which I feel has been taken from me.
But once the phone dies and the video games shut off, joy evaporates as CNN once again tells me they simply don’t know when my life will resume. What’s that? DeSantis has shut down Florida.
April has dawned, and my life is still yearning to take off.
— Submitted by Connor Evans, St. Petersburg
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“Unused tickets to see Mae Jemison at Tampa Theatre and journal from my experience as a physician at Tampa General Hospital.”
— Submitted by Dr. Jen Caputo-Seidler, Tampa
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Cheryl Leis painted her Honda to advocate for reopening Florida businesses, ahead of a planned protest in Tampa in late April.
— Submitted by Cheryl Leis, Clearwater
• • •
She sat on a wicker chair
Amid palms and flowers shading
Wrapped in the quiet air
With dreams and future fading
We all admire
As it floats
and shimmers along
on old folks
who stroll so very alone
Margie Parker, 77, tries to write down her feelings in self-isolation, which she is spending alongside her “male companion” and fast-footed cat named Bailee. She has lots more poems, she says, “some pretty bad.”
— Submitted by Margie Parker, Weeki Wachee
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Eight hours on hold with the state unemployment office — like the ghost of a workday — epitomizes the angst thousands of Floridians have felt in trying to access their benefits. For many, the state’s broken website and unholy hold times only added to the financial stress. An unhappy ending to this particular story: The caller got hung up on.
— Submitted by a source of Tampa Bay Times reporter Lawrence Mower
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Excerpts of “Covert,” a short story
I turned the key in the ignition of my Toyota Corolla and put the shift in DRIVE. My purse with enough cash, an old towel and a roll of plastic cling wrap were on the passenger’s seat. I told him Jeannie would have everything, but Arnie insisted I take the towel and plastic wrap, just in case. He made me wear this old black T-shirt, expecting me to get stains all over. I pulled the baseball cap down over my forehead, easing the car out of the driveway, making sure nobody was around to see. At each neighborhood intersection, I coasted to the stop sign, looking twice in every direction to make sure I wasn’t spotted before driving through.
“You’re being ridiculous!” I scolded myself, my heart pounding like a pile-driver. The beat echoed around the car until I turned the radio up.
I turned right onto Eighty-fifth Avenue, waiting for the light to change, forfeiting the right-on-red advantage despite no traffic. Saturday morning should have been busy, instead it was empty as midnight. My jitters calmed a bit. Over the bridge and a right turn on Bay Boulevard. Everything was fine until I passed the school and that old song came on –
Arnie’s usual beer was Corona, and he always sang that, changing the lyrics for a joke. It used to be funny. I shuddered as I punched the OFF button, glancing in the rear-view mirror. [...]
“They followed me here,” I panted as I sprang through the doorway, knocking her back.
“The police. They followed me here,” I leaned against the kitchen counter trying to catch my breath.
“Laurie, calm down,” she said as she put her hand on my shoulder. “It’s OK. You’re not doing anything wrong.”
“But you’re not supposed to be doing hair.” I was almost sobbing. “You’re not essential.” [...]
“Don’t worry.” She took my hand and led me to the chair across the room. “Now relax. I’ll cut you before I put the color in. The timing will be perfect to wash it out as soon as you get back home.”
Forty minutes later, I backed out of Jeannie’s driveway, my dye-drenched hair plastered to my scalp, covered with a disposable plastic shower cap instead of cling wrap, towel draped over my unstained shoulders. Hyper-vigilant, I drove to the corner of Bay Boulevard, waiting a full four minutes before turning toward home, scanning the parking lots and driveways for police, fabricating possible excuses why I looked the way I did. What if I got pulled over?
And I couldn’t get that damned song out of my head…
— Submitted by Susan E. Rogers, St. Pete Beach
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Excerpted from journals:
March 14, 2020
Jerry and I are retreating into what we hope is a safe shell. We’re not completely housebound, but we’re avoiding any large groups (which isn’t hard since large events have all been canceled). We’ve reduced the amount we eat out, restricting it to places that are spread out and where we can go when they aren’t crowded. Buffets are strictly O.U.T.
Jerry is really, really worried that if he catches COVID-19 that it could kill him … and he’s right. With his diabetes and the associated reduced-kidney function, he is at greater risk. And he’s always had the tendency to get bronchitis even from a cold. So we will err on the side of caution.
Noon. Took a walk in the sun at Crescent Lake Park. People seemed even more friendly than usual as we passed other walkers on the trail (at a safe distance). Osprey were fishing on the lake. A few cormorants sunned themselves. Three grebes bobbed on the water, diving for lunch. We saw the quick flash of an otter, but it had better things to do than hang with us. Ibis clustered in the shade of an oak … no social distancing there.
Afterward, we took a quick foray into Publix, which wasn’t too hectic but VERY picked over. Not a single pork item in the meat section, but the butchers were restocking the shelves as fast as they could. They must be exhausted at the end of the day. I expressed my gratitude to them for their hard work, so we can stock up on hamburger!
Now we’re back home. Hands washed and disinfected. And will settle down for reading, language learning and movies.
March 19, 2020
Sun is shining. Doves are cooing. The Bougainvillea is in a riot of colors.
March 20, 2020
I’m emotionally exhausted today. It seems almost every moment is thinking about COVID-19 and its implications one way or another. Even something as simple as getting gas for the car involves wiping down the credit card before and after we hand it to the attendant at Bob Lee’s and making sure he doesn’t lean into the car (he didn’t).
March 30, 2020
News out today is discouraging. It’s possible that CV19 may be even easier to catch than thought … that the virus can be aerosolized in the air as opposed to be only spread through droplets. A chorale group met early in March (when we were just starting to get serious about CV19). They didn’t hug or touch or share food. But they sang for 2 ½ hours. Out of 60 people, 45 have CV19. Many are hospitalized and two have died. This is really, really not good news.
And our governor still resists a statewide lockdown.
So we are now going to go to the grocery store only once a week, and we will start wearing masks when we go. So must plan out the week. Or do without. We will continue our walks … fresh air would disperse the aerosol and we don’t get near anyone anyway.
— Submitted by Annette Baesel, St. Petersburg
• • •
Excerpted from Marilyn Messina’s blog, Dealing With the New Self Isolation. Her blog has kept running — though she admits she has a hard time remembering what day it is anymore. “One day seems to run into the next.”
— Submitted by Marilyn Messina, Tampa
• • •
Guilt, an inner demon to battle
I try and fail to silence its inescapable prattle
To sit inside while others fight
I’m just a medical student, but it doesn’t feel right
With masks and gowns hard to be found
Students simply aren’t allowed around
Ventilators redistributed to those with the greatest odd
Difficult decisions by physicians stolen from god
This virus claims life and a sense of security from all
Will things ever be back to normal? Maybe by fall?
We should’ve seen this coming, should’ve been prepared
“Should’ve” could’ve saved our world ... let’s hope we are spared
Our new existence marked by solitude and isolation
I am powerless to my feelings of ineptitude, frustration
My heart aches for those providing and receiving care
We all seem to be chasing
A breath of fresh air.
— Submitted by Kyla Rakoczy, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
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