By: Gayle Wayne
“Dear, dear, how strange everything is today. And yesterday, things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Was I the same when I got up this morning?”
The above quote is a passage from Lewis Caroll’s Alice In Wonderland. It’s probably been since middle-school when I last heard it, before hearing it again recently while watching a scene in episode three of the first season of HBO’s Westworld. For those who don’t know Westworld is a sci-fi series based on a 1970s movie written by famed novelist, Michael Chricton, writer of the best-sellers-turned-blockbuster-movie, ¬Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. The show is set in a giant, futuristic theme park—approximately, the size of the state of Utah—outfitted in the period-perfect style of the American Old West. Only, instead of guests being entertained by low-wage teenagers wearing mascot costumes posing for picture and never-made-it-in-Hollywood actors performing hourly stunt shows, the “park” is instead stocked with androids made so lifelike, it is impossible to tell them apart from real humans. The androids’ purpose is to entertain guests by living out the stories of their programming. Park guests can interact with the androids’ programmed stories to fulfill the highest pinnacle of their most heroic fantasies or deepest pit of their most depraved desires.
I work from home and have recently cleared out my slate of gigs and decided to take in some binge watching before I start scouring for more scraps in the digital rat race. With Natchitoches’ recent weather turning so beautifully crisp and cool as winter’s last vestiges recede in the face of Spring’s arrival, I would normally spend my free time in the comfortably familiar parts of Kisatchie. If a woodland weekend departure didn’t suit my mood, perusing the shops of Front Street is always a great way to amble through a free-day.
But with the Governor’s stay-at-home-advisory still in place until May 15th, I, like most people, have remained inside—catching up on cleaning projects and TV shows I’ve missed during times of heavier workload. My heart may be with the people for whom I care and love, but home is where the Wi-Fi is. I am thankful to be fortunate enough my work permits me to stay inside as health officials have recommended. I leave only for essential trips to the grocery store or a doctor’s appointment, always remembering—however tedious and annoying—to wear a mask and gloves. I do so not only for my own protection and that of others as well. Or, at least, I tell myself this is what most people are doing.
But as for what I see…well, that is when I wonder—much like the robot Dolores who reads the Alice In Wonderland-passage to another character in Westworld—“Have I been changed in the night?”
Is it me who is overreacting, when I believe the advice of medical doctors and virologists—people who have dedicated their entire lives to studying, preventing, and curing infectious, communicable diseases? Am I, God-forbid, just a negative Nellie, to follow those doctors and virologists’ recommendations that I should wear a mask and gloves in public? That we should all be wearing mask and gloves in public? Is it silly ‘ol Gayle, so easily panicked into taking precautions determined by proven scientific research, instead of a howling preacher who couldn’t care less whether I was alive so long as he’s got my debit card, its expiration date, and CVC number on file.
Am I just a worry-wort for caring if I or people in my community contract a virus and die? And not just dying in that, “close your eyes and go to sleep” kind of dying. No, this virus is careful to be quiet in its callousness. Not only does it kill you with every gasp of breath you fight—and fail—to take in your last moments, but it does so while you are kept complete isolated. Because due to its contagiousness, lethality, lack of proven cure, or even reliable treatment, your family, friends, loved ones, and even hospital workers will be barred from entering your room. Unable to offer you even the slightest bit of comfort.
Should you contract and die of Covid-19, the last sounds you will likely hear, will not be tender and tearful “goodbyes” and “I love you”. Instead, the expansion and contraction of a ventilator as it futilely pumps air into a respiratory system too damaged to receive it. That is, if you’re lucky enough to get a ventilator. Otherwise, your own desperate, agonizing croaks of you “drowning” in your own breath will be the music that plays you off the world’s stage. Then again, perhaps, I’ve just gotten too grumpy and demanding in my old age when it infuriates me to see managers and employees at nearly every store I’ve visited since the outbreak began, failing to follow the safety directions they themselves posted.
To be fair, local businesses’’ compliance with the Governor’s advisory that employees wear masks and remain at least six feet apart from others, has seemed to have moderately improved since the start of this week. Of course, what good does it do if the employees and management—who maybe make up only 10%-20% of the people in a store at any given time—if customers, making up the other 80%-90% remove their facial covering seemingly every time they speak, or simply let it hang around their necks; if they’re even wearing any facial covering at all!
Gloves, I understand, are another story. Between supply shortages and price gouging, I empathize with those unable to afford or find gloves. But unless you live as a homeless, nude, feral nomad, wandering the forests of Natchitoches and surrounding parishes, I must assume you have at least one shirt in your possession you can cut up and tie around your face.
But the saddest and maddening thing is the number of parents with children whose faces are not covered in public. An adult—however foolish I may think them—has the right not to follow recommendations and take their chances as they see fit. But to be an adult entrusted with the care of a child in a pandemic and not protect that child adequately when we know young children are among the groups most likely to become infected with and die from Cov-19. If you can be ticketed for not placing an age-appropriate child in a car seat, or smoking in a car with a child, or even prosecuted and jailed for neglect that endangers a child life, how is bringing a child into public and not social-distancing with the child, and not covering the child’s face any different than other forms of criminal neglect and child abuse?
Let me be clear, I don’t want parents thrown and cuffed to the ground while their children are ripped from their arms and placed in protective custody. Adding traumatic separation, imprisonment, and court costs to a family doesn’t serve any peaceful, protective, public interest. But where are the city, parish, or even church officials who could be creating and handing out makeshift facial coverings to children whose parents bring them into public without proper facial protection? I am well-aware that many of these parents may not have access to sewing equipment, knowledge of how to sew, nor internet access where they can find instructions on how to do so. I am not blaming them. I am pleading with them. With all of us.
We are not the programmed robots of Westworld destined to spend our lives acting out an endless, scripted loop; unable to learn, to grow, to change. To the contrary, it is precisely human beings’ ability to learn, grow, and change to their circumstances that has made us the dominant species on this planet. Weapons, technology, agriculture, medicine, engineering, machinery, tools…all are worthless unless used in the appropriate manner and circumstance.
Humans have survived ice ages, plagues, famine, world wars and epic disasters of both the natural and man-made variety, not by shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Welp, whatever happens… happens,” or sticking our fingers in our ears bleating like an unruly toddler, “Nuh-uh, can’t hear you!” when faced with all manner of life-threatening obstacles. We survived have survived and thrived, not by turning from danger and pretending it didn’t exist. We have survived and thrived by staring danger head-on until danger blinked first. But if it helps you feel better, don’t think of wearing a mask like some hassle the government scolded you into doing. Pretend you’re an Old West Cowboy riding out to live the highest pinnacle of heroic fantasies: saving the life of yourself, your loved ones, and the whole gosh dang town, dagnabbit. Giddy-up and ride! We got ourselves a curve that needs flattening and virus that we need to STOP catching.
The views and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Natchitoches Parish Journal. If you have an article or story of interest for publishing consideration by the NPJ, please send it to NPJNatLa@gmail.com.