I walk the aisles of the supermarket with purpose. My phone is in my gloved hand, my breath is condensing on my nose under my cloth mask that my mother in law made and mailed to me. I am checking items off my shopping list on the phone in the OneNote app as I go. I am not screwing around. I am not impulse buying. The hot food case and the salad bar are closed.

I observe the arrows placed on the floor in tape telling me which direction to travel down the aisles. I pause a good distance away from the person in front of me who is deliberating over Prego or Ragu. She has a mask on too, but no gloves. I turn around and there’s a man behind me. He has a mask on too.

We all do.

How did this mask thing catch on so quickly? We are all wearing them. Our Governor told us we have to. Stores are requiring them for entry. I wore mine into the post office a few days before. The man behind the counter handed me an oversized stamp to place on my large envelope. I stared down at it wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do with it. Should I peel my mask up and lick it? Do I take it outside, take the mask off, lick the stamp, adhere it to the envelope and then go back inside to mail it? What exactly is the protocol?

And that’s the weirdest part of all of this. The things I did that were normal that are now this weird slush of ambiguity. Am I offending someone when I so obviously keep my distance instead of just walking near them like I normally would? Not hugging my friends when I see them and they are two arms lengths away feels awful, like I have to act like I think they are contaminated and I am cleaner than they are. I am too paranoid to stop and get an ice cream. I miss a leisurely browse through the clearance racks at TJ Maxx. I feel awkward in public. Should I ask that woman to pull her mask up over her nose? Why is she not covering her nose with it? And that man over there only has it covering his chin. Do I say something? I avoid them, walking a circle around them as I pass as if they glow radioactive. Strangers can no longer tell if I am smiling at them. I smile at strangers a lot, because smiling makes the world a better place.

And what the hell is up with the toilet paper shortage? I was in BJs last week (kind of like Costco) and saw they had the giant packs of toilet paper. I bought two. I had enough at home. But I bought two because I thought “someone in my life will need this and I can give it to them if they do.” I bought them and I texted all of our friends to tell them I bought extra and to ask them whether they needed it. Oddly, with the toilet paper crisis our nation is facing none of our friends were feeling toilet paper insecure—probably because they bought just a little extra whenever they saw it too. This is a thing that happens now, in my circle of friends we ask each other “I bought some extra hand sanitizer, do you need any?” I never ever ever in my life asked a friend whether they had enough toilet paper. Normally I’d ask “What can I bring?” when going to their house for a get together. The normal question hasn’t been asked in months, but the weird toilet paper question now gets asked all the time.

I consider myself very lucky to be asked questions about my supply of toilet paper, and to ask others about theirs. It means I have people in my life I can share with when times get tough. For this I am so incredibly fortunate and I know it and I appreciate it every single day. And this is something good that’s come out of the COVID crisis, knowing I can rely on my friends and neighbors for help if I need it.

Since COVID has started that’s what I’ve been trying to do, to focus on what I’ve gained rather than what I’ve lost. Todd and I have been cooking every single night because we are too paranoid to get takeout. He’s home every day, and I get to hear how hard he works all day long—I get to hear how much he cares for his staff, his clients and our friends. I’ve listened intently for stories about people being kind to each other. For the elderly couple walking into Stop and Shop, I stopped them and gave them each a pair of nitrile gloves from my stash in my car. I’ve sent gifts to friends and family as a pick-me-up, I’ve received gifts from friends and family as well.

When I ask a friend how they are doing sometimes I get the response, “Well, I don’t have COVID, so that’s great.” And it’s true, things could be so much worse. Wearing a mask, not getting a banana split and fries seems trivial when people are dying.

And I am grateful every day.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.