Though she wasn’t raised in Wisconsin, my mother eats only real butter – no margarine, and no “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” because she can believe it.
She was a child at the end of the World War II, when rationing meant some foods were unavailable, including butter, and somehow, her repulsion for any other spread on toast or dollop on vegetables and baked potatoes lingers more than 70 years later.
I think once we have a coronavirus vaccine, and our lives begin to return to normal, certain smells will repulse me in the same way oleo repulses her. One of them is hand sanitizer.
Since the outbreak, I have diligently applied hand sanitizer prior to entering any store and after exiting. Initially, the smell was somewhat comforting – any germs on my hands would be gone after a dousing. The smell told me, “You’re safe.”
But lately, the smell just reminds me of this dangerous virus that has claimed more than 90,000 lives to date in the United States alone. The longer the virus goes on, the more lives lost, the more intense my aversion to the smell of alcohol and aloe will be.
Another of those smells is bleach. I still report to the Tribune office, and at the end of each workday, I spray my desk down with a cleaning solution containing bleach, then wipe down my keyboard, mouse, doorknobs and handles. When all is said and done, I’ll stay clear of bleach, I think, as it will remind me of this time.
I was asked recently if, after two months of trying to stay clear of people while I quarantine, I was ready to dip my toes in the waters of shopping, restaurants and social gatherings. Ironically, the night prior, I dreamed that I was out and about, and trying to sanitize to stay safe, but I was applying sanitizer at the wrong times, and I knew I was taking risks. Though not a terrifying nightmare, the dream left me uneasy the next day.
Apparently, a part of me knows better than to second guess precautions recommended by the medical community. So for now, however repulsive, I’ll continue to sanitize and embrace its power to kill the virus. I’ll wear a mask, keep a safe distance, and avoid those crowds.
As counties and states reopen, our own actions will determine our risk during this time. And because of the level of contagion, when we put ourselves at risk, we do the same for others, as well.