Parallel Universe

It’s easy to get carried away while editing. I do sometimes. I remove a sentence and discover that the piece is improved. I take out a paragraph and see it’s even better. Delete a page, then two. Eventually the screen is blank. It’s perfect! I think, Unimpeachable! 

It’s the same thing with housewares. Every time Tony and I move, we remember that we prefer living with fewer things. The house looks better  and better as we pack our stuff away. There’s no endpoint except the obvious: the best house is an empty house. And we can’t live like that.

I didn’t feel excessively anxious or depressed when the stay at home orders began. Now that the orders are lifted though, I’ve got it bad. I want to delete everything,  start over, run away from society and never return.

I’m back to the office now, on a part-time schedule, wearing a mask in common spaces, hand sanitizing furiously any time I leave my office. I want to say it feels dystopian but I also want to delete that, it’s so obvious, it’s boring, what’s the point? Of course it’s dystopian, as in “relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.” The only problem is there’s no imagining it, that is the state, look around and see it, the great suffering.

Last Friday the local health department announced that a Great Clips hair stylist worked for eight days in a row while symptomatic, potentially exposing seven coworkers and 84 clients. The following day, one of those coworkers tested positive. That coworker also worked while symptomatic, for five days, potentially exposing another 56 clients.

The uproar was almost enough to shatter one’s faith in humanity. The story went viral. The stylists were called stupid, selfish, and worse. At the press briefing, the local health department director said, “I’ll be honest, I’m very frustrated to be up here today, and maybe more so I’m disappointed.”

That’s how I feel, too: disappointed. I’m disappointed that anyone has to work while sick for eight days in a row. I’m disappointed that Great Clips hairstylists make roughly $23,000 annually on average. I’m disappointed that paid sick leave is a luxury. I’m disappointed by the failures at every level, but especially and most egregiously at the federal level. What could be more disappointing? That’s not a rhetorical question. The answer is the footage from this Saturday at Lake of the Ozarks. It’s been a rough few days for Missouri’s public image.

I saw an article the other day about NASA discovering a parallel universe where time runs backwards. It seemed so amazing, a hopeful sign: there is a place where everything is different. But then later I read another article that said the first one was poorly reported, what the scientists found was much more mundane.

It made me sad. I  wanted there to be a parallel universe because it would mean there was something beyond the endpoint, a whole timeline that starts at what we consider the conclusion. If there was a universe with backwards time then what else might there be? A house past the empty one, an essay beyond the blank page? I liked the idea of it.

The News-Leader and KY3 comment sections are restless. For every three posts saying coronavirus is a scam or no worse than the flu, there is one pointing out that Great Clips stylists make poverty wages or asking whether the employee had paid sick leave. Some are calling for government assistance as the pandemic continues. Forget Marx, we might be inventing socialism right here in Springfield, Missouri.

I was calm at the beginning because I told myself the future would be better. Now I’m here in the future and it’s worse and that’s terrifying. But what if there’s hope, however small, in the acknowledgment of how bad it is?

Is it possible the end isn’t disease and economic collapse and politicized public health? Could there be something past it, even in Missouri, with our infamous lakes and hair salon franchises? What if Springfieldians got righteously angry about the fact that a quarter of us live in poverty but, up until the pandemic, our unemployment rate was 3%? Could we be disappointed enough about Great Clips to vote like it? I’m not saying it’s likely, but it’s something to hold on to: this could be a parallel universe. We could have radical hillbilly future in the Ozarks.

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