When you spill a glass of juice on your carpet, you usually take a breath and figure out how to clean it up. When your house is flooded with juice… go ahead and tell me you don’t think about burning the whole thing down.
To put it simply, we caught it too late.
And when we did… Well, I remember the haphazard reactions- the giving-up shrugs. I was angry at the lack of action, but not surprised. It seemed so clear to me. It always had. It was my area of study, after all. Human connection. This wasn’t a new problem; it was an old problem in a larger quantity.
We had never developed any real solution and we more or less got away with it. But when the pandemic ended and we saw how far things had already progressed, this particular juice spill became something we could not ignore.
No one liked my suggestions. What else is new, right?
But I remember equating it to how we empathize so easily with dogs who have been abused. We stare at them in the shelter and think, wow, I wish I could just hug and kiss the pain away. And we believe we can. We adopt these feral dogs who bite or ignore us for months, sometimes years.
“Oh, they’ve been abused,” we say. And we’re right. And we treat them gently. They’ve been through trauma, and they deserve empathy. It’s such an easy pitch - the explanation is simple. So we adopt them; at least we adopt many of them. Granted, it’s not for everyone, to adopt a dog like that. But even if you’re not out for an abused or neglected dog that you have to rehabilitate, you can empathize. If you don’t, well, you’d never say so, because you’d sound like an asshole.
But with people, we’ve never been able to get there.
The system never worked, but the string that tied it all together was secure enough to make it look like it did. But then, when there were suddenly so many of Them, it was easier to see. And by that time, it was impossible to fix the problem.
I remember those first two years of battling sars-CoV-2…sorry, doctor talk- I mean, Covid19. Most of us thought we were living in a “lockdown.” Ha. Vacations, camping trips, and quality family time. Ugh, I’ve been here with my annoying family for months, we complained. Of course there were things we missed, but it was hardly a prison for those who were part of a healthy home; But not everybody was.
You see, you learn to adapt to the world you live in.
Did you know that if you keep a goldfish in a tiny bowl, it’ll stay around an inch or two long, but a goldfish in the wild can grow up 14 inches? Ok, fine, maybe you knew that. But do you know what would happen to a goldfish that has been allowed to grow to its full size, but then it’s freedom and community is taken away?
We didn’t either.
And that’s what happened to us during the last few years of the pandemic.
They kept saying it was over and every time we reopened, we would surge. By the time they declared Marshall Law, things were so bad we were barely concerned for our personal freedoms. They just didn’t want to get it wrong again. After five and a half years of lockdowns, we didn’t want to get it wrong either.
And when we hit zero cases, most of us moved on and got back to some semblance of how things had been before. Except for Them.
We didn’t see it coming.
Suicide had always been a problem- one that, in the pre-pandemic days, we fought with campaigns, hashtag, and hotlines. Mental health professionals did their best, but you could only lead a horse to water, and by the time so many had been on their own for so long. I knew that those who lived alone in the pandemic would have some issues, but I never imagined anything on this scale.
Grouping Them together here was a last resort. I know it seems unfair from the outside. Like an internment camp. Other communities laugh at us and send us hate on twitter. But when the suicide rate hit 65 percent for singles, we had to step in. You understand why we didn’t leave them a choice, don’t you?
Yes, the suicides have stopped, but as much as I like to be optimistic, we believe that’s mostly due to lack of opportunity. No shoelaces, nothing sharp, no dangerous substances. We have the basics covered. And we watch Them, the way we should have watched them before.
Unfortunately, what you’ve read about us is correct- We don’t have much of a plan of what to do with Them long term. Of course They’re welcome here as long as we can accommodate them, but it just doesn’t seem right.
There was the idea to split them into willing households once they showed an interest. That initiative didn’t go over well. Someone said it sounded like the Handmaid’s Tale. Okay, so it was a half-baked plan, but it wasn’t like that. They wouldn’t have a role assigned- they wouldn’t be maids or housekeepers, and they certainly wouldn’t be there to sleep with the head of the household. Just so They had a place.
Honestly, we just don’t know what They need at this point.
Some argued that They were happier when they were productive. Those who had jobs had a higher chance of coming back to normalcy, but some of Them could think of nothing else but work. What do we do, give them a task and let them work mindlessly? For now, jobs are a level 4 privilege at the center. They have to prove they aren't at risk. They have to do therapy and community time. They can’t wake up and work all day and forget the world. But most of Them don’t venture beyond level 2.
I’m sorry. Let me go back a step- I’m realizing I’ve made this all sound quite bleak. For the record, a few got out. That’s part of why we missed it, perhaps. It wasn’t everyone.
The ones who got out…they’re okay, but the ones who stay here…
I see that look in your eye, and I know, you’re picturing the worst-a bunch of dead-eyed Zombies. It’s not like that. Most of Them look fine. I mean, a little less happy- like when someone’s deficient in something. With a little makeup, the women look about how they would before. It’s harder for the men to hide it. Their success rate has been lower, so there are fewer of Them left. But when you see them, you won’t be scared of their appearance. It’s not – Well, It’s deeper than that.
But full disclosure, most of our applicants here don’t work out, and that’s why we like to give you a solid overview before you meet Them. We want you to know what you’re getting into.
You’ll be meeting Gina. She’s one of our younger residents, 30. She was in school- undecided major. Nothing to cling to or focus on during the lockdown. Don’t expect her to offer eye-contact or anything. She’s level one…always has been.
Oh, all the stuffed animals in her room? It’s silly. She’s one of the younger ones- keep in mind she was in her early 20s when she came here, and we sort of thought of her as our baby. She doesn’t touch the stuffed animals. We just thought they made her room a bit cheerier. I don’t know if it makes a difference.
Yes, you’ve done your research. We did try real animals as well. Ugh what a mess that was. I mean, being understaffed already and then caring for a bunch of dogs and cats running wild. But we didn’t mind. It was a valiant attempt.
But when the comfort animals did nothing to help, well, that’s when we all got worried. It’s just so hard to put so much into something and not see a change. The emotional support animals were sort of like breaking the emergency glass- after that failed, we didn’t know what to do. That was two years ago.
Now it somewhat resembles an old age home here, but with an average age of 39. Relatives do come to visit, but about as often as an old age home. Maybe less. It’s hard for them.
Ok, this room we are going into is Gina Martina. I know… the rhyme. It makes me wonder what she used to be like. Did she hate it- was she bubbly? It’s hard to imagine from looking at her.
Here you go, Gina, I’m just going to help you into your wheelchair. We’re going to take you out to the main room to eat dinner.
We like for our staff to narrate what they’re doing, especially with our most unresponsive residents.
I guess I’ve been talking a lot, but as you’d imagine, there are so many details to cover. Do you have any questions for me?
Oh. Yes. The lockets. Another failed initiative. The idea was that if we could just have Them remember that someone loved Them. Yes, it was a little bit of a romanticized idea, but if it brought just one of them back…
So they each got one- a heart-shaped locket with a photo of the closest relative or loved one we could find- preferably someone living. I know. So cheesy to give everyone the same thing, but They’re so detached, They weren’t exactly comparing notes with one another. No one complained when the cheap metal turned their necks green. Most of the family members who visited… they took off the lockets. It’s not that they didn’t want Them to feel connected, it’s that they knew it would do no good. It made them sadder, if that’s even possible.
Yes, you can look inside her locket, just be gentle. She’s frail.
I don’t actually know who that man was. Maybe a brother. Maybe a boyfriend. She’s never spoken. She sways a bit when we have music therapy.
We’re not giving up. It looks like we are, but we’re not.
I do sincerely hope you’ll join the family here. Our staff, we truly are a family. We all had one during the lockdowns and we know not to take those relationships for granted, even with coworkers. And we are so excited to have applicants from Canada, like yourself. People who have been here in America this whole time- they’re jaded. They… they’ve given up. But you give us hope.
…My daughter wanted to go to college there at the start of Covid. It was just, it was so far away, you know? I thought Idaho would be fine. I mean, so safe.
She would have been 30 now.