Let Inga Tell You: Fearing I’ve become a pandemic pariah

Inga's husband, Olof, has spent much of his pandemic time on sourdough experiments, not all of which came out as planned.
Inga’s husband, Olof, has spent much of his pandemic nonsocial time on sourdough experiments, not all of which came out as planned.

The pandemic has changed all our lives since it took hold in earnest in March 2020.

It hasn’t always brought out the best in us. Unable to socially distance myself from both my refrigerator and the bakery counter at Gelson’s, I, like many others, have put on the COVID 19. Which, alas, has become the COVID 22.

While it pales in comparison to the losses so many other people have experienced, I have truly, desperately, missed social contact.

Olof and I are really social people. It’s actually fairly amazing for him since he’s an engineer. Not to promote stereotypes (OK, I’m doing exactly that), but Olof maintains that when he went to Caltech in the early 1970s, his then-classmates had a reputation as the ultimate pocket-protector-sporting nerds. Being socially maladroit was practically an entrance requirement.

But in the past year, Olof has somehow managed to channel his social needs into sourdough baking and writing code for esoteric engineering projects. Sometimes at the same time. (Those were some pretty weird English muffins.)

Me, I’ve just been lonely. Miserably, horribly lonely.

I even mastered Zoom (well, how to click on a link if someone else set it up, which even then stretched my abysmal techno skills), but it’s not the same.

On Thursdays, I planned my non-day around the pool guy’s visit. Most weeks he was my only human contact. Fortunately, Scott is a really friendly, fun guy. I was always secretly a little glad when it had been windy and there were lots of extra leaves in the pool for him to clean.

I probably would have been harassing the lawn maintenance guy, too, but it’s too hard for him to hear me over the mower and the leaf blower. I think he is secretly glad for this.

Now, if I’m being perfectly honest, I think I probably always talked too much even before the pandemic. But in recent months, I’ve been noticing that if I’m in my front yard doing gardening work or playing with the dog, neighbors out walking are crossing the street before they get to my house. In this way, they can simply manage a cheery wave and keep going.

And no, I don’t think it’s a COVID issue.

I can’t avoid the fact that I’m being avoided. Friends and neighbors are living in fear of being entrapped in conversation from which they cannot escape.

I asked my close friend and neighbor Jill if I were imagining this. Was my desperation for human contact doing the opposite — driving people away? Was I just plain talking too much? Have I always been talking too much?

“Well, yes,” Jill said without hesitation. “But it’s part of your charm.”

Part of my charm? Please note there was no refuting or assuaging of my fears. This, however, is one of the reasons I love Jill; she’s always honest without ever being mean. But sometimes I hear her closing her garage door very, very quietly so as to not attract my attention.

Ironically, I avoid compulsive talkers. In my husband’s college roommate group, which still has a reunion almost every year, one of the wives, Lucy (not her real name), literally never shuts up. Most of these folks have known her since their college days and affectionately tolerate her. Well, to a point.

During one of the group’s reunions, we all met in Toronto and were taking a day trip to Niagara Falls. I suddenly realized that the other women had made a beeline for the two other cars, leaving me in a backseat with Lucy for the two-hour ride. A half-hour in, I was literally contemplating opening the car door and hurling myself out onto the highway at 70 mph. I pretended to be asleep, but she kept poking me on the shoulder.

When we stopped for lunch, she followed me to the restroom and talked to me through the stall. She literally did not stop talking for a microsecond the entire day. Fortunately, when we were on the boat tour, the roar of the falls drowned her out. But I could still see her mouth moving.

Have I become Lucy? Or has the pandemic simply Lucified a natural tendency to talk too much? I do think I at least let other people get a word in edgewise. (I do, don’t I? Must ask Jill.)

I’ve actually spent a great deal of time pondering this. Partly, of course, because we have had no social life whatsoever in more than a year and I have plenty of time to do so. But I really don’t want people to fantasize about stepping into traffic just to get away from me. Maybe I need to keep one of those one-minute timers in my pocket so that if a neighbor comes by, it will alert me to let them escape.

Or maybe just learn to shut up?

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆