Day 183: Here’s To A Year Of Island Living

It was a time. It was a place. It was a feeling. It’ll never be replicated, because if the world ever got like that again, Mother Nature would put herself out of her misery. Also, with a bit of luck, we will learn from our mistakes and never let it happen again. But a lot of us can’t help but feel nostalgic for the weeks of terror that was last Spring. For some people, it meant the beginning of The Big Snooze. They isolated, never left home, watched The Tiger King, baked bread and slept way too much.

Others lived in a much different world. They were the people that never changed their routine. The people that were still out there every day, doing their job. I happened to be one of them. While I was lucky and grateful to still be earning a paycheck, those few weeks caused some serious PTSD that I’m going to be unpacking until the day I die. You couldn’t trust anybody you saw, and I saw hundreds upon hundreds daily. We knew we should have been wearing masks, but they were in short supply. We knew we should’ve been getting tested, but you couldn’t get one unless you were on your deathbed. We were the guinea pigs of the apocalypse and every day was a waking nightmare.

When I got my first mask, I could barely wear it. I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack and breathing came at a premium. One of the managers already jumped ship, leaving only a few of us left to defend for ourselves. Other employees followed suit. I spent every idle moment pacing around the store. Turning away customers looking for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. “I understand that it’s ridiculous that we’re out of yeast, but you’re the fifth person I told that to today, so what does that say about supply and demand?” “No, I don’t know when Bounty will be back in stock.” “I’m sorry, the only deli person was afraid to come into work.” I was answering questions in my head. Trying to stay ahead of the game. Trying to keep my bearings straight. Trying not to completely lose my mind to the point of no return.

As the one in charge, I knew it was my job to be strong and keep everything afloat. Over and over, I lied to my employees. I told them it would be okay. That it would all blow over soon. That they had no reason to be afraid. There was no way they could’ve believed me. They surely saw through my pained smile, the bags under my bloodshot eyes and dried up tears. I’d like to think that everyone that stayed did so because they didn’t want to cause me anymore harm. But truth be told, they needed that paycheck just as much as I did. Somehow, some way, we got through each day and fed the neighborhood in the process. I had served these people for over 10 years and I never felt prouder to be there when they needed me most. But the pride only lasted for so long before the impending doom crept in.

Every night, the streets were deserted. It was New York at its most tolerable, but I knew it wasn’t safe to be there. I could barely even appreciate it. When I got home, I would strip down, sit at the edge of the bed and cry. Every feeling I bottled up for the day would come flooding out. All of my fear, pain and anger, in one convenient jet stream to flow off my face and onto the dusty floor. I stared down at it while I mourned my broken brain. My nerves were always too shot for an appetite. Every night, while I showered, Rachel would cook plain rigatoni with butter. Every single night. I’d plop onto the couch, let out an endless sigh, choke down the pasta and go far, far away.

I would go to Coze Cove.

The release of Animal Crossing New Horizons coinciding with stay-at-home orders was serendipitous for many. It gave them something to do, to keep them occupied, to make them feel like they accomplished something while sitting on the couch all day. I used it as an escape after 8 mind-breaking hours of chaos. It was therapeutic, to be able to jump into a world so simple and care-free.

I grew oranges. Once harvested, I would trade them for Rachel’s cherries to yield a better profit for the both of us. I fished. I caught bugs and dug for fossils. I met numerous great friends, whose scripts may be limited but some still don’t grow old on me. There was Stitches, the stoner bear cub that only cared about snacking. Cherry was a fun-loving goth Tomgirl Dog and she lived next to a deer named Bam that couldn’t stop working out. Coze Cove had an eclectic mix of residents and they were all very appreciative of what little work I did around the island. They were generally appreciative of my existence. It hit endorphins that I was no longer getting in the disease-ravaged world.

I built myself a baseball field and designed a scoreboard by scratch. I couldn’t do anything with it, but it was fun to pretend. I’d sit in the stands and imagine Stitches ending Bam’s no-hitter with a walkoff homer. Sometimes, I would just lay in the sun and listen to the radio. Rachel and I would go on dates to the museum. We would sit in the butterfly room and just enjoy each other’s company while our physical bodies snuggled on the couch. The island life gave us things we needed. We were stuffed away in our small roach den while the outside world burned. The islands gave us the only memories worth having.

It’s been a year since this whole mess started. In total, I have spent over 1100 hours on Coze Cove. Rachel can probably double that number. It seems like an awful long time to spend playing a video game, but it just didn’t feel like that. It was the ultimate escape from the fucked up reality we were living in. It was the only thing that could make me smile. It was the only way I could feel peace. It was the only thing that kept my brain together. [Although, that’s actually not a fair statement. Rachel was my rock through all of this and I owe a lot of my sanity to her.]

Things are a lot different from the deserted, weed-infested paradise I moved to. Residents have come and gone, the baseball field has already been renovated twice and I don’t owe Tom Nook a damn red cent. And overall, it’s not the escape that it used to be. Thats because the escape is no longer needed. Coze Cove played a big part in me adjusting my mind to the new normal and now day to day life is much tamer. Also, Stitches still lives next door, hungry as ever. He’s even tattooed on my arm. That’s how much that bear meant to me.

I sometimes long for that feeling that the game initially gave me. That security blanket it provided. The relief I would feel by just fishing for an hour. But in order to do that, I would need to bring back the bad things, too. And that just feels wholly unnecessary. I’d much rather be bored with a video game than fearing for my life.

So here’s to a year of island living. I truly don’t know how I would’ve stayed sane without it.

– TeeCoZee