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COVID-19 Files

The kitchen was always empty. I never had the time to cook. Seven hours of notes and lectures, 10 hours of relentless work, no one in my family ignited the kitchen stove. Breakfasts were always clicked from the Dunkin Donuts app, lunches always pre-boxed, and dinners always something ordered off of a restaurant menu. And as the days turned to weeks, and the weeks to years, those frail, decrepit paper bags wasted away in the shelter of that kitchen cabinet.

So, when all the restaurants closed down and my mom became the housewife she never had the time to be, the burners on the kitchen stove ignited, and those empty plastic bags arose from the abyss that I call the kitchen cabinet. Like a mother to an orphan child, those empty plastic bags were embraced within the light of a grocery store once again. No longer embellished with the chromatic array of cereal boxes I remembered as a child, the empty shelves lay barren, unfinished, and incomplete.

Each day was 24 hours of house arrest: no more classrooms and calculus lectures, no more patrons, and no more paychecks. I find myself in the company of a vacant backdrop and in the audience of the inaudible clamor of silence. Staring at the half-filled paper bags scattered across the kitchen floor, the packaged paper face masks, and the dry linen of the last Lysol wipe, I realize that somewhere there is a kitchen cabinet. And inside of that cabinet lies a pile of empty plastic bags.

A day later, I find myself walking down a parking lot, holding four plastic bags, filled to the brim. As heavy as rocks in each hand, I clench the flimsy malleable handles hoping they don't break. I enter the building, and the elevator brings me to the third floor. I place the plastic bags outside a closed door, and leave, to receive a voicemail from Cheryl, who said I was a "young lady doing good things." Cheryl said her lung problems restricted her from going outside into the grocery store.

The next day I wake up to the alarms of calls and voicemails of more residents from the senior residence Cheryl was living at. At times calls would become symphonies, ring after ring after ring. It was as if each word triggered an even greater audience, the word spreading like the workings of a Rube-Goldberg machine. It seemed as if the whole senior center needed the "young lady doing good things." Scrambling for an index card and a pen, writing down the order items my mom and I would wake up to more empty plastic bags, needing to be filled. Hours upon hours it took, for Mr.Albert's box of tissues and Ms.Tina's toilet paper.

It became more than a two-person job. That is when, Project Ripples very own Justin Li, came to save the job. Someone else who was not afraid to lend when no one else would. Someone who delivered every call and filled every plastic bag. Without Justin's help, our service would not have been possible.

Although the cases began to multiply, and the uncertainty intensified we still found ourselves inside the grocery stores, seeming to become emptier and emptier as the days passed. But we remained there, searching for the last cup of yogurt, the last box of cereal, for those who could not. And when I walk down the parking lot into the senior center, with the weight of the world clenched within the creases of my hand, I feel like superman. As I come home, to the pile of school work on my computer, and the choir of thank yous and content voices in my voicemails finally begin to realize the true completeness of a filled plastic bag.

The words I hear over the phone echo in my mind with a pendulum-like tempo. The necessity, the desperation for a simple act that rarely crossed my mind. What will we do when our handles break and our contents lay scattered on the floor? Will we drown in the reverberation of the lost, or will we muster the strength to walk away? Because like an empty plastic bag, we all await the day we become complete.

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