The Whir and the Waft

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The Whir and the Waft

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When schools shut down, there was a transition period where teachers waited to find out what they would need to do next. When that was decided, our work week was drastically changed. To achieve equity, we gave 30 minute lessons over Google Meets to anyone who wanted to show up twice a week. This meant a lot of free time--which meant reading!

I went to the local bookstore and there was a line: only 5 people allowed in the massive 1-block building at a time. When I was permitted entrance to the silent space, I had to accept hand sanitizer from an automatic dispenser. This was not my first encounter with the substance, but it was the most memorable. The machine whirred and spit an enormous amount into my hands, completely filling my palms with watery, reeking sanitizer. I looked around for a towel or space to shake it off...there was so much! It began sliding through my fingers and dripping down my arms, a cold, slow trickle that spread the hospital scent with it. I frantically began rubbing my hands, but even so, huge glops of it splattered on the linoleum floor as I quickly walked to spread the leaking substance more thinly over the floor and avoid creating a puddle. The sterile and unpleasant smell stuck to my skin and followed me throughout the store, into my car, and to the end of my day.

This will be hard to forget, and it made me buy my own, thicker hand sanitizer that I could control, and that smelled like pineapples and mango, and raspberry lemonade (it took some time to order, though, because so many companies were out of product). I didn't realize then, in April 2020, that machines like this would be everywhere, or that upon return to my classroom the next April, I would have my own gallon jug of it to offer students. The smell and the feel of that bookstore experience still make me cringe, yet this scent and substance have been normalized and their presence is expected and sought out. The whir and the waft of alcohol will not leave my senses, and, though they tell an important sensory history of this pandemic, I wish they would.

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text story

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This item was submitted on October 13, 2021 by Kristen Grosserhode using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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