Written Story by Karina L. Agbisit

I just wanted a sandwich. The American-style sub sandwich from Safeway, to be exact. Ham,  turkey, cheddar cheese, tomato slices, lettuce. I’d been buying one nearly every week for  months, slicing it on Tuesday mornings, the pieces disappearing over the next three days. The  sandwich was the perfect lunch for my busy route as a housecleaner, providing much-needed  fuel in between clients. That is, until the stay-at-home orders, and an end to wiping and washing  other people’s things for money.  

“You don’t need it,” said my partner as I hovered near the front door. “We have food in the  house.”  

“There’s food at home” was one of my father’s favorite expressions. We don’t need takeout, we  don’t need to go through the drive-through, we don’t need to buy the chicken tender and jojo  bucket at Wal-Mart because we have food at the house. But I was an adult now, granted, an  unemployed adult now, but an adult, nonetheless. I could buy my own frivolous, unnecessary  food. “I just want a goddamn sandwich.” My raised voice was an overreaction, but I didn’t care.  I didn’t need to yell but my anger needed somewhere to go, anywhere to go. Staying inside,  wearing masks in public, being laid off from my job, waiting for unemployment, waving to  friends from the balcony — I was doing everything right. Why couldn’t I have my sandwich?  

Since the pandemic started, we’d carefully planned our grocery trips, doing our best to buy the  necessities and then some to create a small stockpile. An extra can of beans here, an extra jar of  pasta sauce there; if things were to get worse, we wanted to be prepared. Sometimes our  roommate would add his grocery list too, condensing our household’s interaction with others in  public places. I knew my partner had a good point; why add another potential exposure if it  wasn’t necessary to go out? Think about my health, the health of everyone in the house, of other  people, of friends and strangers alike, we may encounter.  

On the last day at my job as a housecleaner, I told my boss I felt I shouldn’t go to my biweekly  cleaning at the condo for an elderly couple, the guy having mentioned multiple times how they  downsized to their current place after his heart issues. She agreed and instead, I was assigned to a  rental, one of those from a company that bought up houses and rented out rooms on individual  leases. The house contained six working professionals and though I rarely saw them when I  cleaned their place, the threat was still real.  

As I vacuumed dog hair from the gray Ikea couches and the wood floor; as I scrubbed water  rings from the kitchen counter; as I swirled my brush along the round ring inside the toilet I  knew at any moment there they could be, another human being, breathing my same air, their spit  particles floating around me as I tried in vain to scrub evidence of their daily existence away. We  didn’t know how it all worked back then. Sure, there were comorbidities, but it wasn’t hard to  find examples of people who were healthy and died anyway, or people who should have died  right away but lived. All I knew was that every atom in my body didn’t want to find out which  one I would be.  

I was the first person I knew to have a proper cloth mask. The downstairs bathroom in this  shared house was the only other purpose I’d had until the pandemic for covering my mouth and  nose. As I cleaned this home one final time, the elastic bands pulled the black fabric encasing its 

carbon filter tight across my face. Still, I never felt truly safe that day until I packed my cleaning  supplies into my trunk and drove home.  

Standing and stewing at the door about my inability to buy a premade sandwich was the first  time it hit me that life had truly changed. I had no way of knowing how long it would go on, how  we’d continue to wipe our milk cartons and rice pouches and chip bags with Lysol for the next  year, how we’d spend hours on hold with the Oregon unemployment phone line only to receive  our checks weeks later, how we’d yell over the phone and argue over text with loved ones  refusing to mask up or vaccinate. At that moment I simply knew normal was over.