I’m not good at being with people by nature. I always like to being alone and stay inside my room. Basically, any contact with others is uncomfortable. Not to mention phone calls, public places are dreadful for me unless they are near empty with few people. I hate to have a person standing right behind me at the checkout counter in a supermarket. Whenever I take a train, I search for a car that has the least passengers. My so-called ‘body bubble’ seems excessively large. I often almost utter a scream when a person bumps into or even slightly brushes me. Needless to say, chattering with others is excruciating. My apartment building has a communal spa for the residents and I use it everyday. The residents are inevitably acquainted with each other and small talk between them is rampant in the spa. I’m often caught up in it and desperately try to find closure of the conversation by sweating all over. To avoid an ordeal, I’m usually careful not to share time together with familiar residents as much as possible. When I see them, I practically run away. My partner calls me a robot because of my behavior.
The time of recent social distancing shouldn’t bother a person like me. Social distancing has been already my thing for a long time. At least I had believed so. I had thought it wouldn’t hurt a natural ‘social-distancer’ as myself. But I found I was wrong.
One of my favorite Japanese comedians from my childhood was infected with Corona virus and was killed by it in a matter of days. Until just recently, he had appeared on various TV shows and his funny face had been the norm for TV. The daily TV time in a Japanese living room has changed suddenly, completely. He was a nationally popular comedian who earned the monstrous TV rating. When I was a child, my family gathered in front of TV for his show at 8 p.m. every Saturday and laughed so hard together. Kids at school would talk about the show next Monday and laugh again together. When I was in my early teens, I danced his signature gig called ‘Mustache Dance’ so frantically in the dining room that my foot slipped and I fell hitting my face on the dining table. Those memories made me feel as if part of me was lost with him by his death.
Among my familiar residents in my apartment building are a mother and her daughter. They are athletes and rough, thudding around restlessly and talking loudly in a vulgar tongue all the time. I heard that they were moving out soon. Since I was bothered with their noisy manner and pushy conversations toward me at the communal spa, I felt relieved that I could reclaim the quiet bath time. One evening during the days I had waited for them to move out, I saw them at the spa. They left for the locker room while I was still in the bath and I intentionally took time in there to avoid meeting them at the locker room, as usual. After giving them enough time to clothe and go home, I stepped out to the locker room, assuming they were already gone. On the contrary, they were still there, standing side by side courteously toward me. They had been waiting for me. The mother told me that they were moving out tomorrow and this would be the last time to see each other. She said politely, “Thank you so much for all these years. You helped us in various ways.”
I had known them since I moved in nine years ago. The daughter was still a small child back then, who was running and shrieking around the locker room. She is to be a freshman in high school this spring. She occasionally talked to me about her school days or her passion for skiing. The mother once broke her foot at her workplace and she had been on crutches in the spa. I got out of the tub to open and hold the door to the locker room for her every time until she stopped limping. When we were late together at the locker room that went black after the spa’s closing time, we would clothe together under the light of my pocket LED lamp. Those memories flooded back to me all of a sudden at the last time I saw them although I had thought it would evoke nothing as I had been looking forward to getting rid of them. While I was looking at the daughter’s liquid eyes that were staring straight at me, I was overwhelmed by inexplicable sadness and my eyes began to be filled with tears in spite of myself. I clumsily said goodbye and returned to my apartment. A robot couldn’t say goodbye well.
I am a germphobic. I never go out without packs of wet wipes and always carry a small spray bottle of sanitizer. Whenever I touch anything that shares contact with others, I wipe my hand right away. It’s especially cumbersome when I go on a trip. My routine after check-in is to spray sanitizer to tissues with which I wipe the door knobs, switches, handles of the wardrobe and the refrigerator, hangers, remote controls, faucets, toilet seat, toilet cover, flush handle. If the hotel doesn’t have a duvet style bed for its rooms, I bring clothespins and wrap the cover with the sheet by fastening them together so that any part of my body doesn’t touch the cover that isn’t washed each time. Then I place two pairs of slippers that I bring from home, one for pre-shower and one for post-shower. As you can imagine, it’s so much fuss for me to stay at a hotel. I just can’t help it.
I took a short trip the other day to a neighboring prefecture. For this trip, I was extra nervous because of that Corona virus turmoil. The local train I got on was near empty and most of the sparse passengers were wearing a medical mask. A 2-hour somewhat tense train ride later, I arrived at the hotel. A big spray bottle of sanitizer was put at the entrance and all the hotel staff at the front desk were wearing a mask. I went out for lunch at a family restaurant and it was also empty despite lunchtime. The shopping mall I visited afterwards had only few shoppers around. Since I hate crowds and a jam, all places turned in my favor. It seemed I bought comfort with nervousness. Back in the hotel room, I worked through my room-cleaning routine and had dinner with my partner in the room with deli foods I had gotten at the supermarket, not because I was worried about Corona virus at a restaurant but because I am cheap.
Next morning, I used the elevator to have a free breakfast at a small eat-in space inside the hotel. I was off guard and didn’t wear a mask although the small elevator was unexpectedly packed with guests. Nobody was talking and I unconsciously held my breath. After an awkward silence, I was released to the designated floor. The breakfast was a buffet style. I took food with tongs that many guests used, out of plates that they slowly walked by and looked into. Everyone pushed buttons on the dispenser of coffee and juice. Wet wipes didn’t give me usual assurance for this particular trip. I went back to my room and washed my hands frantically.
I have once read an article that says excessive hygiene is counterproductive. It means that being exposed usually to germs builds resistance and thus makes people hard to get sick. If so, my germphobia is not only self-complacent unction but also simply a bad habit. That may be true, but I can’t, just can’t stop for the life of me.