by Ilenia Pezzaniti

“I don’t want to have contact. I want to be able to be just as safe as the people who are at home in quarantine and I don’t get that option. I think people need to understand that not everyone who’s working right now really wants to be there.” 

Robin Allison, 44, is a postal worker in Akron struggling with anxiety as an essential employee. She wanted to be clear that these are her personal opinions, not those of her employer.

“I do a lot of praying and I just have to really try to stay positive, because I’ve caught myself a few times being angry, like, ‘Why are you [customers] here? Is it important?’” 

Because of the pandemic, Robin’s been pushing for more safety in the office where she works. “This counter is six feet, so that’s why I always sit back. I begged for the Xs on the floor, and then they finally did it three days later. I begged for a sign — I wrote a sign — and they were like, ‘that’s not good,’ and then two days later they wrote their own.”  

To further reduce potential infection, Robin thinks there should be a slimming down of actual person-to-person contact. “I told them the other day, I may need to go speak to EAP. I told my supervisor, ‘You don’t get the opportunity to tell me how to feel, because I’m the one on the front line.’ I even deal with more people than the carriers. They say, ‘Well we touch 800 mailboxes,’ and I say, ‘Yeah, but I’d rather right now be touching mailboxes than handling people and face-to-face contact.’”

Though Robin has a mask, gloves, disinfectant and is already a heavy cleaner, she’s not convinced of her safety or the safety of others. “The fact that we don’t know enough scares me. We don’t know how long it lives on surfaces, for real. We hear a lot of things. We don’t know how long it lives on packages, from anywhere in the country or in the world.”

Like many of us, the invisibility of the virus makes Robin anxious. “Just thinking — all the activity I deal with, it won’t show up for weeks in me, or may not show up at all. But that one elderly lady who needs her two stamps — she could get it from me. And I just wish people would stay home, if it’s not important or dire or essential. The tensions are high. I kept thinking, ‘OK, am I being paranoid, ‘cause I have a headache,’ and I think it’s my own psychosomatic process of dealing with it. The fear of thinking that you feel a tickle, the fear of coughing just to clear your throat, is what people deal with now that we didn’t before. I think that paranoia is beating us up. I don’t know how you deal with it.” 

To help herself and her kids, Robin’s stocked the house with more vitamins and has been saving money. She knows a lot of businesses aren’t going to be able to survive this, so she and her fiancé have been ordering their meals out. “I order out my food every day. I didn’t used to, but I do it now, because I feel like I’m helping someone.”

Robin says her fiancé has been very positive, but she’s realistic. “Being positive and being sincere about how you feel are two different things. So I can be positive and smile and try to encourage the people around me and customers to be safe, but in my mind there’s a part of me that is saying, ‘This is scary. This is some real stuff. And you don’t want to walk in fear, live in fear, but this can be the turning point for us as Americans. And maybe I’m thinking, like, ‘OK, what if this is our new norm? What if this becomes a thing that you have to stay conscious of?’ I think it’s a wake up call for us as a country.”

Ilenia Pezzaniti is a multimedia storyteller and artist living in Highland Square.

Photo: Ilenia Pezzaniti

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