One of my favorite shows, “Stranger Things,” is due to return this year. Fingers crossed. The show highlights a group of kids in a small town who stumble upon a bizarre world referred to as “the upside-down.” The upside-down is a dark, mixed-up and evil place where nothing makes sense, and you never know what horrible thing is going to happen next. Oh, your friends are there, and familiar places like the local grocery store, lulling you into the false sense of security that everything is normal, but something is really off. Sound familiar? I believe we are all trapped in the upside-down right now, and I am not sure when anything is ever going to be normal and right-side up. The last six months have been a struggle for everyone on many levels. I have learned a lot about myself. For starters, I have discovered that I can sleep for 11 hours straight. I have learned that trying new recipes off the internet rarely turn out like the pictures and often are just flat out inedible. Most importantly, I have learned that I am going to have to come up with something to do outside the house when my husband retires. It has been a revealing time.

I have also learned to avoid two words. These words are powerful and somehow have the ability to conjure up bad things. The two words are — and I hate to even type them — “what next?”

I didn’t realize it at first. I said it jokingly to the lady standing behind be at the grocery store. We both were fidgeting with our uncomfortable facemasks. She was clearly exasperated. 

“What next?” I said, trying to offer solidarity. 

That night riots and civil unrest broke out all across the country. Shop owners feverishly boarded up windows. People were hoarding toilet paper again. A curfew was announced. It was another lockdown, but with violence.

The next day, I returned to my local grocery store. It was only 4 p.m., but because of the boarded-up windows, it felt like 10 p.m. I had to pick up a prescription. My pharmacist friend, Rosalinda, was behind the counter quickly clearing out all the prescription drugs and throwing them into a large trash bag. She told me they were afraid there might be a rush of looters any minute.

“What next?” I said in shock and disbelief.

“Pray,” she offered as she took off through the back door.

“What next?” lingered in the air.

Sunday morning, 6 a.m. It was still dark outside, but a flash of light woke me. What sounded like a loud bomb shook our home, and it continued for two hours. One of the strongest lightning storms I have ever experienced — and I am from the Midwest — was upon us. The dogs were in a frenzy trying to find a place to hide. My parakeets were squawking, and the cats were fighting each other for a spot under the bed.

Then, torrential rain. I thought it might rain frogs. Finally, the storm subsided. When my family emerged from their bedrooms, all I could say was, “What next?”

Thunder clapped loudly.

For a short while, things were calm, but then came the strangest day of all.

 I opened my eyes. I sensed that it was morning, but it was still dark outside. Wait. It wasn›t dark, it was orange, ominous and scary. I decided to close my eyes and go back to sleep. I didn’t want to even look at it. The faint smell of smoke filled the bedroom. I did not hear the familiar chirping of birds as I always do in the morning. No sound of cars starting up as my neighbors headed to work. Just orange silence. I decided it must either be the end of the world, or aliens taking over the world. Either way, I decided to get up out of bed and look out the window. It truly did look like the upside-down.

Then I spotted something moving along the side of my neighbor’s house across the street. It was a bobcat. It stealthily made its way through the tall bushes near the open space next to our court. Was I under the influence of some powerful hallucinogenic?  I couldn’t believe my eyes. I grabbed my binoculars and scanned the open space for any sign of the bobcat, but he was gone. For the record, Maury mentioned that other neighbors had seen it too. 

“What next?” I uttered under my breath.  I still had not learned my lesson.

 A few days later, swarms of yellow-jackets invaded our backyard. They were teeming all over my numerous hummingbird feeders...hundreds of them! They appeared out of nowhere. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  They were aggressive, and it wasn’t just the feeders they were after. When I opened my car door to leave for the store, a large swarm entered the car with me. I panicked, swatting at them as they buzzed loudly around my head. I escaped without getting stung, but I had to open every door, window and my trunk to get them out. Mysteriously, the next day, they completely vanished.

So, I am officially abstaining from those two powerful words for now, and you may want to as well. At least until we escape the upside-down.