From employment to their families, two local women share how the coronavirus has shaped their lives today.

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In a matter of a few weeks, the coronavirus took away 100% of Melesia Marshall’s income.

The Mary Esther resident is a self-employed hair stylist contracted at Belvedere Commons in Fort Walton Beach, and Hawthorne House at the Air Force Enlisted Village in Shalimar. Both senior citizen living communities have closed their premises to nonessential employees to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve not been able to go to work,” Marshall said. “The first three or four days, I was just paralyzed – was just an emotional wreck. Cried and I’m not a crier at all. Some of my residents that I do their hair, their families have sent me some money, just as a gift. ‘Thank you for taking care of mom and we’re praying for you during a scary time.’”

Marshall’s last day of work was March 13. She spent the first few days deferring the mortgage for a small home she owns in Kentucky and her car payment – an attempt to get ahead of the game, she said.

Then, she started looking for a source of income.

“The rules and laws were changing so quickly with the coronavirus, that about the time I would think, ‘Oh I can do that,’ something else would happen and that would take it way,” Marshall said. “It was like everything I was trying to do to keep my income coming in – all of that rapidly changed quickly over the course of three to five days.”

Marshall will pursue a part-time server job at Belvedere Commons, but it won’t sustain her. Payments can only be deferred for so long. She is still worried.

“I’m not going to be making near the amount of money I make, but at least it will be some money coming in,” Marshall said. “With me being self-employed, I still have to pay for my own health insurance. I rent here. As far as I’ve heard, they’re not going to do anything with the rent. I’m trying my best to not get behind and have to make it up.”

Marshall’s adult daughters are living with her, as they, too, face changes in their careers. Carly Barrett, a phlebotomist at Gulf Breeze Hospital, will potentially lose hours worth of pay. Whitney Barrett is teaching classes online for Providence Montessori School in Lexington, Kentucky, but doesn’t know how long the private school will stay in session.

“Both of my daughters are old enough that they are thankfully responsible for themselves, but are still young enough that if they have anything they need help with, I’m the one that helps them,” Marshall said.

Like Marshall, Kim Clark has made some tough decisions in the past week. The Santa Rosa Beach resident was visiting her elderly parents in Bakersfield, California, when the coronavirus monopolized headlines.

“The decision had to be made on whether I was going to stay there or come back home,” Clark said. “It was a very difficult decision, because my parents are older and I didn’t really want to leave them, but I also didn’t want to be stuck there for two or three months. If I was going to be stuck there, I wouldn’t be able to get back home possibly to be with my kids and husband. That was a really crucial decision for me to come back home and fly on a plane – when people are saying, ‘Don’t leave.’”

Clark flew into Orlando on March 25 with her backpack, a wipe, hand sanitizer, neck pillow and an N95 mask she hand painted.

“I felt a little guilty, because I actually enjoyed the flight,” Clark said. “There weren’t any crowds. Everyone was friendly – instead of the normal cattle call. I was able to sleep. I took up three seats. They offered free meals.”

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Clark’s daughter picked her up from the airport that night.

“I told my daughter I was going to hop in the backseat to maintain my distance,” Clark said. “I did wear a mask during that time. I tried to (maintain) a little social distance with her, so I didn’t infect her.”

Clark drove back to the panhandle early the next morning to limit her exposure to her family. She will quarantine herself for the recommended two weeks.

But, hard decisions weren’t over.

Clark, a former manager at Eglin Federal Credit Union, opted to postpone starting her own consulting and training business because of the coronavirus’ impact on the economy.

“I had already got my LLC, but now I don’t want to go any further with that until I know what’s happening,” Clark said. “Now that companies are closing, I don’t know.”

And, she is still worried about her parents.

“They’re not as concerned as I am with this,” Clark said. “My mom is getting ready to travel to Idaho and my dad’s getting ready to take a trip to a national park. ‘You don’t understand the severity of this. You are in the prime age.’ I’m worried, very worried.”

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