COVID-19 quarantine was lonely and isolating. Then Bigfoot stepped in.

Navigating the eerily empty streets of the neighboring towns reminded me of an apocalyptic horror movie. But instead of a zombie, I spotted Sasquatch.
Image: Bigfoot wears a facemask while holding the Star Wars Rebel Alliance flag
Bigfoot greets passers-by with a "Star Wars" Rebel Alliance flag in Brimfield, Mass.Courtesy Todd Disotell
By Sarah Prager, author, "Queer, There, and Everywhere"

Insomnia caused me to begin befriending Sasquatch in March.

I couldn’t sleep through the night anymore, kept awake by the anxiety that goes along with a global pandemic upending your life. It began right around the time when our town of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, started shutting its doors and my wife applied for unemployment benefits. Our 7-month-old infant was having more trouble with sleep, too, and started refusing to take naps in her crib.

Every day, I’d bundle the fussy baby into the car and wonder how Bigfoot would greet me. The signs were all handwritten, a human touch on my isolated drive.

This baby craves constant movement, so I started strapping her into her car seat to get her to fall asleep. The first time I took her on one of these drives, I was terrified to be out of the house, irrationally worrying that coronavirus-infected air would attack us through the vents. We hadn’t left our home in a week, and navigating the eerily empty streets of the neighboring towns reminded me of an apocalyptic horror movie. But instead of a zombie, I spotted Bigfoot.

A man about three miles from my house keeps a 6-foot-tall bronze-colored statue of Sasquatch by the road at the end of his driveway. The so-called Brimfield Bigfoot had been there for years, but I hadn’t seen him much before, since I usually turn east from my home to go toward Boston on Route 20, and he hangs out in the less populated areas to the west.

Bigfoot is covered in painted shaggy hair carved into heavy plastic. He’s frozen in a position of lumbering through the forest, and his simian face looks angry that you’ve spotted him. In March, he started wearing a mask and posing with a new sign every day, sharing punny encouragements to socially distance.

“Sasqwash your hands for at least 20 seconds.”

“Safe distance = six (big) feet.”

“Squatch your desire for a haircut.”

Every day, I’d bundle the fussy baby into the car and wonder how Bigfoot would greet me. The signs were all handwritten, a human touch on my isolated drive.

“I may be a hoax, but COVID-19 is not.”

“If I can avoid people, so can you.”

Then, on the morning of April 23, he was gone. Had he taken his own advice about avoiding people to heart? To find out what happened, I joined the Facebook group for Bigfoot’s hometown of Brimfield and discovered that the beloved statue had been stolen the night before.

The amount I missed Sasquatch surprised me, and I realized how much this creature had become my cheerleader to avoid humans like he does. It takes a lot of willpower to stay away from your friends when you desperately want to see them, and Bigfoot’s messages had made me feel like I was accountable to someone who was directly asking me to keep my distance. The signs were written by a neighbor for other neighbors: We were all in this together.

I hadn’t seen any community members in person for weeks, opting to have groceries delivered to avoid going inside a single establishment. But the dozens of comments on Facebook wondering about our mascot reminded me that my neighbors were still there, seeing what I was seeing and feeling what I was feeling. We were still a community, even if I wasn’t milling around with them at the farmers market.

After two days, I saw our Sasquatch back in his rightful place, recovered by police from thieves some 30 miles away in the nearest city, Worcester. I had to hold in a yelp of joy since the baby was dozing off; instead, I broke into a broad grin. It felt good at a time when a genuine smile was hard to come by.

The theft was disappointing, coming at a time when we needed faith in humanity restored, not further eroded. But through it I learned Bigfoot’s dad was a guy named Todd, who came up to Bigfoot’s shoulder when posing with him. I learned I wasn’t the only one who looked forward to seeing our mutual friend every day, as I scanned more than 100 comments celebrating his return.

One commenter said it was a “day brightener” to hear Bigfoot was home. Another said she was looking forward to seeing him on her way home. Others joked about his big night out in the city and wondered whether he had been sprayed down with Lysol after his return.

Bigfoot urges people to socially distance.Todd Disotell

Perhaps this poster summed up what we were all feeling best: “With everything going on in the world today, seeing Bigfoot and his messages brought something to look forward to as you drove East or West on Rt 20." I felt closer to these other neighbors I had never met knowing we were sharing an experience even as we were alone in our cars.

Bigfoot kept up his coronavirus-related messages through May, and over the summer he moved on from signs calling for social distancing to flags signaling his caregiver’s beliefs and interests. Bigfoot held a rainbow flag in his hairy hand for a couple of weeks during Pride Month in June. In July, he switched between different pop culture flags: one with the rebel symbol from “Star Wars,” another with the crest of House Stark from “Game of Thrones” and a Wakandan flag from “Black Panther.”

I may have substituted human contact for glimpses of a mythological creature since socially isolating, but Bigfoot has helped me feel human connection again.