II am looking at the sea again. I don’t know when I started, when I opened that website with the photos of the beaches, the package deals and the local attractions, and the pastry that can only be obtained in a particular town that must be reached by boat. I don’t know when I started, but since I did, the night has come. When I think about the holidays, my brain divides perfectly in two, one half dreaming and planning, memories paddling alongside fantasies, while the other half remains typically livid and confused, and quite at sea, though not in a good way.
It has become overwhelming for me, the idea that, once, I could just plan a break. That our lives have now been so clearly delineated it is possible to mark time as BC or AC, the pre-Covid period is now remembered as a simple cruise through tree-lined boulevards, caressing strangers (consensually), laughing in offices, crashing the five (constantly)). And now, well. Even the things that haven’t changed have changed, our own raw new eyes see them in a terrible and ungenerous light.
It reminds me of the feelings I had when looking back on life before having a baby. The complete bewilderment at the freedoms he had enjoyed and the deep anger at not having enjoyed them close enough. The great ones, of course, traveling the world, spending every night with strangers you fancy, moving to San Franciscos two weeks in advance, yes, it almost goes without saying. But the lighter ones were more painful to consider. Lying down on the sofas on a Sunday, allowing the hangover to live dearly in your limbs, eating only cookies for dinner, the excruciating privilege of a bath. Living now in 2021 BC (although the concept of “after” threatens to remain a gesture for some time) contains many of those little agonies and eternal recalibrations. Doing the old in a new time often takes my breath away.
Yesterday, for example, I went to a gallery. Before Covid I would have taken my time, leafing through the permanent exhibits, enjoying a talk in front of a painting, going out a few hours later rich and bloated with art. Now I drive a buggy through the one-way system, get caught by the statues stored in the back rooms, and once inside the exhibit, I quickly float from room to room to avoid invading anyone’s breathing space. Although it’s oddly exhilarating, it feels more like swiping Instagram than interacting with an artist; a quick dive, swimming in cold water.
The entire time I was aware of the discomfort of royal clothing, my body objected to having its threadbare leisure clothing removed, and I was still not sure whether to hug a friend, and I apologized for leaning too close to listen to the collector. of tickets, having recently realized, how much I previously relied on lip reading, and all the time a silent alarm ringing in the softest part of my brain: alert, alert.
I think the most lasting change is anxiety around illness. Living through this evolving pandemic has left many of us unsure how to deal with germs, and by germs I mean other people. The disease has taken on a new meaning: we see strangers coughing up a bloody new horror. A light blinks and goes out, stuttering its warning.
It becomes difficult to know how to react; how to separate and moderate our behaviors around illness. Some concerns are great and devastating: the threat of a “cancer crisis” as the pandemic caused missed referrals, and a “mental health crisis” after a year of pain and loneliness worries many. Some worries are small and domestic, but they carry memories of last winter. A cold is making its way into my daughter’s classroom right now, the kind of basic bitch virus that no one would have bothered to mention BC, the kind that used to be tempered by a roll of toilet paper in the backpack and a dawn . Today, however, it brings with it whispers and worries, hands full of water.
We’re waiting for something, I realize, prepared for horrible news. Going to the doctor for something other than an arm bitten by wolves feels a bit old, a bit hysterical. And yet, at the same time, we are alert to each new fatigue, each aching bone.
Life AC is tinged with anxiety, something acceptable, much not. I see the world open with sharp teeth and feet on concrete and I think about leaving. Would it be selfish? Would it be the best to fix us? Would we be simply decanting our domestic moans to another city, without our beautiful things there to calm us down? Will the thrill of traveling outweigh the worry of returning? Scrolling through old photos taken in BC, I land on a series taken on the worst vacation of my life, one defined by storms and losses, and sigh, simpler times.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism