By Gemma Amor
We will each have a day, maybe past, maybe yet to come, when a landslide of cold and brutal change will fall upon us, an avalanche of rules and warnings and death and terrible news and things we can, and cannot do, and we will understand, slowly, reluctantly, that our lives have been suddenly diverted, like a river splitting around a dam.
We will not believe it at first, or take it as seriously as we should. We will shake our heads and laugh and say ‘It’ll never happen to us,’ but we will notice a slow increase in anxiety, greasy and slick upon our subconscious, and we will start washing our hands more than we used to, shifting away from each other in public places, hunching our shoulders and burying our mouths and noses behind scarves and collars and masks. We will start to watch the news more than we did when the world behaved as expected. We will gossip amongst ourselves with a quietly growing horror whilst never fully appreciating what it is that we are wagging our tongues about.
And then we will get the word, and the word will be: STAY.
Stay stuck, stay in stasis.
For how long, no-one will know, and the pressure of no foreseeable end to our isolation will eat at our nerves and at our sleep.
And at first, we will struggle to adapt. We will split, as a society, and become a two-party system, we will be made of those who are ‘essential’, those who are ‘key’ to the survival of life as we know it, and those who are not. And those essential people will take a deep breath, hold up their heads, and march into the fray, because it is their job to do so, and in doing so, they are risking their lives, and it will eventually dawn on us, as numbers on graphs start to swell, as stories of chaos and sickness and loss leak into our lives, that the world has become a dangerous thing, for us, but most especially for them. That army of lambs without proper protective equipment will continue to stand firm, and we will be afraid for them, and appalled for them, and in awe of their strength.
And those who are left behind will pace the confines of our homes, the lucky ones of us who have homes. We will feel terrible, and we will feel terrible guilt for feeling terrible, and we will say to ourselves over and over, ‘At least we have our health,’ trying to wield it as a mantra against sadness, a mantra that will never quite ease the ache in our hearts that we will all feel, every day, upon waking. And eventually, we will stop reading the news, because it has become too frightening. We will drink, and sleep, and argue, and frantically launch ourselves into routines that none of us will stick to in the weeks ahead, because we have been too ambitious in our plans, but very few of us have lived through events like these, very few of us understand, at first, that routine is a comfort only when it bends around us, rather than constrains us.
And we will see the days pass, and we will pass with them, and we will start to change. Some of us will begin to enjoy confinement. The rest of us will try and find what the new ‘normal’ is. Those of us who battled the black dog long before any of this came to pass will find an army of black dogs, suddenly barking at our heels. We will flail and cry out and then try to outrun them, but our houses are too small, our lives too uncertain, and their teeth will sink into our flesh and our brains and we will find ourselves food, food for the hounds. Our families will worry about us, but feel powerless to help, because these are unprecedented times, and we can no longer say ‘It’s all in your mind, my love.’ And we will worry about our children, too, and money, and our jobs, and we will miss our friends and our thousand little freedoms, that cup of coffee, that spot in the park where we used to sunbathe, that busy restaurant that made the best dumplings you’ve ever tasted, the sound of the highstreet filled with people, the roar of a crowd in a stadium, the thump, thump, thump of music floating high into the night sky.
And most of all, we will worry about our people. We will worry about death.
We will worry about the future.
We will be greater than the sum of these worries.
We will be resilient, and brilliant, and stronger than we ever dreamed we could be. We will cry, and we will grieve, and we will wake in the night with a heavy stone stuck in our throats, unable to breathe, and we will rage against the unfairness of it all, and then, having crested the wave of anger, we will let the sea swallow our exhausted bodies and minds…
For a while.
Some of us, many of us, will lose people we love, and those we love will lose people too, and so on and so on until a great daisy-chain of grief lies draped around the world, and we will wish we could have stood next to our darlings at the last, and we will wish we could have held their hands, but some things are just not possible, and in time, we will, with a lot of help, come to terms with that, because there is no other way. We will throw the cloak of grief around our shoulders and fasten it tight at our necks with an iron clasp and carry on, always moving forward, even if it is with a slow and heavy step, and if the cloak feels tight and uncomfortable around our throats, across or shoulders, we will eventually get used to it, and maybe in time we will forget, on occasion, that we are even wearing the cloak, and maybe, in time, we even find a little warmth in the memories the cloak is woven from, and the weight will diminish, the weave will soften against our tender skin.
And those of us who remain untouched by the indiscriminate hand of the reaper will bow our heads and mourn with you, we will try and understand the weight of what it is you carry, we will stand on our doorsteps and clap and whoop and cheer and bang pots for those of you who work on the front line, we will make art and music and literature and improvise movies and plays and skits in our houses for audiences imprisoned within their phones, for people with heavy eyes who are slaves to a rectangular, tabular glowing window to the world, and most importantly, we will STAY INDOORS, because we don’t know what else we can possibly do other than try and show you we care, we care by staying away from you, we care by trying to bring you a moment’s peace in your day, we care by cooking that stupid, extravagant meal, we care by letting that argument pass us by instead of engaging in it, we care by creating, we care by holding our children close when they feel lonely and confused, we care by cutting your hair badly with blunt kitchen scissors not fit for the task, we care by holding that movie watch party, by rolling around on exercise mats together, by closing doors in a house where once, all the doors remained open. We care by leaving toilet rolls on your doorstep because you cannot reach a shop without risking your life. We care by painting rainbows and sticking them to our windows, and it seems so trite, so futile, but we will hope that maybe one person will see that rainbow, and smile.
We will care by trying to bring a second or two of joy into your closeted lives, we will care by trying to offer a tiny distraction, in our clumsy, heartfelt ways, from the beast who scratches at all of our doors.
We will find joy in new, unexpected things. A moment to ourselves in the bath. A book. A ray of sunshine. A fresh food delivery. A call with a friend. A cuddle with our child. A downturn in statistics. A sugary cake. A bird on the windowsill. An email. A memory of a time gone by, all the more poignant in retrospect. Tiny things, tiny, inconsequential things, little, fragrant morsels of pleasure, but they will bring with them a new appreciation for life, and we will eat them up hungrily.
And eventually, the word will come.
It will come cautiously, but it will come.
We will feel the heavy arm of authority and duty lift a little. We will creep out into the light, dazed and tired, but out we will come, like spring bulbs pushing for the sun, and we will hold each other again, and we will watch with a strange type of relieved sadness as cars and busses and trains and planes once again fill up our days, and we will know that we can never go back to how things were before, because too many of us have been lost, too much has changed, but we will nevertheless move forward, holding each other’s hands.
Our cloaks will flap behind us as we walk, cloaks of so many colours, all of them made of the same cloth and yet not, and the debris of so many shattered lives will swirl around us like snow in the air, but we will find a path through it, together, we will, we know we will, we must, we will…