April, May 2020
Dear past selves, futures –
It’s all quiet on the home front.
You never thought it could get more still. And yet now, it is. Slow, peaceful, grasses swaying in spring sunshine. Time passes in a new, unpredictable way. You are surprised but unperturbed – unlike before – when you are reminded due to conversation, or a flip back through your diary, that it’s been sixty three days since anyone sat on your sofa. Sixty nine since you’ve been on a bus. Seventy seven since you touched another person.
You barely walk as far as the high street, once every three weeks at most, to buy all your food. It’s four minutes at most and you can see it from the corner of your road, but you don’t like turning right anymore. You turn left and down to the park where you run or walk, often talking to your mum on the phone – in a way that certain kind of person would call ‘animated’ or ‘boisterous’- you laugh a lot, or at least enough. You’re never bored.
Boredom. You thought you would have to endure so much of it. What to expect, you were never certain, but you thought this would be harder than it has been. Sure, you had a few wobbles. Everyone has. But your imbalances seem to be triggered by other events, a job rejection or a spat with a friend perhaps, but it was always temporary. Not by the lock-down itself. You have very little money left but you don’t seem to mind. You’re philosophical about it. You long accepted that despite your best efforts you may be unemployed for a long long time.
In the beginning you made a week by week plan on the whiteboard, but you’ve rubbed it all off with kitchen paper. You didn’t need it in the end, you’re coping fine. You’re not anxious about what to do with your day, you’re doing plenty of things. Group activities all happen online as if they always have. It no longer feels like a crazy time you’re living through, it just feels normal. You haven’t put up the ten pound greenhouse but you don’t care.
You watch the birds even more than before, you know their intricacies now. You’ve named the pigeons, and they know you, eyeing you tentatively from higher ground whenever you put the washing out. The magpies are testing your patience though, and your appreciation for their swagger, shiny brilliance and intelligence has started to wane. They’ve put the wood pigeon, Fancy Pants, through quite an ordeal, so much so he flew into the glass with a bang. You were worried he had concussion, but he came back fighting. You find so much joy in this open zoo, but the food – nature separation has returned. You’ve got mince and chicken drumsticks in the freezer. You ache for a rare steak.
The hairs on your legs are long and black. Your mediterranean genes put any white man’s follicles to shame. Between your thighs, some grow to two inches. You know, you’ve measured them. You lament the day when you’ll tear it all out with hot wax, and that day will come. You’re too far socialised to bare your limbs to others in their natural state. As a woman you have so many battles. And this isn’t one you’re going to fight.
You wonder if lock down has liberated you from contact with random men who bring you down. You wonder if life is better because your contact with them is limited to the cream of the crop, those who see you as you are, a full human.
If this is depression, it doesn’t feel like it, you tell yourself. It struck you recently that it doesn’t take much to make you happy, but it also takes little to make you sad, frustrated, anxious. Piles of rubbish. Lonely chicken bones on a pavement. Boarded up shop fronts. Downtrodden men looking at you like they could eat you, their number growing in tandem with austerity’s entrenchment. You don’t need to think about any of that now, it rarely comes to mind. You’re happy here with your socially distant meet ups with neighbours and the sound of their kids playing on the street bathed in sunshine and time.
When will you have to face the other side again? Your country, town, neighbourhood as it really is? In its decay and indifference. You wonder this, but not as often as you thought you would . How different things have turned out. You barely have any Zoom chats. You don’t need them as much, nothing seems urgent. Your best days are those where you disengage from the news, don’t check, don’t ask. It’s no longer feels important and part of you doesn’t care.
*You regret that the word austerity was used in this piece. You wish you could dislodge it but you can’t.
Lock down has released you from the disappointments of what your life isn’t. You pine less for the cocktail bars you’ve never been to and can’t afford, because they’re all closed.
You want glamour, elegance and good tailoring, a pisco sour in a well lit bar free from the smell of insecurity and posturing. But you’re not bothered about any of that now, the coupe glasses gather dust in London’s basements, and that buys you time.
And yet today, construction (destruction?) has restarted. You can hear it, you are disturbed. A driving instructor sets off with his student, no masks. You don’t want to go back to normal, to how it was before. Here, now decisions are made for you. Your life is simple, and full of beauty.
All has changed.
The hold is breaking. You’re not sure what this is or why you’re feeling it but you can sense the disintegration, the threat, the creep, the return to the old bile-inducing normal.
The clapping has stopped, the thunder started, the streets quiet, a retreat to a different indoors. The children’s rainbows and dinosaurs, chalked in April, embellished in May, washed away in a day. You jogged under grey clouds yesterday, intermittent rain falling. You stretched your quads, hamstrings in the same order wearing the same clothes, standing under the same tree, pressing the same playlist into your ear. But everything seemed different, dark, lonely. The route, park, the same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?
The birds seem crueler. The pair of magpies have taken to chasing the blackbirds out of the garden. A male, turned its orange beak towards its aggressor saying really? You’re going to do this? And was met only with attack. Their corvid hobby turned professional, black and white clothed egos shiny from weeks of success basking in their reign of terror. You saw three wood pigeons congregate on your fence for the first time, an hour before the first lightning bolt hit. Safety in numbers? At least the sparrows and finches are safe. For now.
On your first lap yesterday, you saw two crows terrorising a pigeon at the park gates, hey! You said, stopping and clapping at them. They hopped away like vultures eyeing you with not much concern. By the second lap, the pigeon was frazzled, feathers unaligned, stumbling away when you again interfered. By the third, it was dead on its back, half off the pavement, splayed, pecked to death. The killers were only half interested in their prey, having enjoyed the process more than its result. It felt like a cruel world to you at that moment. The empty park, the grey clouds, the drizzle, that kill. You clicked the volume up and picked up the pace.
Nothing has materially changed for you, so what does this even mean. You wonder if it’s all in your head (but isn’t everything? The other voice says). You know to trust your instincts. You don’t want to face drinkers on your street again, piles or rubbish, the ghost of neoliberal past thrusting forward in it’s slow mouldy way. You don’t want to commute, absorbing others’ misery and life’s disappointment. It’s so nice here.
*You regret that the word neoliberal was used in this piece. You wish you could dislodge it but you can’t.
You haven’t done all the things you wanted to, that upstairs wardrobe hasn’t been emptied, bags of clothes made ready for the charity shop yet, you Need. More. Time. The garden isn’t this oasis you dreamt it would be, in fact you’ve barely done anything. The greenhouse you bought in a panic in mid March when everyone seemed scuttling like uprooted ants and all the shops seemed to be closing down? Today you plucked the spinach from its base and chucked the whole lot on the compost heap. You had planted some from roots you had left over, and put twelve containers on your inside window sill. You needed green veg, what if the shops ran out, you thought in early April. You watered them and watched them grow. Then the heat came and they bolted, flowered and resigned from their role as a potential food source. That was you told.
You’re back in the vortex.
Later, June 2020
Fuck this. You just want to get wasted in a field.
End of June 2020
Today the sun is baking. It feels like the end of May again when you were all cookie baking and socially-distant street parties . You are not sure who you are at this point.
You did yoga in a park. One of six. Under two magnificent oak trees. It’s the first non-online activity you’ve done. As you worked through your vinyasa and lifted your chest through cobra, your gaze met blue and white shapes, geometry amongst a fractal of green above. How could I ever be unhappy again, you thought, now that I’ve had this.
That day, everything seemed whole.
The pigeons circle, in clumsy flap, when you go out into in the garden most mornings. Your appearance signals food. The magpies have a brood of three, The robin diligently feeds its three chicks from the bird feeder. It looks like it would rather be engaged in some solitary pursuit, like parenting doesn’t suit it at all, but its genetic instruction compels it. Don’t hold me accountable it says to you, in your anthropomorphic fantasy which unfolds as you drink your morning tea, I’d rather be reading a book or fighting Dunnocks.
You took public transport for the first day today. Took the underground, which is overground, one stop to that same yoga class. In your head it was fine, normal. But something else was going on. Everyone seemed to be looking at you, and you felt your breath quicken under the mask. The men, all the men are looking. You felt exposed. Is this in your head? You wanted to be home, not around people you didn’t know, just casually looking at you. You realised when you boarded the train that you forgot your Oystercard on the bench. You’ve never lost an Oystercard. You’ve had the same one since 2004. You must have been stressed. Will I ever be able to go out again, you wonder as you walked home from the station. This isn’t good. Have you done this to yourself? You need a car. You have no money for a car. In the future, you will.
One pigeon has clocked you, sitting inside, and has taken to knocking on the garden door glass with its beak.
The starlings have arrived.
You return from the kitchen to find a pigeon in the living room. It very literally crossed the line. It seems unfazed by your mediterranean self materialising like a hulk, your sharp utterances imshy! Inta etganint, itla3 barra! unfazing. Or even launching a flip flop at it. Back on the patio, it still faces you, as if shrugging, yeah but, sunflower seed? A dangerous precedent has been set.
The poppies have popped. Red, white and yellow.
You wonder when you’ll see your family, you miss flying.
You’re on a 93 day streak on Duolingo. ¿En serio? ¡Mira vos!
Your chinese money plant is HUGE.
London feels so so incredibly, far away.