Some time in September, perhaps it was the second week, the morning skies were a cloud-free blue, and the sun’s light danced on the sea. Perhaps you don’t remember. I remember because on those mornings I drove down to the sea, and swam. I took pictures each time, even though the scene was the same every day, because each time I was amazed anew at how beautiful it was. I would be hard pressed to think of anything more beautiful, of any other way I’d rather spend my time. I wouldn’t ordinarily be doing this on a week day in September.
At the beginning of the school term, also in early September, I had dropped my children off at school, and strolled calmly, slowly, back to my car. Sat behind the wheel, I thought about all the school runs ,pre-pandemic, where I had hurried back to my car, anxious not to be delayed a moment longer in order to make it to my desk as quickly as possible. I thought about the ten years of tail-chasing my husband and I had gone through: schools, creches, packed lunches, homework, playdates, full time jobs. Trying to squeeze everything into the two or three hours in the evening that we were all in the house together. I felt a wave of sadness for us, and for all of those like us, that life had been so stressful when it needn’t have been. We were following an arbitrary schedule which dictated everyone needed to be at a desk in an office at 9am for eight hours a day, (if you were lucky) five days a week. What earthly difference would it have made if I weren’t at my desk at 9am? If I had been able to arrive at a time that suited my life. No difference, the job would still be done.
All of which is to say that in many ways my pandemic life is so much easier , better even, than the before-times. I can work easily from home, although our very small house does not afford me to do so in much comfort. Maybe the price to pay for this will be bills for a chiropractor somewhere down the line. Still, I can do it and maybe make myself a nice lunch instead of the ryvita and cottage cheese I used to bring into the office. Still get paid, and maybe save some of the money we would normally be paying in childcare. I can swim, more now than I used to. I have discovered the joys of walking the hills in the early morning and the blowing away of the thoughts which whir constantly through my mind. I am fortunate to have amazing friends with whom I can walk by the sea and talk and talk and talk. As a family, I think, we are generally calmer, now that we have a little more breathing space. In many ways I am content.
And still. And still some days I want to pull the duvet over my head and not come out. One day a couple of weeks ago, I did stay in bed and watched the BBC adaptation of ‘Us’ and sobbed as the lead character trails around Europe haunted by all the mistakes and regrets of his past. I also cried watching Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse fishing in the British countryside whilst classical music I cannot identify plays in the background. And still, despite my generally more favourable personal circumstances, some days I just want all this to be over.
I want to be able to visit my family in England. I want to be able to stay in my childhood home , hug my parents and my nephew. Maybe even my brother. I want to watch my children rock pooling at St Mary’s Lighthouse with their grandparents, and walk along the beach at Whitley Bay afterwards. Once it was apparent we wouldn’t be going to Newcastle at Easter like we normally do, I thought we would go in the summer. Then October. Now – when ?
That is my pandemic loss. Missing my family in the UK, not knowing for sure when I will see them again. Having my parents miss out on almost a year of my children; a year is a long time when you’re only seven. That is my loss, but I can manage it, for now. Others have lost so much more , of course. Livelihoods, long-term health, community, loved ones. But it’s more than that, too, that makes me want to crawl under the duvet. That makes me want to say ‘ pretty terrible, actually’ when colleagues ask on Zoom how I am. It’s an awareness we are living through a major societal shift and even if many of the things we are leaving behind we will not miss, this is still a huge upheaval. We are still saying goodbye. This is where the sense of dread comes from. This is why I sometimes wake early in the morning to my stomach churning. Casual acquaintances, regular flights abroad, theatre, restaurants, cinema, museums. Giving someone a lift. Shopping without a mask. My daughter attending the Irish Dancing class for which we specifically bought her shoes during lockdown. Fresher’s week. Spontaneity, and also , conversely, making plans for five days time and not having to worry that they won’t proceed. Comedy. Music. Kids birthday parties. Will any of these things exist again as we knew them pre-March 2020 ? How will we collectively manage the trauma we are living through in the coming years ? People talk about how awful 2020 has been; I feel increasingly that 2021 is certain to be worse, as we face the social and economic impacts of this year.
So I can swim in the mornings, and walk at lunchtimes. I can be thankful for great friends, and WhatsApp, and that my family are well. I can enjoy a slower pace of life. But I am sorry too , for all of us, the things we leave behind, and what may be yet to come.