Covid Abnormal

This evening my husband was playing with our cat, Emmie, and a ping pong ball, when he accidentally shifted the rug she was standing on. Suddenly Emmie didn’t care about the ping pong ball anymore, but she was desperately concerned about the rug’s newfound ability to move.

Half an hour later, she is still regarding the rug with intense suspicion, and looking for the invisible demon that tried to pull her world out from under her.

Em, kiddo, I know how you feel. Invisible demons are all the rage these days.

Melbourne is, nominally, back to nearly normal. We are cautious, still wearing masks in supermarkets, shopping centres, health clinics and the like. But there is a certain amount of surreptitious hugging. Some cautious venturing out to dinner in restaurants. Even the odd party. My daughter and I actually took a road trip to Sydney a couple of weeks ago and stayed with friends. It was weird though. We were cautious. Anxious, even. Taking public transport was unnerving, as few people in Sydney wore masks – public exhortations to do the right thing are clearly not very effective – and we were constantly alert to risk. Some close friends were wisely avoiding hugging, which was understandable, but intensely painful at the same time.

But, as NSW is currently showing us with painful clarity, this thing isn’t over. Even once a vaccine hits our shores it will be months, if not years, before there is enough vaccine to innoculate everyone. And applied over an entire population, the initial efficacy (demonstrated over small test groups) might not be quite as good as we’d like it to be. I don’t think covid19 is going away anytime soon.

Our world has changed. We now know how many people can, in fact, work from home effectively, having been told by their bosses for years that they couldn’t be trusted. And we know how many can’t, with children climbing over them, no privacy for meetings, insufficient internet, and a desperate lack of social contact.

But we are also facing the aftermath (and ongoing impact) of a year that has gleefully stomped on all of our plans and expectations, trashed our calendars, and deprived many of us of the physical and emotional support we need to sustain sanity, if not life.

Even if we could snap back to normal tomorrow, covid19 has carved itself deep into our lives. We have no idea what the world will look like when we come out the other side. We have no clear picture of the damage that has been done.

As for me, I am shattered. Exhausted from an emotionally intense year that took far more than it gave, I am several hundred thousand hugs short of coping right now. I am pining for loved ones interstate and overseas. I crave all of the hugs, kisses, and casual physical affection that elbow bumping and zoom calls simply cannot replace. I need the long slow lunches, the quiet walks, the post conference dinners that go on forever. I need the privacy to have intensely personal conversations. I need the chance to rebuild my emotional reserves, my courage, and my confidence.

Some places are trending towards normal. Some places are going into new lockdowns and watching rising case numbers eroding their lifestyle and threatening their loved ones. But wherever you are, life has changed, and we have lost so much.

I am ending 2020 hanging in there, rather like a wind chime – there are too many pieces and they scream a lot whenever anything happens.

We’re lucky, here in Melbourne, because the lockdown worked. But there’s no certainty we’ll still be case free next month, next week, or even tomorrow, and even if we are, there’s trauma we can’t see. On our way to Sydney we drove through forests that were so badly burned in the fires last summer that they are not regenerating. Like those fires, covid19 is doing damage we can see, but also a lot of damage we don’t yet know about.

We have to hold on to each other, to look out for each other, to make sure we can regenerate.