BETHNAL GREEN, 10 APRIL 2020
Boiled eggs and mass graves for breakfast.
I slept last night on the kitchen floor. This, and the fact that my hands are not my own, are signs of pain I cant feel. I’m eating, smoking, tidying often without even knowing it. Outside spring has opened her legs and the world is bathed in light. There’s something distasteful about it. Like a crop-top at a funeral or the jokes my mother makes.
I am inside though and the screen churns through unbelievable images. New York is burying their dead in mass graves. Dis-figures in ghost-busters gear are tipping grannies, brothers, sisters, husbands and wives into craters. Streets and stations, usually arterial, are dead. I’ve realised that I have run out of ketchup.
Trying to write at this moment is an attempt at perspective I have not yet earn’t but it is the only form of release and connection available. The only thing that relieves the pressure of thoughts fuelled with fear. Unborn feelings visit me in the form of exes and abortions while I sleep. Of lives I didn’t live, and loves that left. And the house I wake to is empty. I think I’m trying to process the loss before it happens. Killing my parents and friends before they surprise me. Guarding myself. Controlling the feelings before they interrupt a particularly comforting episode of FRIENDS, say.
The real shock to me is that this new way of life is actually not that different from the old. The isolation that has swept the country is something that I’m not unfamiliar with. My psychiatrist cheerily informed me that I was actually well placed to cope with the implications of life under COVID. He said that those of us who have experienced trauma and powerlessness are well versed in the fear and loneliness that so many worldwide are being initiated into. Welcome. I think? It’s nice to have company. But my god I wish the cost wasn’t so high.
The past has taught me that when the shit and the fan become bedfellows the only way to live is day by day. And if that’s too hard to break it into smaller digestible chunks. Hours, minutes, seconds. Breaths. That, and phone a friend. So I do. I call the people I hurt and who hurt me. And see how they are and see what I can do. Usually it’s nothing. An old school-friend who had the audacity to get married without me just wants me to listen to the hurt I caused her by disappearing. A cousin crowbars me out of self-pity by telling me about her children that she worries she can’t feed. Friends and enemies alike are washed up on the shores of loneliness and fear. Finally human. There are material differences and these are not to be discounted- matter matters- but nobody I know has died. Yet. So amongst my lucky tribe the fight is internal. My room has shrunk to the size of my head and I’m tripping over memories.
Today and yesterday and tomorrow have become amorphous lumps of time and the colours of the day and night bleed into each other. Next to me right now at the computer are my future husband, my recent ex, and the boss I will hate. I keep thinking of all the things I haven’t done and trying to make up for it by keeping to a strict schedule. Without a meticulous external structure my insides will spill out. I can’t handle the news anymore and somewhere after week 4 (three? Six?) I feel a shift. I’ve stopped fighting. I’ve relaxed into the grip of COVID. The thought of the lockdown ending now frightens me. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with life again. Not sure if I want to. I think I wanted speed and breadth from living before now. But this drilling down and sitting still has made me think and feel things I haven’t allowed myself the time for. The goals and benchmarks that I set (or were set for me) since childhood I have never interrogated. The fact that I can and will die I have never had the humility to appreciate. How to live has never been a question I asked; I’ve been too preoccupied with how fast or how much. This is a precious, terrifying moment in history and for as long as I’m lucky to be alive I want to hold onto to the moments of clarity in the madness.
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