A Journal of the Plague Week 18

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

This past week was just about normal.

I don’t really know what “normal” means anymore, but we did things this past week that we haven’t done since the start of the pandemic, and at least for short periods of time we could pretend we weren’t still in the middle of it. I’m not kidding myself about that—I know things aren’t truly safe or normal here or anywhere else. But it’s been nice to fake it occasionally.

Sunny weather and Street Diner have been our saving graces. Every Friday for the past three weeks, Jeremy and I have suited up and strolled into town for a lunch not of our own making. Last week we went even further afield and walked through the Pavilion gardens and down to the beach, where we sat by the sparkling water for a while and watched the boats and the swimmers. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had been at the beach, but I can tell you that it was marvelously restorative to feel the breeze and hear the waves, and to see a wide horizon. We even walked down the promenade a bit to check out the new Shelter Hall food hall. We contemplated ordering something cold and bubbly to sip outside but eventually opted to follow the siren call of Gelato Gusto back in the North Laine. Well, I followed the call of the gelato (blood orange sorbetto, to be precise)—Jeremy followed the call of the bubble tea and came back with a brown sugar milk tea that gustatorily transported us to the very, very steamy streets of Taipei (where we were exactly two years ago today). We consumed our sweets and headed home, feeling like we’d taken a little vacation somewhere. Honestly, anyplace that’s not our house feels like a vacation these days.

We left the house AGAIN the next day, paying a visit to the garden center at the top of the hill in the hope of finding a few more salad seedlings to pack into our already quite abundant raised beds. There were no salads to be found, but on our way back down the hill we were lured in by a pub. Lured out, actually—the Fox on the Downs, which we had to pass on our way home, had several empty picnic tables outside in the sun, and while neither of have any intention of sitting inside anywhere right now, the idea of a cool beer outside was too enticing to resist. The pub is on the corner of a fairly busy intersection, so it’s not the most tranquil spot, but it didn’t matter. It felt relaxed and normal. It felt so nice, in fact, that we went back for a Sunday roast the next day—outside again, still on the busy street, but also still in the sun and still normal. And at Street Diner this Friday we met up with another Clearleftie for a socially distanced lunch together. We chatted on the grass for a long time, and even though Street Diner was not as busy as it would have been under other circumstances, and even though we masked up as we went our separate ways after lunch, and Jeremy and I walked all the way home in the heat instead of hopping on a bus as we usually would, you could almost imagine that it was a regular July day.

But it’s all just whistling past the graveyard. A literal graveyard, and one that’s getting bigger by the week, with over 45,000 people dead of COVID-19 in the UK, over 140,000 in the US, over 600,000 worldwide. I was very aware this week of deliberately enjoying myself, of ruthlessly repelling the bad thoughts that congregate at the edges of my consciousness, just waiting for a chance to overrun me. I’ve built up a sort of seawall in my mind, and there’s an ocean of fear crashing against it. It’s not so much fear for myself and Jeremy at the moment, because I feel like I know our risks and I’m comfortable with our precautions (there have only been a handful of new cases in Brighton this month, but we don’t leave the house without masks, we don’t wander around in shops, we don’t spend any time indoors at all other than in our home, and we don’t interact closely with anyone but each other). My fear is for the people I love who are beyond my reach, who face different situations and different risks. And these are the fears that quickly start to spiral if I give them any sort of foothold in my thoughts (What if someone gets sick? What if they wind up in the hospital? What if they wind up in the ICU? What can I do? What would I do? What should I do?).

I’ve reluctantly come to accept that these things are beyond my control, and if there’s nothing I can do about them, there’s nothing to be gained by thinking about them all the time. So I can’t give those fears a way in anymore. There can be no crack in the seawall that lets them seep into my awareness. The wall is doing its job for now, though I can sense the mental and emotional effort it’s taking to keep it in place. But I have to maintain it, because the alternative is to be sick with anxiety all the time, like I was a month ago, when I had a permanent stomach ache and a constant feeling of panic (to be fair, the stomach ache might have been due to some dodgy cashews—but the panic was plain old panic). The stomach ache is gone and I’m just about keeping the panic at bay—but I’ve also got an eczema flare-up marching its way around my limbs, the maddening itch keeping me awake at night and reminding me that no matter how far down you think you’ve pushed the fear, it will find some way to make itself known.

So I guess this is what normal means now.

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