There were physical droplets in the air – fat atoms of fear held together by a stretched, thin skin which would pop at any moment. As I slowly creaked and cracked awake, the droplets threatened to rain – no, hail, on me, bursting their bubbles all over me, which would burst my own thinly held together sanity.
It was day four of homeschool due to the Craponavirus sending everyone indoors, and mad. It was busy. Four kids, in four spaces, in one house. One totally hopeless Mum IT Department. A post-apocalyptic kitchen created by kids, which was also threatening my thinly held together sanity.
We watched the News. Scomo’s normally coiffed hair stuck up like something from the movie Trolls. This morning I saw a man, slightly broken, trying his hardest. Yesterday I wanted him to be stronger, more decisive. Tomorrow… well, who knows what tomorrow will bring. More uncertainty is the only thing we can be certain of. The News showed people not sticking to the rules: ‘You have to have a life,’ said one person caught for “gathering”. Why are you allowed a life when no one else is? I saw trucks and trucks and trucks moving through Italy’s streets, obvious what was under their covers. It broke my heart to see my favourite, vivacious, expressive, loving country looking so destitute.
I shouldn’t watch the News. But, how else do you know what the day brings, when every second it seems to be changing? I can’t not watch the News.
I had one of the country’s first “telehealth” appointments – I was a guinea pig for the new way to have a GP visit. It was 8.05am – should I be calling him? It was unclear. A minute later he rang me. We bumbled through together, the doctor apologising. He wasn’t sure about the fax for my script getting through, or which pharmacy to send it to. Once again, the only thing that was certain, was uncertainty.
His doubts about the script proved correct. The pharmacy I’d chosen had none of my asthma prevention medication left. I couldn’t breathe without sucking the life out of a Ventolin, I needed that preventer. Those atoms of fear rained down harder on my shoulders, while a sick feeling in my stomach rose like a hot volcano in my chest.
We homeschooled till lunch time. I set the last period up for the two little ones – art. I called all the different pharmacies around and on my seventh attempt found one which had the preventer in stock. I rang the doctor to see if they could fax that one. He said, ‘Would you mind picking it up? We’ve had a lot of problems with the faxing part of this new system – and, while you’re out, I’m going to add scripts for your kids’ preventers, and more Ventolin because you need a script for that nowadays…’
Nowadays. I wonder how many days constitute “nowadays”, nowadays… Maybe it’s been like that for one, two days? The world was changing at the swiftest pace we’ve ever seen. Making history is not for the feint-hearted.
I went to pick up the scripts. I was greeted with a receptionist sitting outside the clinic, on the front doorstep. Suited up like a Ghostbuster in blue paper pyjamas, with that ever-present face mask, big clear plastic goggles, gloves, even protection on her shoes, and sitting behind a wall of glass. Damn he’s a bastard that Craponavirus – look at all that stuff!
It took three goes to hear what the receptionist was saying, through all her various layers. It would be prudent to note here that you may have a sore throat from Craponavirus, or, you may have a sore throat from shouting – through your facemask, across the chasm of your social distancing, or – probably highly likely in my case – from shouting at your squashed in, post-apocalyptic-kitchen-making, homeschooled kids.
The transaction completed at the GP, I walked the almost empty streets to the pharmacy. Past a school with about eight kids playing limply and silently together. The bell rang – too loud for such a small number of kids; there was no screaming and frivolity going on; it could have whispered, that bell.
By now that sixth sense of fearful heaviness I woke up with, was clamped all over my body. My mind was cloudy and I was infected with an overwhelming wariness about the air, the people, the streets…. No mask could protect me from it.
I turned the corner and felt unsteady.
The pharmacy was normally a happily lit, big open-doored, welcoming place, of medicines which made you better, and pretty hair bands, nice makeup, sunglasses, delicious bubble bath and calming candles to shop for, while you waited. The staff were friendly – as if they remembered you from the last time you came in. In fact, one lady did remember me – she had watched my last two babies come into the world, seen them grow from helpless beings in the cradle, to when they walked in themselves.
She was gone.
Everyone seemed gone. All that remained was a giant boarded-up box over the pharmacy front, like a jail, with two postage holes in the wall – “Scripts In” and “Scripts Out”. It was dark inside – if there was life in there I couldn’t see it.
People were standing around in confusion. I stood there in confusion. What’s going on? What do we do here? An elderly woman was shaking, her frail grey head looking this way and that, twisting her hands, running one hand over the other fist repeatedly.
A young girl waved to me. ‘I think for ‘Scripts In’ you line up here. There’s your dot,’ she said, pointing to a blue spot on the ground about 2 metres apart from hers. Her hands looked like the elderly lady’s, twisting over and over.
It was hot. The sun was burning us all as we stood there, not knowing what was happening. We all needed medicine. We couldn’t leave until we had it.
Then: A voice from deep inside the boarded box, out of the postage hole. Yelling, muffled from inside. And yelling from outside – spikey yelling, which made us all twist up in distress even more.
And then, some action. Slow motion action from the postage hole.
The young woman who’d called me up to the ‘Scripts In’ line started talking to me. ‘This is so weird.’ Her eyes were twitching, looking everywhere but at mine. ‘I used to work in here…. This is so weird.’ A man strode down into our space. ‘Please! Keep your distance!’ she said, her voice barely contained. He stomped away.
BEEEEEEP! Everyone jumped and looked at the beeping car. I was standing on my dot in the carpark. I couldn’t see what had gone wrong… An angry man yelling out his car window at the elderly lady from earlier – I could see her heart beating in fear. She edged her car out, she needed to escape this threat. Such aggression. From nowhere, because of nothing. Those atoms of fear were exploding on everyone, with different consequences.
I looked back to the postage hole. The young woman was talking into it. ‘I have to come back to pick it up? But I haven’t slept…’ Some soothing words from someone she knew came out of the hole. ‘I just…. I just….’ It burst. Her body flooded with terror. She was sobbing, bent over, sucking in shallow breaths, trying not to touch the boarded box but almost unable to stand. I have never wanted to hug someone so much but been unable to give them human touch.
She would have to come back for her medication tomorrow. As would I. All night I wondered if she was ok.
Upon my return, I decided go for walk to clear my heart. But it was fraught – people were not sticking to the rules about keeping their distance. Cyclists were zooming past too close, joggers felt invincible – I was making room for them, but the feeling was not mutual.
This walk was not working; it was making me more wound up.
I came to a cluster of people and had to stop while the area cleared itself. I watched two couples chatting briefly as they passed. It was like a dance… They went in to hug and kiss one another hello, as they would in life when it was normal. Then they remembered… so they danced back out. Their eyes looked self-conscious, they felt rude. The conversation continued. I couldn’t hear it; I was only watching this movie. Then they danced a little closer back together – they didn’t want to be rude. They thought this was about 1.5 metres apart. Or was it? A step back out. All four looked uncomfortable. They weren’t concentrating on their conversation because they were too busy thinking about their bodies in the space. Then one laughed – ‘look at us!’ she seemed to say. ‘Isn’t this weird!?’ They all laughed. Threw their hands in the air. In their circle was a feeling of warmth. Not the feeling of fear. They smiled and kept walking, happy.
I smiled too. For the rest of my walk. I made myself think about them and my heaviness lifted. The physical droplets of fear I’d woken with, disintegrated, as I remained focused on those smiling, dancing, laughing people.
Isn’t it funny, I thought. Human nature is a wonderful beast, really. We find it so hard to be apart. So hard to not hug someone who is sad. So hard to yell at each other through paper face masks, across glass screens or into boarded box postage holes. We find it so hard to be distant. We are hard-wired for closeness and connection.
I decide I will remember those four people’s socially distant dance of love, of connection, of hope and kindness. Of light-heartedness. I will remember that human nature is a wonderful thing. The thing that will help us get through this. I will speak kindness to the elderly lady and the angry beeping man – everyone’s frightened. Everyone needs kindness.
Our wonderful human nature will not let this thing that’s physically pushing us apart, disconnect us permanently.
This is what I will remember.
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