Is anyone else finding it strange?

Is anyone else finding this “getting back to normal” a bit dystopian?

I feel as though I’ve stepped into Stepford; as if something dodgy’s thrumming below the surface. We’re getting back to normal but still we wear masks. We’re getting back to normal, but although there’s food in the shops, it’s not the same. Where’s the Shropshire Blue? Why are there not so many types of cereal (were there never more types of cereal than this?) Why are some shelves empty; was it always so, or do I just notice the emptiness now? I’m second-guessing everything because I’m not sure how many things have changed from the normal that I’m struggling to remember and the normal that I’m being given now.

We’re driving on the roads, allowed out for more than one hour a day, unlike the first lockdown which now feels like a distant blur. We can go out alone, in groups, meet people, enter their houses… so why do the roads feel more aggressive? (Or am I just more fearful?) Why are there queues for fuel, and a shortage of diesel… but that was only for a few days, right?

We’re working, and the restaurants are open, but our office is not, and I’m not sure it will be. I’m pretty sure I can’t fit into my office clothes, either. I’m not sure when I will see colleagues again.

We’re going to the vet’s, and allowed in with our pets — masked, of course. But the routine doctor appointments are not all yet caught up. Was I supposed to have been screened for anything? Maybe I will be.

Christmas is coming. We’re hoping it won’t be cancelled. Was last Christmas cancelled, or was it the year before? It’s hard to remember. I probably took photos. I probably looked fat in them; I’ve been encased in lockdown lard like a pig in a blanket, and I probably looked bereft, having to stare at loved ones through screens rather than clinking glasses. More to the point, when Christmas is coming, so is winter.

When it all started, I said, I’ll put my head down and work, so I worked. So did my children, who now look tired. Perhaps I should shepherd them away from this craziness, tell them that everything will be OK, without any evidence, without any proof. Was there ever proof that everything will be OK? Of course not.

The thing that will make sense of it all will be the friendships. The stories we sit and tell afterwards. Not the immediate ‘how was your lockdown’ which still leaves us shuddering, picturing ourselves trapped in houses with sick people, unable to exercise our children or selves — but the stories in the future, when we’re around a fireside, looking back at those distant days which will one day interest and bore children in classrooms, and inform the art of the century.

Not all friendships will survive. Some will flourish with the added time to talk, as work turned to furlough, or the reaching out with care through difficult times; those who were here for us. But others will perish with the mounting angst of increasing bills, self-protective measures, or promises broken. Offers of support that were not fulfilled at critical times. The messiness of humans brought into sharp focus by needy eyes, and paths trodden given way behind us, although human resilience is a persistent thing. Maybe we’ll hold fast to the friendships that were meant to be.

We are coming through this, because time passes, and we will wake up one day — each day — to see the new, ever-changing normal, but we might see it through a very different lens.

 

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