We are ‘not all in this together’ (barf) any longer

Conversations are hard these days, for I have nothing to say. After seven months of Victorian lockdown, living on my own, I have reached a state of immobility, as if life is evolving around me yet I am an innate centre, constant and unchanging.

Lockdown bites: An empty Flinders Lane.Credit:Getty

So many days have merged in to so many weeks without anything to discern the passing of time. Should there not be the occasional taunting of spring, it could still be March in my world.

So, when friends check in, for once I find myself silent. I have nothing to add, no stories to tell. I could whine, but I can’t be bothered. It’s boring and same-old same-old. Yet, my nearest and dearest continue to call, bless them, and so I listen to what they have to say instead and it is not always easy. And herein lies the frustration: we are "not all in this together" (barf) any longer.

Others outside of Victoria are getting on with their lives and, as much as I know they care, they also don’t really understand what it feels like to be living in Melbourne at this time, so far along in the isolation process it has become a new normal of uncomfortably numb.

Let’s take my “it wasn’t that great” friends. Bless these darlings because they are treating me as they always have. These are the friends who tell me they just had a great weekend at a beach house, long-lunched with old mutual friends or celebrated the important birthday of someone I love.

“You should have been there,” doesn’t really help. I know, I should. And, “It wasn’t the same without you,” is lovely, but hurts. These are the friends who try to soften their joy, with, “The weather wasn’t as good as when we were last there,” so far from convincing. They just can’t win. I want to be them. And I can’t.

Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:

Then there’s the “let’s have a laugh at the situation types" such as my Sydney friend Bill. Bill is like a brother, and we annoy and tease ease each accordingly. I know he worries because his calls have increased to every second day and I know he wants to cheer me up, always.

But goading me about his wine tasting weekend in the Hunter Valley is one thing, stopping to tease, “Oh, can you people in Melbourne still buy wine?” didn’t. Nor does the “you’ll get to have fun again before you are too old” and “there’s always knitting” jibes. Some days I can laugh. But lately, I just can’t.

Another voice I’m hearing is one of righteous indignation. This friend is all about “it’s outrageous what you’re being put through”, “how dare they!” and “it’s criminal”. But the thing is I don’t resent being in lockdown. I am actually grateful.

I have friends in America who want nothing else, to be actively doing something about this blight which just took its 200,000th life over there. I applaud Dan Andrews. He made mistakes but he is prioritising life over economy and influence. A hard call but a humane one and I am all for shouting him a haircut when this is over. And I have faith most sane Victorians feel the same way.

Another concerning conversation of late, for me anyway, is with is the eternal optimist, the people in my life who valiantly believe I can do absolutely anything and as such, have surely turned this situation into something productive.

The problem is that I can barely operate on any level currently, creativity be damned. No, I haven’t seized the opportunity to write a book or finish the screenplay. I’ve been doing what I have to stay afloat and not much else. And even that hasn’t been easy as doing arguably little has become cruelly exhausting. I have nothing to give.

Back closer to home, the conversations with fellow Melburnians in lockdown are also fraught. “I’m OK, this isn’t bothering me too much,” one friend offered, before adding that I “really need to get out more". This friend, someone I adore, however, is also someone who has had a different lockdown to mine.

He has seen his intimate partner all the way through, along with a rather large and extended bubble of friends from the beginning. I don’t want to judge, but at the same time don’t want to feel it is folly to follow the rules either. I do need to get out more and I will – when it is safe for everyone to do so.

On the other hand, there are those who are grappling with any semblance of hope, fellow beleaguered Victorians who are seeing no light. Ever. They are reading important things on social media, stuff I allegedly should know about what is really going on.

So, to the conspiratorial types suggesting that the figures are being doctored and “we are far worse off than we even know” or “the whole thing is a ruse and no one is really sick”, such suggestions are far from mood boosting. They are madness.

Then there’s the “you have nothing to complain about!” friends, those who are losing their minds home schooling kids and navigating fractious relationships within close confines and not getting a goddamn moment to themselves to breathe. “Swap lives, one week, I dare you,” one frazzled girlfriend challenged, believing living alone and being single is still an attractive proposition in lockdown. Yes, I sympathise – to a point. But constant solitude has not been easy.

Consider that until recently when I was allowed one bubble buddy, I have not seen anyone – at all. That is a lot of time alone no matter how much you normally enjoy it. Frankly, I am so over myself it’s not funny. I miss my freedom and I miss people. Bad.

Which brings me back to what is really wrong with all those conversations of late with those I love and that is that words just aren’t working for me anymore. What I really need is some company, some hope – and yes, I’ll say it, a hug.

Wendy Squires is a regular columnist.

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