It’s 2020 and the symmetry of the numbers heralding the turn of this new decade gave me a vague hope of coming back into equilibrium with myself. I had come off the back of being tossed once again to the life of leisure. Un-gainfully unemployed I began the year faced with the country’s first natural disaster, the Australian bush burned down to the dirt, first in NSW then later in Victoria. Smog, thick and hazy compressed the atmosphere and bore down upon us, giving the people of Melbourne a dirty, day-humid summer that left an unfamiliar charcoal taste in the back of the throat as the heat dried out into parched nights, rolling over into each other endlessly. Even when it rained nothing relieved. Not the heat, not the humidity not the coating of smoke that clung to the city skyline. We, so unaccustomed to the boiler pot of polluted air that had descended upon the country’s most livable city, choked and spluttered and spoke of the destruction over avocado toast at brunch, emptying our change pockets into charity tins now found on every café counter, appealing to us to remember the koalas burned alive. We battled the weather with optimism and pity. I recall of that time, falling in love for a month. Hard and carelessly, a poor habit I resort to when bored or heart broken, this time both. I drank margaritas and suntanned in the obnoxiously luscious St. Kilda Botanical Rose Garden, inhaling the faint but particular smell of woody burning that by that stage we’d now managed to euphemise- the smell was, a poorly stoked barbeque manned by an amateur, that was all. I refused with great tenacity of will to have the summer stripped of its ease by the looming stress of such a mundane bore like income. I refused a lot of reality. It all seemed inappropriate but I didn’t have the selflessness to care.
Bad can become worse, or recovery is a state that prepares for the next cataclysm. I had already learned these lessons in 2018. It is a helpful tactic to always recall a time worse than the one you are experiencing to give perspective and avoid despondency. Besides, I was living on my own time line. Unable to join the Jones’ I remained out of sight and roared around flaunting my irresponsibility to my child bound friends. Burning piles of cash on drugs and cocktails.
The news of fire devastation moved further from the front of the papers, replaced by whisperings of a virus from China. Articles argued that it was just a version of the flu, others that it was to be taken seriously, that it was the harbinger of silent death, the worst thing to threaten our population since the Spanish Flu. That to me seemed rich, tallied against the daily number of human life lost to poverty and diseases. Diseases, so manageable it repulsed me, to hear that out in the developing world, yes, people still died of dysentery and malaria and all the things that are preventable with clean running water, repulsed me. And I was glad to see an anarchic disease threaten the bloated first world. Excess unable to shield the terror of the privileged.
I was not yet alarmed (although I don’t think I will ever be), I was not yet affected (to be more precise) by the term pandemic. It was not until the mounting anxiety of those around me, who exposed themselves to 24-hour news cycles, began to creep into my life that I became aware of the shift towards the paranoid from the formerly reasonable beings. Sympathy was my contagion, feeling phantom pangs for those that could not help but expose their fear of death or pestilence through their actions, the hesitation to make contact with the world, surfaces now seen to be aggressively harbouring kamikaze germs. I couldn’t brave to see how many people turned their face from their own mortality. It wasn’t that I thought them weak. It was more so that it further caused an engulfing alienation within me, that I was too dead somewhere inside to feel enough fear to want to live. The grief that had stripped me of my identity in 2018 had also stripped the fear of losing those I loved. I had already gone through it once and thought that death could not take more from me. I had reasoned that grief was like love. All the same, with different faces. Complex and tangled but the same quell of emotions that sure, I’d have to face again but would never be as new or as hard as the first.
The friend who drove me to the cemetery, rolls down his car window, to let the air circulate, I cough once recovering from a regular cold, he fears I could have ‘Corona Virus’ but is too reasonable to accuse me. This is the beginning of the tsunami of information about to reach us. “Tsunami”, it is the adjective used in a passing headline to quantify how many patients are flooding the hospital system. A second natural disaster and it is only March.