Week 33 … I counted. I wrote my first ‘diary of a distancer‘ post on Saturday March 28, and it was subtitled ‘Week 3’.
Thirty weeks later we’re still distancing. Not as extremely as we were even a week ago – our bubble has extended from 5kms to 25 glorious, mind-blowing, spine-tingling, breath-taking kilometres and if you think I’m exaggerating that just means you haven’t lived through a Melbourne lockdown – but it’s as far afield as we can go.
And it’s glorious.
Yesterday was a public holiday. It would have been grandfinal eve public holiday, but given the grandfinal is being played in Queensland this year, it was changed to a ‘Thank You’ day. It came at just the right time for me. I was in desparate need of a day off.
It was a relatively warm day – more muggy than warm if I’m being precise, but I’ll take muggy over cold any day – and we decided to make the most of it.
We organised with Alison to head to Warrandyte – a suburb 23kms north-east of here which is leafy, has a river running through it, cafes you can line up outside of, lots of public amenities (for those game – or desperate – enough) and walking tracks that meander along the river for miles.
I said that so casually, you possibly didn’t notice, so I’ll repeat myself. “We organised with Alison to head to Warrandyte …”. We hadn’t organised with anyone to meet up and do anything for some time and while the concept wasn’t new, it was so far back in the depths of our minds that we had to fossick around back there for some time to work out what that actually meant. In practice.
It meant – not necessarily in this order – making decisions about what time to meet, what time to leave, how to get there, what to wear on our bodies, what to wear on our feet, which mask to wear, how many bottles of hand sanitiser to take, what to wear … I know I said that already but when you’re used to wearing nothing but trackies and hoodies, deciding what to wear is a big deal. For those of you who haven’t yet emerged from lockdown, don’t under-estimate how anxiety-inducing this can be.
I found a little room attached to our bedroom – I have a feeling it’s called a wardrobe but as I hadn’t used it in many months, I wasn’t quite sure that was its name although the more I said it, the more it sounded familiar. I took dresses, a thing I hadn’t worn in a very long time, from this wardrobe, tried them on, discarding one after the other until I found one that suited my purpose (to not accentuate the new bits of me that had been created by being locked down) and then decided I needed something else in case the breeze was cool in Warrandyte.
I had a vague recollection of something called a cardigan but I couldn’t easily bring it to mind nor visualise where it might be in the house. Eventually, I remembered that the white thing with handles in the corner of the bedroom is a chest of drawers that holds clothes and one of those clothes might be a cardigan. It was.
Dress on, cardigan on … I was ready.
Nope. Shoes. Slippers and trainers have been my only footwear companions for the duration and again it was more of a struggle than you might imagine to think of what shoes I owned and where they might be after all this time.
Dress on, cardigan on, shoes on … I was ready.
Nope. Mask. We have a cloth bag hanging from the loungeroom door with an assortment of washable masks, plus boxes of medical-looking masks next to the box of medical-looking gloves on the buffet in the hallway. Which one to choose? There’s lots to consider: how long you’ll be wearing it, whether you’ll be meeting anyone hence how much talking you’re likely to do hence how big it needs to be, whether you’ll be getting a cuppa and lunch hence how easily it can be taken off and put back on, how much driving you’ll be doing and if the roads are familiar (ha) hence how fogged-up it’s likely to get hence whether to use tape or not.
Dress on, cardigan on, shoes on, mask on … I was ready.
Nope. Handbag. Keys. Wallet. Hand sanitiser. Spare mask. All the things you forget you need because it’s been so long since you’ve been out, hence needed them.
When you’ve only been allowed to go 5kms from home and for only four reasons (to buy food, to seek or give medical care, for education purposes, for work purposes – work from home where possible) can you imagine what it’s like to drive for 23kms?
Exhausting. Why are there other cars? Why are they driving so close to me? Why are they honking me? I’m doing 25kms an hour, isn’t that fast enough?
And exhilarating. I’m moving at 25kms an hour!! The needle creeps up. And up. I’m doing 110kms an hour. SHARON! WE’RE IN A 60 ZONE.
Ah. Yes. Speed limits are a thing.
We went to Warrandyte yesterday. Just because we could. And so did half the population of Melbourne, and their dogs.
It was warm. The sun shone on us as we sat in the main street at the bus stop eating our lunch (no eating inside at the moment – plus, how weird is that? To sit inside with loads of other people, all eating at the same time? Nope, not ready for that yet). We sat and ate and talked with Alison. Not about anything, just talked. And it was glorious.
People wore their masks. They queued up outside cafes in orderly and socially distanced ways, they used the hand sanitiser at the doors of the cafes, they chatted about anything but the situation we’ve been living through, and at other times just sat together. They walked their dogs and watched their children play in the playground and at the edges of the river, they kayakked, ate icecream, forgot that strolling on the road wasn’t a thing you do when there are zillions of cars around, and they smiled.
We’re so close now we can smell it. And it smells good. We still might not be keen to go to the cinema in droves, or hop on a plane anytime soon to share our air with hundreds of others, and we might be wary of catching public transport or of walking into crowded shopping centres (none of which we can do just yet anyway) … but we can get together with others, we can feel a sense of freedom at the edges of our being, we can connect in ways we wouldn’t have been able to before with those who went through this too. There’s a sense of unstated knowing. It’s not something we have to talk about, we just know.
We were out yesterday for four hours. All in one go. Four hours!
It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure. By the end of the four hours it was mostly exhausting.
One day, sometime soon, it might even feel normal.
COVID-normal, but that’ll be normal enough for me.