Some people (including my late mother) would not be seen dead in their pyjamas. I, on the other hand, these last ten days or so, have been non-plussed about not only being seen alive in my pyjamas, but heading to Checkers in my pyjamas, doing the school run in the afternoon in pyjamas, going to home affairs in my stretched fleecy pyjamas printed with a pattern of zzzzs.
‘You must be taking your dope drops again,’ said Rob, the perpetual observer, ‘if you’re happy to wear those out the house.’
‘I’m wearing a mask. No one will know it’s me.’
And no, I have not been happy.
It’s been an interlude of limbo. I’ve hardly been able write. I’ve tried. I’ve sat at the computer, stared at the screen. Made tea, done the usual. Stood on my head, done a ritual writing dance, prayed to the universe to give me the words, give me insight. I’ve tried prompts from a delightful acquisition, a small green volume, titled The Pocket Muse: ideas and inspiration for writing. ‘Tempt Adam with a Ferrari rather than an apple’, ‘Write about Bessie the African Cape buffalo’, ‘Write about Judy the elephant who’s having her toenails inspected…’ None of these prompts rang true. I even tried following my son Al around, with my notebook, hoping he’d supply a comic quip to set me off. ‘Stop it Mom,’ he said, ‘I feel like I’m under surveillance, you’re creeping round like you’re the FBI, waiting for me to give up my secrets or something.’
On reflection, I think that in the past few weeks, so much heartbreak has featured in the news and on social media, that I got to a point of simply not knowing what to say, where to start, how to respond, how to support Black Lives Matter in the USA, or mourn another murder of a woman or child here in South Africa. And I just did not see any value in writing about my own life, as I’ve been doing, exposing myself, my flaws and petty concerns. Writing about the trivial when the world is in a state of flux and tragedy seemed superfluous. What’s the point? What can I say that has any meaning?
The truth is, for me, Lockdown Level 3 has been more difficult than Lockdown 5 and 4. I started my Corona Chronicles laughing, at memes, at jokes, in solidarity with so many who challenged the virus in SA-style; I continued through lockdown with a certain hysteria, stumbling, masked, in foggy glasses, through supermarket aisles, buying baked beans and wine and cookies. At one point my focus was fully on where I could get my next bottle of vino.
Getting through Lockdown 5 was a matter of do or die. I got the 21 days done. Then some more. I holed up under curfew. (I quite enjoyed it in fact, I felt safe, knowing everyone, including the crims, were in their beds. The night was still.) The focus was on making it through, without booze, or smokes (one vice I don’t claim) or exercise time at a reasonable hour. No way I could budge at six, in the dark. We/ I could do this. I gave the government the benefit of the doubt, mostly. I did what was (mostly) asked for.
I assumed the easing of lockdown would be a relief. It means we’ve got out and about. We’ve been part of the larger world going about its business in its collective mask, with clean hands. Al is back at school. Life goes on. Walking in the mountain. Heading to the mall. Buying a book or two. But I have to deal with my expanded lockdown-belly (how did I get so out of shape?). And the washing machine is leaking. My garden furniture was stolen last night. The crime rate is going up after what seemed a respite.
And no matter that only 1% of people who get Covid-19 will suffer badly (or succumb) according to the latest WHO statisics, I still live in fear of getting the damn bug from the copy of the Big Issue that I bought at the robot from the vendor who lowered his mask to say thank you. Or from the Exclusive books all those other browsers before me had possibly paged through. Sometimes I think, bring it on, let me get it over and done with. I can wear a badge on my chest – Immune.
More unsettling though, even than the virus, is that getting out has meant I’ve noticed the ever-increasing numbers of men on the side of the road, waiting for a ‘piece’ job. Men who have very little, or nothing. Who more than possibly, cannot provide food for their families. Men, most probably, reliant on charity. (As an interjection, if one cannot provide food, shelter and safety, the basic requirements according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, how can one nurture a sense of love and belonging? How will one treat women, and other men?)
I’ve seen boarded up shop fronts that were mere months ago thriving restaurants. I’ve seen more beggars. This is the way things are now. I’m also struck again by the way things were. Every time I pass Ocean View, I see the twenty, thirty white wooden crosses at the entrance to the suburb, each one symbolic of a man woman or child murdered by gangsters in the months preceding lockdown. Gangs haven’t dissolved. Guns haven’t magically disappeared. The outlook, generally, is dire.
Bringing my sinking mood all to a head, was a visit to Home Affairs. I asked to renew my expired passport, only to be informed, with a shrug, ‘Renewals will only happen on some ‘lower’ level of lockdown.’ The thought struck: I am going nowhere. I can’t escape. If my idea was to have my passport ready so that I could fly to anywhere, some getaway, to forget, it was not going to happen any time soon. I realised this is the long haul, this wearing masks and not hugging people is life now. This staying in place, this limited way of being, this cautious venturing out into public spaces. This damaged economy. This joblessness. This stress.
And so, in my helplessness, I put on my pyjamas. I repeatedly pushed my fuck-you button. Fuck you Coronavirus! And fuck the world! I argued with friends. And ate too much ice cream and stuffed my face with cake. I ignored my responsibilities. Make your own supper! So what that I have a deadline! I didn’t feel like enduring any more, any longer. I did not have the emotional energy to deal with the usual, ordinary, everyday challenges, let alone the complex state of the world.
One prompt in my small green book finally helped. ‘Write about the appearance of an inanimate object’. I was the inanimate object. Lying in bed, at 3:00 am. Sweating. My hair unwashed. My shame was inanimate. As inanimate and heavy as a boot on my chest. My shame at the booze-fuelled blow-outs I’d had the last week. My shame at trying to smack Al over the head with his school book. (He dodged.) My shame at bingeing on booze, and carrot cake with that lovely cream cheese icing.
And so this morning, I wrote:
I am not a right-off.
I am not a mean bitch.
I’m better company than I thought.
I can roast a chicken.
I am suffering from Corona fatigue.
People are desperate. I feel empathy. Stress weighs heavy on me.
None of us can underestimate the level of frustration that comes with the sort of loss of freedom and levels of restriction we’ve been living under.
Some people cry, weep at the losses.
(As for me, God help the person who irritates me, they are going to be at the other end of that frustration.)
Scarcity, I know, always triggers binge behaviour. I filled the void (left by the lack of freedom) with ‘substance’ abuse and behaving badly, and watching a lot of Netflix. Then came the shame…
I can offer myself a measure of compassion. I am merely all too human.
After writing, I stepped out of my pyjamas. I had a bath. (All the grey water will go down the loo. We are still on the bucket system in this home). I put on my denims and top, the usual uniform. I put on a necklace. I put on lipstick. Ignoring my out-of-shape sheep-skin slippers calling out ‘wear me’, I put on high-heeled boots.
And I thought of my mother. My mother got up at the same time every morning. She wore lipstick, and jewellery, looked groomed even if she had nowhere to go.
I put my PJs (literal and metaphorical pyjamas) in the wash. I shopped. I swept leaves. I looked over the bay to the mountains.
There is value in routine and ritual, as far as one can possibly stick to it. And so I have written this, and I am posting this.
We keep on keeping on.
It’s ok to be human.
We’ve been through a lot.
We’re going to go through more.
We can do it.
(Ok, enough already with the Rara…)
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I feel you – had one of those weeks last week! But gotta keep moving forward!