Hard lockdowns are full colour experiences. I didn’t expect that, until it became reality.
Before the coronavirus truly hit Victoria, I listened to news about the UK, Spain, and Italy. I tried to imagine what it would be like. Home, all the time, interminably home, except for the rare occasion to buy groceries, a jog around the neighbourhood, or a terse trip to an essential job.
When I closed my eyes tightly, and focused, I heard that life in silence, and I saw it in sepia. I imagined it was nothing like Australia’s first lockdown, when we could still go to Bunnings, buy chairs from Officeworks, and sip coffee while walking around the block with friends. I think, anyway. It was such a long time ago, in such a formless year.
Australia re-opened, and Victoria enjoyed a brief spell of indoor dining, evenings on friends’ couches, and road trips to the coast. Then we snapped back. Suddenly, we lived in that daily blear of what I had predicted would be sepia and silence. We were plunged into another country’s reality. Random safety musings—should I purchase a few masks, for when we reopen; is it a bad idea to drive a little further, to that wonderful health food shop—became law. And around us, hundreds of people we getting sick every day. Scores were dying.
We equipped ourselves with language to navigate this reality. We learnt about bubbles, clusters, and curfews. We understood ‘as the crow flies’ versus ‘by road.’ There was no random browsing in stores to distract ourselves. Dabbling in gardening—or other new hobbies—became an organised adventure, rather than a creative amble through aisles. Nobody sips and walks unless they’ve mastered the art of sticking a straw between mask and mouth, slurping coffee as your glasses fog up. We knew that these things were unnecessary, but they were distractions, when we had them.
And yet, amongst all of this crisis, it’s not sepia. It’s not silent. We fill what should be quiet with all sorts of things: The chatter with neighbours, who become friends. Long walks along Merri Creek, where the creek continues burbling, and birds fill the air with their calls. Stopping to greet neighbourhood cats, favourite flowers, and fence palings worthy of discussion.
We say hello to more people than ever. We learn the names of almost everyone on our street. We look out for patterns in the neighbourhood: Oh, that magenta magnolia has a few weeks left. Oh, the jonquils are done for the year. Oh, thick, green leaves now replace cherry blossoms, as spring creeps ever-so-joyfully closer.
And, oh, we appreciate Spring. We melted, a little, when the weather warmed up. When playgrounds and skate parks reopened, the chatter that followed filled more of that cold, frightened, bobbing stasis. We can hear children giggling now, skateboards going ‘kerplunk,’ hoons fanging it in hotted-up cars, and gaggles of picnics, where all of us crow in delight on a day where the barometer rises above 20 degrees.
When I look back, on what almost 7 months of stasis will do to you, I think to Yeats, because I always do: “A terrible beauty is born.” A time of craving hugs, and sprouting, climbing jasmine. Of existential panic, and children paddling tricycles up and down the skate dip. Of an increasingly black-and-white, regimented, proscribed daily life, but the scents and sounds of spring wafting in amongst it. Softening the edges. Life will always burst through. Even a formless year can have blotches of colour.