Lockdown, Day 3. Yesterday evening, I broke quarantine. My friend called me, wheezing, barely able to get the words out.
‘I’m not well,’ he managed.
‘I’m on my way,’ I said, and I ran. Going out to help others in need is a legitimate reason to request an exit pass, code 4 in our lockdown text messaging system. I didn’t bother; I just ran.
I burst into his house and found him on the sofa, in the darkness, clutching himself and trembling. I sat down in a chair opposite, put my hand on his knee.
‘What’s the matter?’ I said.
‘I have it,’ he said. ‘I have this thing. My chest hurts. I can’t breathe. I have a fever.’
His hands were cold and clammy; his forehead cool. I made him surrender the glass thermometer he was almost crushing underneath his armpit: 36.5 C.
‘You don’t have a fever,’ I said.
‘Then what? What’s happening to me? I can’t breathe.’
The look he gave me, so deeply helpless, so frightened, my strong, brave friend, one of the proudest arseholes I’ve ever met, broken and pleading: it broke me. It broke my heart. And I broke everything and hugged him. Practically climbed on top of him and held him as tight as I could, stroked his hair, pushed my face into the crook of his neck. My strong, brave friend, who doesn’t generally invite, or accept, such tactile expressions of comfort. Trembling in my arms.
‘You’re OK,’ I said. ‘I’m here. You’re OK.’
‘I have this thing, and now I’ve given it to you,’ he muttered, his whole body shuddering and sending ripples through mine.
‘You don’t have corona,’ I said. ‘You’re having a panic attack.’ Which is just as bad, arguably. It’s the fear that’s killing us, the ostensibly healthy, while, ironically, our pretence at bravery, that insane survival instinct of denial, kills the vulnerable. And feeds the fear some more. How do we break this? We might survive the virus, but who will we be on the other side?
I’ve been very vocal about this from the start; I’ve been on a non-stop rant since it all began. I suppose it is, in part, my own survival instinct that’s driving me to corona-activism, positive action – because the alternative is giving in to the helplessness and the fear, and I know which way that goes. I’m already on antidepressants, and I started taking them at a time when we could still say, with certainty, that it’s not the end of the world. And now, in a sense, it is. So I’ve been obnoxious to the point of openly aggressive when measures are being broken to keep our habits intact, broken out of carelessness or, worse, a completely misjudged, criminal sense of rebellion and an utter lack of understanding that, for once, we truly are all in this together. In the best and the worst possible way. Because, mate, if you end up killing someone’s grandpa because you thought social distancing was optional and quarantine an inconvenience, that’s not just on you: it’s on all of us. If you end up killing your own grandma because facebook told you this was all media hype, you’ve not savvy, you’re doomed. We’re all doomed. So if you bound up to me, as if this were just another, ordinary day, making jokes about the exit pass that you have failed to acquire, and try to give me a kiss in greeting, I will be loudly and unapologetically rude, and tell you to stay the fuck away. And that’s before I report you to whomever can slap a fine on your irresponsible ass. And I don’t give a fuck if you’re offended. I don’t give a fuck why you think you’re an exception. I don’t give a fuck about your human rights and your personal freedoms, or the particular reasons you claim to be uniquely inconvenienced by the measures that are struggling, oh so shakily, to save all of our lives. This is not just another, ordinary day: this is day three of lockdown, and the whole world is in quarantine. If there is any scenario that’s more inconvenient, more drastic than this, I honestly don’t want to know.
Does this make me a hypocrite? That I broke down and broke the rules and put my arms around a friend who was breaking? There are several issues at play here: ethical and philosophical, practical, and socio-fucking-political, and I just don’t have the brainpower, today, to process them. On another, ordinary day, perhaps – but not today. And then there’s humanity, which might just be our saving grace and, equally, our downfall; and there is love that breaks through the fear and breaks everything down to that moment when you have to decide who you’ll be on the other side, and put your arms around a friend who’s breaking, as the world comes to an end. And if you can’t do that, if we can’t do that: we’re doomed. And there will never be another ordinary day again.