In the first edition of this series of short stories, The Big Yellow Taxi, by Louisa Capelle, addresses life in self-isolation and how a new world full of fresh routines has opened our eyes to what we humans crave the most beyond the “lovely, glittery distractions and pastimes“ – connectivity.
Finally, restrictions are starting to ease and we are able to creep cautiously back into this new version of our lives. Even though for most of us the recent period of lockdown has meant staying at home and accepting our status as largely non-essential, for me the time was one long trip in a big, yellow taxi. Not, of course, a literal taxi, because there wasn’t enough hand sanitiser in the world to coax me into that space and besides, with theatres and restaurants echoing only with the sound of sad silence, there was nowhere to go. I am, of course, referring to the taxi in the song. You know the one, where Joni Mitchell and other artists with excellent taste remind us that ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ Restaurants, theatre, live sporting events, (occasional) gym workouts, stadium rock concerts – all the privileged trappings of life that we took for granted until a bat in a market far, far away absconded with them all.
But along with missing all the lovely, glittery distractions and pastimes we in the lucky first world enjoy, the coronavirus slowed the world down just enough for us to reclaim an original concept of connectivity. Under all the Zooming and Skyping was the realisation that there were friends and relatives that we just couldn’t see, hold, kiss or hug. It was a time that thrust us back onto our status as creatures, flesh and blood beings stuck in a (small) physical world. For those of us with healthy family relations in a pleasant house, it was a time of nurturing those bonds, crafting and baking and basically having a much needed but externally enforced ‘zendemic’. Moving along the scale were people who lived alone, but with pets. Dogs and guinea pigs couldn’t believe their luck, cuddles and company were on tap. Cats may have rankled with resentment at the intrusion, but their companionship was appreciated nonetheless. The almost instantaneous emptying of animal shelters bore testament to this new-found appreciation of creaturely connection.
For others, the lockdown may have brought a welcome respite from the obligation of family visits. Those of us surfing on the kite strings of a dysfunctional childhood suddenly found an official reason to avoid the needy mother, the narcissistic father, or any combination thereof. We were temporarily absolved of the guilt of not visiting in the school holidays or on weekends. It wasn’t an insult to them not to get in the car, it was the law. Similarly, the introverted and anxious experienced a hiatus from the swirling drag of the world to get out there and do something to justify their oxygen intake.
And yet… I found myself becoming all too aware of the march of time, and the fact that we don’t have our parents, with all their human foibles, forever. I found myself having the space to appreciate some good qualities that can so easily be obscured in the cut and thrust of Christmas lunch. My dad, who has managed to overcome a background that would have scuppered most, to creep up a social class or three and to realise some of his dreams, because the only way was up. My mum, who was the one there for us – steady, calm and baking while dad used up all the oxygen pursuing those dreams. No wonder when she came to visit me in London on my rite of passage working holiday she anxiously circled the maze at Hampton Court calling out my name. While I sulked in the centre wanting a moment of solitude away from her nerves. Now that I have had two months of solitude away from her nerves, and been largely left to contemplate my own, I have found an unexpected new dynamic creeping into my attitude to my family – a sense of understanding with the slightest flush of forgiveness.
Over in London, where the leadership has not been as decisive, impressive as effective as here in Australia and next door in New Zealand, a friend is unable to visit her mother. When this grand misadventure began and, as here, they locked down the nursing homes first, she posted a picture of her son holding up his dog at the nursing home window. Her mother smiled sadly and held her hand to the glass, high-fiving the dog’s paw. It is quite literally a touching image. Since then, her mother has suffered a huge stroke, has been moved to a hospital, is unable to move and is still allowed no visitors. My friend joins our zoom get-togethers, now leaving her camera off and her microphone mute. There are no words, except the one short message. She is bereft. We send prayers, we send loving thoughts, but none of that allows her to visit and hold her fading parent.
Here in Australia, I am allowed to travel again now. Within my state, anywhere I choose. Filling up the car, loading up the dog and the son returned from his father’s, keen to give his L plates a decent flogging. What will we do with this freshly restored freedom? Strangely, my thoughts aren’t flying to the desire to go somewhere lovely and treat myself. I am without my usual work as a casual teacher now, so it isn’t an option anyway. But even if it were, there is something “realer” than thread-count and degustation whispering at the edges of my newly quietened mind.
I might just go and see Mum and Dad and give them a hug.