For as long as I have lived in Athens, which is most of my life, I’ve wished that I lived elsewhere. The rowdiness of people as they speak, the black clouds spurting out of the exhausts of cabs and school buses, the lack of respect for personal space as we line up at the supermarket cash registers, the loud whispers of neighbors as they gossip about the people next door on their balconies in the summer, the traffic on warm summer weekends as everyone heads to the crowded beach.
Today, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. The concept of ‘home’ takes on a new meaning, when you can’t be anywhere else but there. So many things that until now we took for granted, suddenly become priceless, warm, even magical.
During this imposed isolation, or social distancing, however each person wants to label what we are all living today, our main goal, besides to not get Covid-19, is to not go mad. Social media floodgates have burst open with a deluge of “how to keep busy at home” and “22 great ways to keep your kids entertained”, supermoms post photos of happy kids that have produced works of art and perfectly shaped cupcakes, the health nuts post videos of their hot bods pumping iron in their clean living rooms, all of which to a real person are completely useless. And there I am, on my couch with nothing left to watch on Netflix except Dynasty (and that’s not happening), the fourth weekly bag of Doritos resting on my stomach. I feel like pushing the windows open and somehow breathing that forsaken coronavirus into my system just to make it all stop. Thankfully, I’m responsible for a minor and have to keep my shit together. So I find ways to stay sane that work for me.
“What’s everyone’s problem?” my mother scolds on the phone in reaction to those that are hoarding and breaking lockdown rules. “During communism in Russia we didn’t have toilet paper for weeks. And we didn’t need to go anywhere all the time.” Well, there was nowhere to go, i think to myself. As there isn’t now.
On the first day of the lockdown, I type “2 Maria Kostaki” and my address and send it to a designated five digit number, asking someone or something obscure for permission to go food shopping. instantaneously, that permission is granted and I’m free to drive to the laiki (farmers market). As I drive (windows open, music blasting, singing some 80s song like there’s no tomorrow), a friend calls while walking her dog. She’s nearby and remembers that she needs a bunch of parsley. “I’ll come by,” she says. We already feel like we’re breaking the law. We see eachother from three meters away, stop and stare, the stall full of fruits and vegetables acting as our visible shield of protection. It’s the most bizarre feeling to want to take in the face of a person, that under normal circumstances, you see at least once a week. To see and remember it, not on your computer screen, but in real life. What eyes express in the naked air cannot be communicated through the internet. I feel like we freeze in a time where even sadness is sweet, for it’s a feeling other than fear, the fear that we’re engulfed in. I give her a bunch of parsley that I pick up for her with whatever I needed from that stall, we take step back, we don’t discuss it, we exchange smalltalk and head our separate ways. I smile, for even that minute itself, was enough.
The next day, I walk to the local shop to get a yogurt that I don’t really need, just to exchange words with the owner. As I leave, it starts to drizzle. I stand there like a love-struck or broken-hearted teenager (you choose) in a bad romcom. Only I’m too self conscious to raise my arms to the sky, which is all I want to do. No matter how much any movie tells you, you never know how good rain can feel falling on your cheeks until you’re really need to feel it.
So every day, I type choice 2 into my phone, wait for approval and head to a supermarket, hoping to catch sight of a familiar face. I speak to friends and suggest we find a store that’s in the middle of where our homes are so we can cross paths, if only for a moment. And realize how sad this is, even if it is for the greater good. I’m sure withholding human touch must be a form of torture somewhere.
What’s going to happen when we are finally allowed to be in a room together, to touch each other, to pat a knee, to embrace, to hold a hand? I can’t imagine, but I dream of it. My friends’ voices, my kid’s laughter as he gets to run in the park with his friends, my mother stepping off a plane healthy and sound, how loud we are all going to scream trying to get a word in over one another as we share food and not care which glass of wine belongs to whom, and the absence of hand sanitzer from the table. As I dream of Athens and its noisy people, traffic, neighborhood gossip, and endless road trips to a crowded beach.
P.S. Thank you Θ and Σ for giving my thoughts an image before they were complete.