I tend to have vivid, emotionally draining dreams that ratchet up in intensity until, just before I wake up, I realize with tremendous relief that I’m dreaming. So yes, that’s what I’m waiting for here: the end of the dream, or the deus ex machina, or whatever it is that doesn’t involve me sitting in these filthy sweatpants in a foreign country for eighteen more months.
The other night I watched a documentary about Flat Earthers and this morning I found myself idly wondering how the conspiracy theorists are faring right now — they must be out of their damn minds, I thought — and before long I was starting to conspiracy-theorize myself. A grand plan by the deep state to reset capitalism and the social contract that takes advantage of our faith in science and the media, the timing of flu and cold season, and our having been primed to expect this by arts and entertainment? The next phase of Jeff Bezos’s plot to take over the world? Something something bioweapon something?
Yeah, they are out of their damn minds. But it’s nice to imagine that this is a movie plot, right? Since this is certainly right about when the hero is meant to show up?
I find myself waiting for that. I’m in London for the foreseeable future. I was going to be anyway, since I live here, but it’s bizarre to know that it’s for an indeterminately long haul. I’m vacillating between the pettiest and most existential concerns: I’m going to forget how to put on makeup. (I had already forgotten how to put on makeup.) I’m never going to see my friends and family again. I’m not going to get to travel Europe this year. Someone I know is going to die. I’m going to have to eat something that isn’t a frittata tomorrow morning because none of the five grocery stores within a five-block radius of my apartment have any eggs. I’m going to die. I’m going to get fat. I’m going to get fat!!! (She wails, to the tune of a fatal virus sweeping humanity outside her window.)
Half the time I’m imagining myself into all of the books I’ve ever read set in the London home front during World War II, as if instead of hanging out in a flat that’s larger than the illegally converted four-bedroom I split with three Craiglist strangers in New York a decade ago making some harissa-heavy Alison Roman recipe I’m… in the line of sight of the Luftwaffe. (My fiancé and I watched “Dunkirk” the other night and felt duly chastened for having nodded at anything that compares our current circumstances to wartime.) The other half of the time I’m working myself into a lather what-iffing that this quarantine had happened when I split an illegally converted four-bedroom with three Craigslist strangers in New York.
I often think when reading history about how hindsight serves to heighten or assuage the tension of plot. I bite my nails at someone drinking a cup of tea in an English garden in 1938 and exhale as the calendar flips closer to May 1945. It occurs to me every so often to remember that nobody living during World War II knew to count down to V-E Day. (Pardon me for my fixation on World War II; I got a Molly doll for Christmas the year I learned to read and we had the same glasses and I’ve been imagining myself into life on the home front ever since.)
I can’t complain. That doesn’t mean I’m not still staring down the barrel. Time is passing intolerably slowly. I’ll be 31 soon — one hopes — and I’d been trying to break the habit of waiting for things to get better before I start to enjoy them.
That was an easier commitment when I was trumpeting about enjoying life even when [my job/my weight/the selection of books available on Kindle/the weather/the speed of my Internet] got me down. I can bake as much bread as I want — actually, I can’t; every one of the five grocery stores around me has been out of flour for weeks, but let’s speak metaphorically here — and I’m still going to be living, along with the rest of the world, under the shadow of death. Cool!!!
So I wait. Wait for the deus ex machina to drop, for the spunky heroine to show up, for the dream to end, for the flour shelf to be refilled, for my nose to run and my lungs to give way, for a phone call I won’t want to answer, for Last Week Tonight to return, for pubs to reopen, for a flight home, for the sun to set so I can go to bed and wait for tomorrow morning’s headlines.
Same mindset in so many ways. Still in shock and trying to deal with not being able to help while hating isolation, which I used to treasure.