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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I’ve been crying at random times since the first weekend of October.

I cried when Mark proudly reported he had an awesome day at school because his class had “the good corner.”

“The good corner?”

Yes, the good corner. Turns out kids are dispatched all over the giant schoolyard at recess, but, of course, groups can’t interact, kids can’t touch each other and there’s no playground equipment. However, there is a tree in one of the corners, so Mark was delighted it was finally their turn to play around a tree instead of playing with, well, nothing. I mean, how pathetic is that?

So I went to my room and cried over Mark’s Grade 3 jail-like experience. Then I cried some more thinking of the alternative—online learning.

A few days later, I cried when I showed up at Starbucks after a productive morning only to find out tables and chairs were gone—and so was the option to sit down, takeout only again.

I cried when on October 5, we got our first “an individual has tested positive for COVID-19” email from school. I cried with relief around midnight because we weren’t contacted for further instructions, which meant Mark wasn’t a close contact this time.

I did the same crying-waiting-crying routine two days later when we received the exact same email for yet another positive case—again, Mark wasn’t affected.

Forgive me for being a bit emotional. We only had a month of semi-normalcy since we came back from France late August and yes, I do realize I’m lucky because I had a good summer.

But first, upon return, we had to complete the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period, which is such a fucked up experience I can’t even write about it. I kept on wondering if the police would be sent if I didn’t pick up the phone for perfectly legit reasons, like taking a shower or simply not hearing it.

Then life resumed, or at least, kind of. Nothing terribly exciting, really. In September, I saw four friends in total, met with my accountant, had coffee indoors twice, started going to the gym five days a week again and got a bit of work, which was a relief. Mark went back to school on September 15. The three of us spent the last hot day of the year at Gatineau Park and even this was strongly discouraged. Oh, and last weekend we ended up in a coffee shop when it started to rain during a walk along the Rideau Canal.

I didn’t have the chance to go to the movie theatre, to a restaurant, to a mall or just fucking breathe. It wasn’t completely business as usual, mind you. Ottawa only entered stage 3 on July 17—i.e. most businesses allowed to reopen—and it took weeks to restart and adapt operations. Plenty of places never reopened, either closing for good or waiting for stage 4.

I knew another lockdown was likely. “Red zone” Montreal began a month-long partial lockdown on October 1.

We were next. On October 9, “hotspots” Ottawa and Toronto reverted to a “modified” stage 2 shutting down indoor dining, gyms and movie theatres. We were urged to “limit trips outside of home, except for essential purposes.”

You guessed it, I cried again. I learned the news at the gym, actually, and when I left the manager herself was crying. “We did everything right,” she sighed when she saw me. “There has been no outbreaks linked to gyms.”

Okay, I sound super entitled here. This is where I should probably point out I’m not obsessed with my gym and Starbucks. Yes, thank you, I know I can work out at home—I did it from March to August. I can also make coffee at home. My life doesn’t revolve around these two places.

It’s not about the gym or the coffee shop.

It’s about mental health and having somewhere to go.

I signed up at the gym and discovered I enjoyed working out when a brand-new fitness centre opened a twenty minute’s walk from home, but I could just as well have joined a book club, a knitting club or a yoga centre. I’ve been working from home for ten years now so it’s my social moment of the day, a break from my computer. Same goes for Starbucks. I don’t give a damn about Starbucks, it just happens to be the closest coffee shop where I can walk to once a day for a break and caffeine.

I find it terrifying that I literally have nowhere to go and that soon, just going for a walk won’t be that easy. Newsflash—it’s cold in Canada.  

Sure, we’ve been through that before, just a few months ago actually. But back in March, April or May, I—and probably millions of people—had no idea what was going on. We were scared. The message was simple: “please flatten the curve, we need time to learn about COVID.” The shutdown felt like a one-time event, a tough experience but we were looking forward to brighter days ahead—literally, actually, since spring was fairly mild and we all quickly started spending time outside.

This time, I find it hard to convince myself I’m playing a role in the global fight against COVID. Restrictions are all over the place and feel completely random—they don’t make me feel any safer. I’m not even sure the number of cases will drop since transmission apparently mostly occurs during private gatherings—good luck cracking down on them especially if people have nowhere to go. Lockdowns don’t even look that effective since numbers go back up when restrictions are lifted.

So what the fuck is the plan for wave #3, #4, #5? The vaccine, if any, will be a process, not an event. It’s going to take months or years. Are we going to resort to shutdowns every few weeks? How sustainable is that? Is it worth it?

I don’t know for you but I don’t think I have what it takes to stay home and avoid people for months.

So I’m crying.

I’m crying for my closest friend in Canada who is facing the imminent death of her father (old age, not COVID) and a logistical nightmare to travel to France.

I’m crying for my friend who gave birth in March and is having the worst maternity leave ever because she’s bored and lonely at home with her baby girl.

I’m crying for all the people who just lost their job again merely weeks after being hired back and through no fault of their own except working in the “wrong” industry.

I’m crying for the teacher next door who had to self-isolate for two weeks three days after starting school—she tested negative, but mandatory isolation anyway. So many of my friends with kids are in the same boat, waiting for test results…

I’m crying for all of us constantly adapting, going from plan A to plan Z in the same week.

I’m crying for people directly and indirectly impacted by COVID, for lives disrupted around the world.

Well, whoever you are, thank you for reading this. We’re all sick of COVID news or rants, I’m sorry. I hope you’re dealing with it better than I am.

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