I was already having a bit of an existential crisis before Coronavirus invaded. Who am I? What am I doing with my life? What am I doing in Germany?
The answers could change as soon as we are allowed to stroll freely under post-corona skies. With forecasts of recession and unemployment, (and watching retirement funds splatter to the pavement), we really have no idea if we will need simple rubber galoshes or PVC chest-waders to navigate through the muck we might find outside.
What I thought I wanted pre-corona may not be what I want post-corona, as the data points on my life graph keep changing. Things were so clear before this pandemic: find a home, sell my novel, enjoy some romance, live happily ever-after. Boom! Simple. Done.
Pre-corona, I wanted a cabin in the mountains, but after 6 weeks of lockdown, isolation doesn’t sound so appealing. Do I really want to be alone if I’m already driving myself crazy after a couple months?
Strict social distancing measures in Bavaria, while helping “the curve,” have given this introvert a new perspective. It’s like when you go on a diet and become obsessed with the chocolate hidden above the refrigerator. You know it’s there. You know it’s probably bad, but damn, you long for the taste of it.
As an introvert, I didn’t realize how much social interaction I actually had before. All those moments bitching with the other women in the locker room after a tough workout, sipping coffee with a friend at an outdoor cafe, even awkward first dates at noisy restaurants are the stuff of dreams these days.
I decided to be productive this week, which, in the time of coronavirus means getting out of bed, and started to clean out my basement. As I was coming out of the storage room, the physiotherapist downstairs stepped into the hall. Her practice has been shut down for weeks, so I was surprised to see her. She stood hesitantly with her bucket of cleaning supplies, as the smell of lavendar wafted from the open door behind her. I froze. It was like seeing some kind of rare albino deer in the forest.
“Hallo!” she said.
“Hallo,” I eagerly replied.
It was magical. I think we’re best friends now.
Life is so weird during lockdown. Informal greetings are packed with meaning. Little things take on great importance.
Pre-pandemic, I would dash to the store and focus on getting in and getting out and barely notice the people around me. Now, I wear my tight jeans and lipstick, with the hope someone, anyone, will look at me. I wore heels one time on a dare, which turns out isn’t a great idea. My friends and I joke that supermarkets are the new nightclubs. Aldi and Edeka have vastly different clientele, and you have to know what time to arrive, so you’re not wasting your booty on the geriatric crowd. Some of the finer establishments even have doormen, who give you a number so you can gain entry. Why not stamp our hands (or forearms if we’re wearing gloves), so we can slyly show them to our friends over Zoom the next morning?
“Yeah, LIDL was lit yesterday! I took home a jar of creamy peanut butter!”
I was sunbathing the other day, and an old lady in the apartment behind me sat on her balcony above, headphones on, her face towards the sun and started singing. An act that would normally annoy the crap out of me was suddenly beautiful. I thought I would cry. Her voice was terrible, but it was evidence of life. It meant that even though households are isolated, we are not the last survivors in a post-apocalyptic world.
I went to my lawyer yesterday afternoon to consult about permanent residency, (I’m still not entirely sure why *see question from paragraph 1), and I felt like I was going on vacation. I opened the sunroof as I drove the long way across town and cranked some Pink. I bobbed my head, drummed on the steering wheel and sang along — even at stop lights. Let people stare! I wanted them to see that things like joy and fun are still alive on this virus-ridden earth.
“I am here!” I belted out with Pink.
This week Germany announced they have extended social distancing until May 4th. I somewhat expected it, and despite my social hunger, I support the measures if it helps keep people from dying. But I do dream of the days when I can go on a date that’s not hosted by Whats App. I want to sit next to a person and touch their arm when I laugh. I never realized how much I enjoyed such simple things.
I teach for a university that is mostly online, but certain classes, until now, have been done in person. As an introvert, I didn’t understand why the face-to-face class was mandatory, but I do now. There is a classroom dynamic, a chemistry that washes out in livestream. In a real class, students can’t cut the video before they fall asleep.
While I love technology as much as the next Netflix-binging person, it cannot replace human interaction. It is no substitute for seeing the light in someone’s eyes when they learn something new. It will never take the place of a lover running his hands through your hair.
These lessons about humanity will have a lasting impact on the pandemic-driven social consciousness, even when the urgency fades. I once found stacks of hundred-dollar bills in my grandpa’s dresser drawer (I was a snoopy kid), and I had no idea why they were there. Was he a bank robber? I imagined all sorts of romantic scenarios. I would find out he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle during the depression because his parents couldn’t feed him. It was a story told as if from a dusty history book, the sadness and fear edited out, and yet his experience changed the way he raised his children and indulged his grandchildren, and it explained the stash of cash in his sock drawer.
Who am I? What do I want?
The answers reduce themselves, as I simmer in social distancing.
I’ve been finding interesting things in my basement. Two plastic Corona cups swiped from a music fest gave me an ironic chuckle. I also found a box of black and white photos. I recognized some of the faded faces but others I didn’t. Much like those unidentified ancestors, I may end up an anonymous jpeg on a flash drive someday, yet how I respond to these trying times could trickle down into my great-grandchildren’s lives.
Maybe what I want is not an isolated cabin in the woods, but to be connected to other humans, to society, to my new country. Maybe I want to pass down to my offspring confidence and not fear. It is possible that what this introvert really wants is to be seen.
Maybe I’m not such an introvert after all.
I am here, I am here. All of this is wrong but I’m still right here. I don’t have the answers, but the question is clear. — Pink