Seán Moncrieff: Normality will return – but there are things we’ll never get back

We’re lucky. We’re still employed. We haven’t had to endure severe illness or death

Probably like most people, the first reaction to a positive test is: how? Photograph: iStock

Probably like most people, the first reaction to a positive test is: how? Photograph: iStock

 

I am often admiring of, and baffled by, people who take part in those “my favourite books of the year’ articles”. I’m not being anti-book, I love reading. I keep a list on my phone of books I plan to get around to. I usually do: it’s just that the list is so long, and time is so short, that I get to read them years after publication. I don’t know how those people do it. I’d have to run away from home, just to read books. 

For instance, I just finished a book called Station Eleven that was published in 2014. I hadn’t been waiting all those years to read it. It’s more that I’m so behind the literary times that I only just heard about it; and I only heard about it because someone gave it to me. (A TV adaptation also arrived late last year.)

It’s about how society collapses after a worldwide pandemic.

Yeah, I know.

What’s also baffling is how it affects people in such different ways. She felt like she was hit by a truck: too weak to get out of bed, couldn’t eat, a cough that kept her from sleeping, her chest on fire

Yet I greatly enjoyed it: partially because the storytelling was excellent, but also because as soon as I picked it up, so many people I know got Covid. Son Number One got it, couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Nephew got it, didn’t feel a thing. Daughter Number Two got it, wracked with aches and pains. Brother-in-law got it, didn’t feel a thing. Then Herself got it.

Probably like most people, the first reaction to a positive test is: how? In the previous week, she hadn’t been out partying. She hadn’t had any contact with any of the people in the previous paragraph. The two of us had been living a pretty constrained life. It made no sense that she would have it, but I didn’t.

What’s also baffling is how it affects people in such different ways. She felt like she was hit by a truck: too weak to get out of bed, couldn’t eat, a cough that kept her from sleeping, her chest on fire. It exacerbated another condition she has. In my many decades on this earth, I’ve never met anyone with such an acute sense of smell (she knows if I break wind in a different county), yet it vanished.

We’re lucky. We’re still employed. We haven’t had to endure severe illness or death

But, being the person that she is, one of her other primary symptoms was guilt: because a positive result affects more than the person who gets it. This all happened in the first week of January. It meant I couldn’t go back to work. It meant daughter Number Four couldn’t go back to school.

There’s an extended scene in Station Eleven where some survivors are stranded in an airport. They have to deal with their immediate physical survival, but also have to gradually adjust to their new circumstances: at first, they assume that help will come, that the planes will start flying again, that things will click back to normal. The three of us stuck in the house felt a bit like that. Luckily, we had lots of supplies and antigen tests, but from the outside I kept getting stories about shops running out, that a booking for a PCR test was like winning the Lotto. We live a stone’s throw from Daughter Number Four’s school and on an average school morning, our house rings with the sound of kids’ voices. It usually drives the dog mad as she hates to hear people enjoying themselves. But on that first morning back, the quiet was striking. The dog was silent. Normality keeps failing to arrive.

Last Monday was daughter Number Four’s sixth birthday. We had hoped to have a party, but, of course, the infection rates.

It’s a relatively small disappointment. But it’s one of many: one of the daily paper cuts from the last two years that accumulate; that will leave a scar.

And we’re lucky. We’re still employed. We haven’t had to endure severe illness or death. Normality, whatever that is, will return. But there are things we will never get back.     

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