short stories

~ Social Distancing? No problem ~

solitude

~ Social Distancing? No Problem ~

The great crisis of our generation came almost out of nowhere. It was just after the turn of the new year when reports of a novel coronavirus spreading through China started appearing in the media. At first it seemed like something very far away – a drama unfolding in the far east, something similar to the outbreak of SARs virus a few years before that quickly petered out into nothing. I guess it was that sort of scenario which people expected again. After all, we were a generation who was regularly being told the world was about to end: swine flu, bird flu, ebola, the climate crisis, Donald Trump – we had read about our imminent destruction many times before as editors fervently created sensational headlines to shift newspapers. So, it was only natural there was a sense of ‘here we go again’ when Covid-19 started featuring on the front pages of The Sun and The Daily Mail.

However, fast forward a couple of months and the disease had now started spreading throughout Europe. A side effect of the virus was seemingly the sudden urge to travel the world, and consequently hundreds of people had brought the virus over with them on their holidays and business trips. The north of Italy was the first region of Europe to have a mass outbreak. Almost overnight, towns and entire regions went into ‘lockdown’ – a phrase that was quickly to become one of the most spoken words of 2020. People were confined to their residences, only allowed out for ‘essential’ things such as getting groceries or medicines, as well as travelling to work (that was if your company was still open and you were not out of work or working from home). All things considered, it was the biggest change to people’s lives in peacetime, and it wasn’t long before most countries in the world were imposing tight quarantine and social distancing measures to stop the virus from tearing through the population.

There was hardly a person on earth that wasn’t negatively affected by the crisis, but it was fair to say the outbreak of Covid-19 came at a particularly bad time for me. I had just left my job with the anticipation of taking part in a lucrative medical trial and then using the money to go travel on my latest backpacking trip. With the job quit, the trial cancelled and no international travel possible for the foreseeable future, I was left in the situation of being unemployed, stuck in my apartment and having about £5000 less in my bank account than I had anticipated. Obviously there were people far worse off than me – the ones who lost businesses and, you know, those who would actually die from the virus – but it was fair to say I wasn’t jumping for joy about the emerging situation. 

Nonetheless, I had to roll up my sleeves and get on with it like everyone else. I did exactly that, spending the first few weeks of lockdown in my apartment that I was supposed to have been moving out of. Instead, I was now stuck inside that apartment for twenty-three hours a day, only going out for my one form of permitted exercise, as well as the occasional trip to the supermarket to try and buy whatever food the panic buyers had left on the shelves. It wasn’t so bad. Having been someone who delighted in my own solitude, the whole self-isolation thing came as no big deal to me. Often I had looked at the four walls and thanked them for the great guardians they were. They were the walls that kept humanity out; the walls that gave me some peace from the insanity of society. I could have happily spent months within those walls in my own company, and I quickly realised having a hermit nature was a great strength to have in the era of Covid-19. Apparently the act of having to keep yourself socially-distanced proved to be something that was the challenge of a lifetime for many. Past generations had endured world wars, civil wars, crusades, genocides, great depressions and the black death; our great crisis was having to stay inside and keep ourselves entertained with Netflix, Disney movies, social media and group video calls. The difference was almost laughable, but apparently many people couldn’t cope with actually having to be alone with their own thoughts, while also not getting their regular dose of social gratification. A part of me almost delighted in it all. All my life I had been stuck in a society that catered almost exclusively for extroverts. Introverts had always been told to be more sociable and outgoing to fit into the system, but now the tables had turned and the extroverts would have to learn to be happy in their own company to survive the lockdown. The age of the introvert had finally come and the thought of it made me sit back on my bed with a smug sort of grin. What a time to be alive it truly was.

The great global crisis of our generation continued unfolding as I kept myself busy with a routine of meditation, writing, reading and just going on seemingly endless hikes through the Youtube wilderness. Of course, I kept my eye on the situation too by regularly checking the news reports on the development of the outbreak. The death charts and infection tallies were shooting up all the time, and it had quickly gone past 9/11 to become the biggest news event in my lifetime. I was now living through history and I sat back in my lair of solitude to soak it all in. I knew people were dying from the disease and, of course, it was a tragic and sad thing; but I also couldn’t deny that a part of me also found it refreshing that something dramatic was actually happening in our everyday lives. It really was like one of those end-of-the-world movies: the sight of people wearing masks, empty town centres, skies without planes, shops without food, police patrolling the streets – they were the sort of things you only saw on a movie screen, but now you were witnessing them through your own eyes. Finally, I didn’t need to quit a job and go travelling in some dangerous country to feel like something exciting was happening. 

Still, although I found many things about the lockdown refreshing, I was not without my problems. I was living off the savings I had and not being able to find a job, I soon faced the prospect of moving back in with my parents. At the age of twenty-eight, moving back home wasn’t ideal, but if I was ever going to do it then this would be the time. Like most people my age, my happiness to a degree was built on my own independence, but strange times had arrived and I figured this would be the next step down the rabbit-hole of Covid-19. The decision was made. I packed my bags and moved back in with mommy and daddy to set up camp for the rest of the lockdown. 

Back in another city, I started looking for jobs again. Luckily there was an Amazon warehouse close to my house and I now had the opportunity to be a modern-day sweatshop worker. At this point, Amazon was comfortably the biggest company in the world. Jeff Bezos had capitalised on the age of mass consumerism by providing an online e-commerce store in which you could buy anything you could imagine under the sun, and even have it delivered to your front door within twenty-four hours of clicking the purchase button. This meant that all the ‘thing’ addicts in society now had a place where they could order whatever caught their attention that day. This would naturally be even more extreme now that people couldn’t spend their money on getting pissed in pubs and clubs. Thankfully, good citizens like me were on hand to help them get the important products they needed to survive such as celebrity autobiographies and one-litre bottles of ‘luxury anal lube’.

Sorting those products for them to be distributed for ten hours a day was how I kept myself busy during the great crisis of our lifetime. I could imagine little children asking me what I was doing during the great Covid-19 crisis of 2020. “Well, I was helping people to keep busy with acts of experimental sex,” wasn’t quite as good as saying I was fighting on the beaches of Normandy or parachuting behind enemy lines; still – it was something I guess. And besides, I actually ended up enjoying the experience of working there. I felt like I was some sort of dystopian sci-fi movie having to distance myself from fellow workers, wearing protective equipment and having to go through a temperature check every time I entered the building. It was something I knew would feature in textbooks for school children for many years to come and I made sure to stop and enjoy every moment of history unfolding around me. 

After a while of working there and waiting out the crisis, I got speaking to a girl online. Meeting girls in real life was something of a bygone age and Tinder had connected me to this girl living in the city I had just moved out of – Nottingham. She was a teacher assistant who had been ‘furloughed’ – something which meant she got paid her normal wage for sitting at home, sunbathing and drinking bottles of fruity cider. I envied her situation as I texted her while stuck inside that dark warehouse for over ten hours a day. We were soon speaking most evenings on the phone as I began to feel an attachment to someone I hadn’t even seen with my own eyes. Maybe it was the drama of the situation, or just that I was sexually frustrated due to the lockdown, but we struck a connection that I had rarely come across with another girl. She was another misfit like me; someone a bit scratched and scarred by life who loved animals and nature and fantasy movies. Fantasy was an important thing in the world of lockdown and often we imagined going on weird and random adventures. Hell, I even convinced her to write some poetry and short stories – one of which she turned into an erotic camping trip in the peak district. It was a modern sort of love story; two people separated and unable to meet from the lockdown of Covid-19, but still living out imaginary lives over internet messaging.

We continued talking online for weeks until one weekend when we arranged to break social distancing measures by meeting up for a day in the park. She drove to my city to come and meet me where we walked around and had a picnic under the trees beside a stream. Finally together, we spoke about the world and our lives and all the things we had chatted about over the phone. We then moved to the long grass and fondled before spontaneously deciding to drive back to Nottingham where we played with her dogs, watched Lord of the Rings, got drunk, ordered pizza and put an end to our lockdown sexual frustration. In the morning, I lay  by her side and watched the curtains flap beside the window. Out there was a world in the strangest state I had ever seen it; and the situation I was in seemed to fit in with the madness of the age that had arrived. I was truly living in some sort of strange dream – a surreal reality that wouldn’t have been out of place in a George Orwell novel. I imagined the future of the modern world; perhaps this random meeting would turn into something long-lasting and we’d be telling our children the story of how we met during the great crisis of our generation. I was supposed to be going travelling but with international travel looking like a shitshow for the foreseeable future, I didn’t know where the next tumble down the rabbit hole of Covid-19 world was going to take me. Life was as bizarre and unpredictable and weird as ever, and not even Donald Trump or Boris Johnson had a clue where we were all going. 

Well, for now, I guess the only thing we can do is sit back and enjoy the dystopian movie we’re living in. Let’s let the crisis play out while we all isolate ourselves away within the walls of social solitude. Let let the earth’s atmosphere and environment recover while we are all stuck inside our homes writing these books and getting drunk and watching Lord of the Rings and having sex and ordering bottles of luxury anal lube off the internet. The future is a scary thing and we no longer need to watch the sci-fi movies and episodes of dystopian series Black Mirror to see something crazy. Just pull back the curtains, look out at the world and you will find something stranger than anything from any fictional book or movie. Welcome to the world of Covid-19.

 

One thought on “~ Social Distancing? No problem ~

  1. “All my life I had been stuck in a society that catered almost exclusively for extroverts. Introverts had always been told to be more sociable and outgoing to fit into the system, but now the tables had turned and the extroverts would have to learn to be happy in their own company to survive the lockdown. The age of the introvert had finally come and the thought of it made me sit back on my bed with a smug sort of grin. What a time to be alive it truly was.”

    You say that the age of the introvert had finally come. You are right, so far the introverts had to learn to fit into a society that catered exclusively for extroverts, and now it is the other way around. Yes, it seems to me this is quite a pleasant change for introverts!

    Liked by 1 person

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