You spend your whole life running. You barely pay attention to the honking horns, the blaring sirens. That’s all white noise to you. You don’t observe your surroundings. Your morning commute on the bus? If someone asked you who was the man in the fedora who always sneezed every time the bus stopped, you wouldn’t be able to tell them anything. You didn’t even know that man existed… you were too busy looking at your phone, or stressing about what school would bring, trying to make it before the first bell. You never noticed anything. Life was a speeding train with no intention of stopping.
And then, suddenly, someone pulled the brakes. Stores were closing, school closed indefinitely. Your family packs up and moves you all out to your house in the country, away from the only city you’ve called home.
At first, it’s not that bad. You can actually hear the birds outside, cheeping. You were never able to hear them before. At night, you don’t hear the horns honking, the ambulances blaring. Every night is a peaceful one, the only sound being the wind outside and the clock ticking in your room. The air is cleaner, and for once your nose isn’t always assaulted with the memorable smells of piss and car exhaust.
You get to spend more time with your family, which was hard to do with your life moving so fast. You’re even learning how to drive (you haven’t broken anything, thank God).
Then one night, snuggled in a blanket on the couch with your family, you see this movie. It’s one of those romantic ones with those big dramatic kissing scenes, like when the main character seizes their love interest by the waist and passionately kisses them on the top of a building. There’s music, the wind is pulling at their hair, the camera is going around them, a swoon-worthy scene in every aspect. Anyways, as you’re watching one of these scenes (this time the kiss happens in the middle of a staircase, not on top of a building), you wonder what it feels like to be kissed like that or kissed at all, because you, at the ripe age of 17, have never been kissed before.
And with that realization comes a sinking feeling in your stomach, because, when public health safety precautions dictate you must social distance and stay six feet away from everyone, it may be awhile before you, a virgin in terms of kissing, will be kissed, and that really depresses you, for whatever reason.
Kissing is such a small concern, and you know that, but this realization becomes a catalyst, and suddenly, you realize you miss so many other things.
You miss your favorite bakery that sells the best croissants ever.
You miss being able to easily hug people.
You miss your friends. You miss seeing them in person, instead of through the grainy images of FaceTime, or Zoom, or whatever you use, depending on the type of phone your friend has.
You miss a city where the lights are never off, where there’s always something open at 2:00am in the morning, and though you are rarely out and about at that hour, the knowledge of that always comforted you when you would fall asleep at night, the neon lights of distant buildings shining through your bedroom window.
You miss your home.
You miss your life.
You do a lot of missing these days.
You miss the anticipation you felt before your summer program was cancelled. You miss a world before a pandemic, and just to comfort yourself, you watch anything filmed before the pandemic. You feel an ache in your chest of seeing people freely interacting, of people not subconsciously keeping more than an arms’ length radius from each other. You miss a world where people weren’t scared to touch… or at least, not more than they should be.
Quarantine makes you awfully philosophical. It is in one of these philosophical hazes, you stroll down a dirt path outside your house, the spring air rushing through your hair. It’s a reminder of how lucky you are: you still get to go outside. You close your eyes, taking in the scents of trees, of flowers, of wet dirt (it had just rained). Your house is by the sea, so the air has a slight tang that only salt and brine can bring.
As you are taking all this in, you open your eyes, and stare at the tops of the trees, the distant blue strip of ocean hovering in the distance. And thoughts start meandering into your head, slow and lazy like maple syrup.
You wonder when all this will end, if there is an end.
You wonder when people will stop dying.
You wonder if all of us are somehow dying, not just the very sick. It’s a very morbid thought. You give yourself time to work through why on earth you would think such a thing.
You wonder if a small part of someone dies when they lose a loved one.
You wonder if the life you’re living right now, lacking all the little and big things that make life wonderful, is a life at all.
You wonder if that’s at the core of every issue arising from the pandemic. Loss. You turn the word over and over in your head. In the afternoon sunlight, on that dirt path, you turn, ready to head home, when an epiphany comes to you. And it catches you completely by surprise.
You say the epiphany, not out loud, but in your head, over and over and over like the ringtone of your phone. Do you want to know what you thought at that moment? I’ll tell you.
You thought that the reason why everyone is slowly dying because of this pandemic, is because everyone has lost something.
And you wondered when everyone would begin to get something back instead.