Keeping despair at bay (part 16)

“Recently, I tried on a dress. I bought it online in the first lockdown, planning to wear it for my birthday party six months later. I’ve never worn it. So I tried it on and looked in the mirror and imagined a future where it would see light again. I imagined the party, and then it came, a falling feeling, as I realised I will have to learn again how to socialise, from scratch.”

I haven’t bought a dress online, but I understand what Eva Wiseman is talking about. I recently watched an episode of a TV show in which the characters were having a wonderful time while jammed cheek by jowl into a small neighbourhood pub. They were laughing, singing, shouting and – imagine – hugging one another. After a year of touching pretty much no one other than my partner, I felt downright squirmy until everyone was safely dispersed onto the village green.

Social recovery

What will it feel like to hug people again when that day comes? If this question keeps you awake at night, I encourage you to read Wiseman’s essay in full, which provides instructions so we can prepare for “the return to hugging.”

By no means am I the queen of small talk or social mingling, but I like to think I can hold my own conversationally at a party, that I know how to give and receive hugs and pecks on the cheek and that I can juggle a cocktail in one hand and a snack in the other. I hope I remember how to cook a meal for more than two people and how to set an attractive dinner table. After a year of no real social contact, though, I fear that some of my skills may be a bit rusty.

Will I remember not to ask for seconds whenever my partner and I decide we are comfortable going to a restaurant for a meal? At my first live music event, will I move automatically to the front row and sing along? Will I remember that, unlike dressing for a day of Zoom encounters, I have to consider my ensemble down to my feet? And where are all those shoes I used to wear when I went out into the world? Will I be so afraid of publicly embarrassing myself that I decide to stay at home for the rest of my life?

Spinach = spring

My farmers’ market order this week included the first batch of local spinach, which I am happy to eat in isolation at home so I can deal with all the stuck-between-the-teeth bits privately. A sure harbinger of spring to come, the spinach was closely followed by several days of temperatures considerably above the freezing mark.

This week has brought other hopeful signs that spring is near. There are geese flying and honking their way across the sky. The sun and warmth has made it possible for me to work comfortably in our sunroom, where I will spend increasing amounts of time as the days get longer and warmer. The seedlings in the basement now have tiny leaves on them. The garlic supply harvested from last year’s garden is getting low, as is the supply of vegetables and berries in the freezer. Our neighbour’s five chickens have arrived to occupy their newly constructed hen house, and we can hear them murmuring to one another in the morning and evening. The mounds of filthy snow around the city are disappearing fast. My favourite neighbourhood snowperson has melted into the ground, with only a soggy banana mouth and scarf as evidence it ever existed. We are about to move to daylight savings time.

And then there were swans

It was a year ago today that my partner finally convinced me that we had to return to Canada from the then-idyllic San Miguel de Allende. I had kept my eyes and ears firmly closed against this possibility for weeks, but the combination of his entreaties and a text message from my daughter saying that all the schools in Ontario were to be closed made me realize it was time to pay attention to more than my plans to stroll to the market for fresh tortillas.

We left in a swirl of activity: one last walk through town, purchases of a year’s supply of cocoa, vanilla and cinnamon, a final meal with friends in the soft, warm evening air at a rooftop restaurant. Had I even contemplated the possibility that we would not be able to return this year, I would have, at the least, increased my purchases of cocoa and vanilla to keep us going a little bit longer.

Of course, there was no trip to San Miguel this year, and we are not ready to assume there will be one next year either. I know the that spring is not really here yet and that there will be more snow and cold before both are truly gone. But, this week, it was warm enough for us to have drinks and snacks in our backyard with friends we hadn’t been able to see since November. And, on our drive home from a sunny afternoon visit with friends in the country, we stopped the car to watch a ballet of swans preening on a small lake beside the road.

All was well in our small world once again.

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