One Christmas, many years ago, I had chickenpox. I was shut off in my room, itchy and irritated, dotted with calamine lotion, while wafts of festivity tendrilled through the door; fresh-cooked turkey and garlic prawns, family chit-chat and in-jokes. It was an exquisite kind of torture.
This pinnacle on the calendar; looked forward to, talked about, planned for, I was suddenly uninvited, watching it through a frosted window like a pauper in a Dickens novel.
After returning to Victoria from Sydney this week to the news of a growing COVID outbreak on the Northern Beaches, I went to get a COVID test and told them I had been in that vicinity.
Hours later, I received a call instructing me to bunker down for two weeks with my toddler-my husband will need to move out, leaving me pregnant and single-parenting over Christmas.
It’s a déjà vu but without the pregnancy and toddler and incessant itching; watching Christmas through a window.
While in Sydney, anyone who had been in the Northern Beaches was told to get a test and wait 3 days until they got the all-clear. I feel the same spike of injustice I did as a child, the unfairness of it all.
I’d be slapped with a thousand dollar fine if I left my house to take my toddler to the park down the street because I spent a few hours at my cousin’s house while they can at least get out to the supermarket and back.
Anger gives way to perspective and I traverse the terrible news from around the world in which people are suffering much greater than having to shack up in their house with running hot water and a Netflix subscription.
Isn’t that the Aussie way? Buck up, carry on. Don’t make a song and dance about it.
We watched the smoky skies of January as newsreaders threw the word ‘unprecedented’ around like confetti at the world’s crappest party.
Images of red skies, redolent with ash as bodies packed onto the beach with the occasional horse, escaping the creeping flames.
Relief came around the time that news rolled in about a virus, something about a bat and a man flying in from Wuhan. It sounds like the start of a really bad joke. A joke without a punch line which kept going on and on.
We picked up and discarded hobbies. Fresh sourdough was distributed by kitchen-savvy friends, and hints were shared online. Facebook feeds were filled with glorious views out people’s windows; everyone seemed to live on the edge of a stunning lake or a trail of mountains (or maybe the people who posted in the group ‘View From My Window’ weren’t the ones who looked out onto a brick wall covered in snaking pipes).
Artists went online offering free Zoom shows, and Anthony Hopkins read a Shakespearean sonnet every day in his booming, authoritative timbre.
We tried to find the silver lining; the circuit breaker to our insanely busy lives, getting to know the neighbours, finding a new passion for local products and tourism even as the body count rose.
There was Anzac Day, when people appeared groggy-eyed at the end of driveways clutching candles in solidarity, determined to remember. Perhaps we could call on the Anzacs for the courage to get through this 21st-century nightmare.
We watched the American election from a distance, like gawkers at a car crash; both fascinated and horrified while Trump continued to pump out angry capitalised tweets like your mum whose phone is stuck on caps lock and is asking what time you’re coming home.
That blew over too and Christmas loomed, this one day; full of hope and family and pudding and lifting restrictions. Now disintegrating into tendrils of smoke as grim-faced politicians announce more bad news in front of socially distanced journalists.
At least for me and my family who were planning to join us down south.
Another wave will roll over us all like the rest of it.
The cliché of the Aussie larrikin may be just that, but in these times it’s a good one to lean on. Just like the Anzacs, we carry on. There’s always a beer and a few laughs to be had at the end of the tunnel, even if we don’t know where it is.
Stumbling along in the darkness has to be good for something, at least relinquishing our white-knuckled control on the daily machinations of our finely tuned lives.
Christmas may be cancelled for some, but the spirit of the Aussie is strong and we will carry on, ready to brave the next big challenges of 2021.
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