Originally published in Orlando Magazine.
Last night I didn’t sleep again. It has started with the beginning of quarantine and has outlasted it. I touch my pillow and think of death. I think of my own death and that of the people I love. Then I envision the end of humanity, of words and meaning. It messes up my plans–my immortality relied on their salvation. My body becomes restless and I can’t lay still. I dreamed about London again, flooded by the Thames. In the dream I sit on the bed and see the water rising outside of the window. The water stream takes away cars, people, windows, trees.
Now I feel tired. I’m tired of the sofa, the chair, the bookshelf, of that crumb in a corner that I still haven’t cleaned. I move back and forth between the living room and the bedroom. I can’t take another nap, not now. Look inside me, says the fridge from across the room. The peaches went off. Dead, decomposed, trashed. I’m ashamed of my waste. My breast hurts. I wonder what it is. It’s already 5 pm. Where did my day go? The overground passes by for the fifteenth time since the morning and makes the table vibrate. It’s full of plates and glasses. Glasses all over the place. On shelves, on the floor, next to the bed. I fill glasses with water and I don’t drink them. I’d never noticed this about myself.
I’m alone at the kitchen window and contemplate the rarefaction of my life. I’m lost, scattered in a million pieces around the world and inside my head. Birds chirp outside. A fly tries to get out of the window but keeps bouncing against the glass, boing boing boing. It’s losing precious time of its one-week life. I look at that perseverance and that stupidity and that lack of perspective and I feel similar to it. What am I doing, what am I supposed to do, have I been chasing false values. Will I die? Of course I’ll die. But how soon?
Shall we go out for a walk, he asks me. Is our relationship environmentally unsustainable, I ask him. Our distant worlds are kept together by carbon emissions. Will an overdue political reform obstacle my love, I wonder. We go walking in circles around our building. The city is dirty and I feel exiled. The city is big but I feel more caged outside than inside. At least in the flat I own the air around me. I know it’s clean, virus-free. I thought I needed a big boundless world to be free. Turns out a captive body frees my mind. Give me silence and I’ll give you thought, solitude is polish to my synapses.
Once at home I sit on the floor and say it out loud: Never again. I’ve barely ever said these two words. Now they give me power. I write down:
Never again, to all of it. My wish is getting out of reach. It flows into what I can’t control. How much oppression am I responsible for, by simply being alive. I don’t trust my inherited conception of life. I don’t trust that my distrust is going to matter. But I don’t care. As I write words down, I see them disappear from my world. I feel better inside my head. I turn to another paper. What I write here, instead, blooms in all corners of my earth:
Dinner’s ready but I’m not hungry. Someone’s shouting in the street. Focus focus focus. If I focus enough, tonight I’ll be able to sleep. There’s this thing about my London dream, red brick buildings swallowed by the Thames. It never feels like a nightmare. While I watch the water take everything away, I sit motionless on the bed. I think calmly about what to do. In my dream I’m lucid. I control myself and the space around me. I should probably go up to the roof, I think. I do it with a phlegm that I don’t possess in my daily life. But doing these lists feels the same. I revel in the chaos. This madness gives me clarity like a well-placed full stop. The world doesn’t have to spring back into shape. I can change it, one word at a time. I can live with perishability when my purpose is clear. Discard and substitute: these will be my weapons. I’ll use them until I inevitably succumb. I’ve only got time until the lights are out.
This text was inspired by:
Bruno Latour, Where to land after the pandemic? (2020)
Yuval Noah Harari, The world after the coronavirus (2020)
Maria Konnikova, How people learn to become resilient (2016)
Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso (1532)