I Always Thought of Myself as a Person Who Pays Attention
Last year at this time I knew something was coming but I didn’t know what. My boyfriend and I had a party scheduled for March 7, but we cancelled it the day before. I started wearing a mask to the grocery store, but I wasn’t super freaked out, because I had no idea what was going on. I had no idea what was going on not because the information wasn’t available, but because I wasn’t paying attention. And I was able to not pay attention precisely because I thought of myself as a person who pays attention.
On March 10, I was going over a story I had written with an editor I’d worked with before. The story had a general list of things I was freaked out about, things like climate change and right-wing violence. The editor asked if I wanted to add Covid-19 to the list, but I said I just wasn’t that worried about it. I thought to myself, God, this woman is a real hypochondriac, even though I had no evidence for this. I was seriously operating on the idea this was going to be like SARS because I knew what had happened with SARS and therefore this would be the same.
The editor asked me if I was aware of what had happened in Italy and I said no. She suggested I google it, and in a matter of seconds, I realized she was right about all this and I was wrong.
I was sure it would be easy to convince other people to be terrified now that I was. They simply had to know what I knew. But this was not how it worked. “I’m just not that worried,” several people said to me, and there was nothing I could say that could convince them otherwise. When I said, “This is going to be a big deal, lots of people are going to die, everything is going to be so fucked up too” people rolled their eyes, just as I did at the editor I had thought was a hypochondriac, even though I had no evidence of this.
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A week later we were all inside, or supposed to be inside, and it no longer mattered who had known what, when. Now most people knew, and those who didn’t would probably never know, unless they themselves got really sick.
A year later, the idea of being out in the world again excites me less than I’d like it to. I might just be depressed. I mean, I am definitely depressed. But I’m also thinking I might have just dropped down a level in general happiness and I won’t see an increase again. Partly, I don’t know if I will ever get over the extent to which I have gotten so remarkably sick of myself over the past year.
If you had asked me if wealth and power were poorly distributed in March 2020, I would have said emphatically yes. If you asked me if I believed in the government’s power to protect its citizens I would have said no. But I didn’t know it could happen so fast. If you’d asked me if capitalism killed people, I would have said yes, every day. I didn’t think it would be so simple and so direct and on such a giant scale, really, the only thing that was going on.
The only thing that’s been going on for the last year has been people dying.
I didn’t imagine a scenario in which there would be a pretty simple solution to all this—give people money, allow them to stay home—that would just be ignored, completely ignored. And the alternative scenario would unroll itself with so little protest — old people, people who live and work close to other people, would be placed at great risk of dying, and no one will save them. This is the world we live in now. I thought I got it, I didn’t get shit.
A year later, the idea of being out in the world again excites me less than I’d like it to.
I ate outside at a restaurant this weekend, a pretty nice restaurant. I was looking forward to it but I didn’t enjoy it. Everyone eating in the restaurant had a job, I guess, or access to the money of someone who had a job, and I felt gross. I was like, “Here we are, the still alive people with jobs.”
I’m not trying to be cool right now, or show how much I care about people. If you still like eating in restaurants after all this that’s fine, you’re not a terrible person. I’m just saying it wasn’t fun for me. It felt bad. I don’t think of myself as someone who is good at compartmentalizing but actually I guess I was pretty good at it because I used to really enjoy going to restaurants. But now I just felt like everyone eating in the restaurant, including me, was a zombie.
I am going to get vaccinated, I am going to go back to “doing things’’ I guess. But I don’t know what to say to people, other than “I used to live in a dreamworld, I thought knowing what they were was proof I didn’t live in one, I was wrong.”