How did we get here again?
In the days trailing Christmas, Lisbon steadfastly follows all the rules. I’m at once grateful and desolate about the relative safety I’m indulging in, of a country whose people were so devastated early on that they are now strict in attempts to ward off the inevitable. Is that what it takes? The consequences of a past so deep that we can’t ignore the future? It hasn’t seemed to work yet, I think grimly about home, about love, about bids for forgiveness. At least they are trying, I accept, as I walk twenty thousand steps per day to reward myself with pastéis de nata. On one of my sojourns I wander into a bookstore across from a museum, tucked away in a northern suburb where tourists are less likely to go. The newest issue of Granta lures me from its perch. Should we have stayed home? issue 157 inquires, alluding to the familar lines of Elizabeth Bishop’s famous poem. I am reverent, called-out, shameful over my first vacation in a long time.
Two years ago we wrote about this, earnestly thinking that after 2 weeks we’d have finished the canned beans we stocked up on. Two months ago we wrote about this, thinking we’d fold our cloth masks and put them away for the future. I saw some people string up cloth masks above their rooftops in triumph at believing they wouldn’t need them anymore; I saw others burn theirs. It’s different the second time around and even moreso the third, they’ll tell you about lockdown, and sex, and falling in love. That’s diminishing it, I know, but we’re all doing our best (we claim).
B sends me TikToks that I don’t watch until I do: bingeing his torrential messages in secret while attempting to sleep, but in public declaring that I’m “too old” to be a millennial and that I don’t watch TikToks. I kid myself when wondering why I suffer from insomnia, but at this point I gladly accept the burden of sleeplessness over other looming ailments. I rewatch The Walking Dead a third time, and this time it seems so close to the truth that I have to turn away to things like Sandra Bullock romantic comedies.
I return home again (what is home?), and I can still taste the cinnamon on my tongue. On every street corner, discarded fir and pine trees tumble into one another next to the metal bins. In the rare event that it’s not raining, Vondelpark is packed; gloved hands full of glühwein and dogs’ leashes. A surge of pessimistic foresight led me to purchase dumbbells at a suburban Target before I moved, and I use them every day. My friends invite themselves over to my place for dinner; they feel trapped, they feel alone. I make food for them on weekends. We sing songs from Moulin Rouge to pass the time. My neighbors across the street decidedly close their drapes to avoid watching me throw solo dance parties to Enrique Iglesias music videos from the 90s. But really I want someone to invite me on a roadtrip in their converted van, so that we can hide from the Greek alphabet and cook dinners over butane stoves in national parks while watching the stars. That’s a privileged-ass thing to be able to want, just like craving B’s curated TikToks under the safety of my Marimekko bedspread to the sound of the Dutch rain. On my daily walks I listen to podcast stories about death and collective grief. I think about my personal grief every day, but don’t write about it.
On cold nights I bike past the Amstel, noting the yellow holiday lights strung on tree branches blinking silently on the river and echoing our hope. Past due, left on for a little too long, yet still glowing like embers next to the bobbing moonlight.