Dispatch #009: Toward (But Never Back To) “Normal” 

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I walked past my favorite coffee shop on Sunday. It’s been closed since the end of March and I can barely recall what it was like to go there. I used to go every morning, and if I didn’t, Abie would stop in on his way home from the gym around 7:30 a.m., and return with a 16 oz. latte. If ever he missed a morning, or I missed a morning, the shape of the day was incomplete. And here it’s been two months without that.

On Sunday, I tried really hard to remember what it was like going there—putting on a “coffee outfit” and then experiencing the simultaneous thrill of being dressed and the anticipatory buzz of imminent caffeination, and, for some reason, I recalled this one memory of sitting in the back of the shop, scrolling through my phone while picking my eyebrows and wearing an ivory cardigan with a doily collar and high-waist blue jeans.

While lost in this exercise, I experienced a new sensation where suddenly, life BC (before corona) wasn’t a memory the same way all the other ones were. It was a different entity. Almost like someone else had lived it. There was no through-line, stringing past experiences together with current reality, weaving it into the sweater called Me.

Have you felt this way at all? I mentioned it to Abie on Sunday and he seemed to know exactly what I meant. Now that I think about it, I bet this—the finite separation of time: before calamity, after calamity—is the way a lot of people feel after they have encountered a significant bout of grief. The loss of a parent, a partner, a child, any external piece of you, really. I guess I’m lucky because I have never experienced grief in this way. After a miscarriage, for example, I could recognize who I was before the loss and she was still connected to who I was after the loss.

But the reason any of this is noteworthy at all is because I’m not grieving. At least I don’t think I am. Am I?

I have known for at least the last three weeks to throw the term “back to” away when discussing the topic of “normal.” There will be no going back. Only toward, forward, to something… New? Different? I’m not really sure. And maybe the sudden red-sea-split of time is essentially an internalization of this acknowledgment. I guess the thing of it is, for as much as I navel-gaze and analyze and criticize and contemplate, for as much as I complained and could find the dark holes with as much ease as I could find a silver lining… I liked how a lot of things were—in my life, that is—before the pandemic. I wouldn’t mind going “back to,” instead of “toward.” Not all of it, but some of it. This is probably not a popular opinion to share on the internet, and it runs counter to the way I have recommended that we stop and think and sit still and discard the excess, the ways in which we have distracted ourselves from being able to see ourselves and finally, to confront the Big Bad Truth and do The Hard Work that is becoming our most righteous, highest selves.

But you know what? I have been doing that—while missing some things. And in the process, I’ve discovered a lot of new dirty laundry I’ll need to send out for dry cleaning (I’m just kidding, I will wash it myself. Delegating things I have to do, even though I can rarely delegate what I don’t have to do, is one of the garments that require washing), but I might be approaching a new stage of lockdown. And in this stage, I’m good. I’m tired of excavating even though it served me well for a while. I’m good. Or at least I’m harvesting what is good, thinking less about the things I want to change, the things I look forward to changing, and more about the things I had and knew and liked before the lockdown.

Like, for example, my work. The writing, the dressing, the partnerships, the team—all of it. And an excuse to put on something nice even when I don’t need to. I could always make the case. And my space! The world I get to have that is mine independent of my family. It adds dimension and perspective and endurance to the relationships between these walls. It also adds a bit of thrill: the extent to which I used to look forward to Saturday nights to get dressed, go out, and just talk to Abie. Damn, we had it good.

Have it good.

Time is different now. And maybe I am grieving how it was before because I know it won’t be the same. It can’t be. Even if I tried to restore the past, it’s not only too far removed from the present, but it’s also too foreign a concept. I guess it’s just that even though I liked it (dare I even say loved it), I’m not that sad.

I don’t know if it’s reductive to time this turning tide to the weather brightening up, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t help to watch the sun saturate the planters full of tulips that line the streets of Greenwich Village. If sitting outside on grass and watching my kids collect branches and then rub them against the soil, cleverly turning sticks into pens with which to write on each other doesn’t remind me of a Kurt Vonnegut quote I find myself coming back to every time simple pleasures trump complicated thoughts: If this—the stand-alone satisfaction of sitting on the grass with my kids—isn’t nice, what is?

Graphics by Lorenza Centi.

Leandra M. Cohen

Leandra M. Cohen is the founder of Man Repeller.

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