Once upon a time you could separate the good friend from the run-of-the-mill friend by whether they offered to help you move, or, in earlier years, held your hair back while you vomited.
Times have changed.
For those of us with parents over the age of 65, feuding family members, and husbands who left them for a younger woman mere weeks before the world went into lockdown, a good friend is now someone who will let you quarantine at their house. They will pick you up at the airport after you’ve travelled from a country where nearly 30,000 people have died from coronavirus, and then spend fourteen days bringing you food and drink.
The latest travel restrictions from my home country of Canada stipulate that all members of this good friend’s household must be under the age of 65 and maintain a two-metre distance from you at all times. These are not just suggestions. Failure to comply (especially if someone dies because of you) could mean a fine of up to a million dollars and/or jail time (see below).
“The summer has been long, and it still isn’t over,” reads the first line of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Man in Love – and I couldn’t agree more. While at first we embraced the freedoms of the “new normal” here in this little corner of Spain, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that it sucks.
And this isn’t just because of the trio of deaths at Carrasqueira #99 – Molly the stray cat, the baby seagull with the broken wing, the black cat who appeared, barely able to walk for lack of food and water – or my entire tomato crop that rotted on the vine. It’s a feeling, a feeling so difficult to define, that all of this – whatever it is – has only just begun.
Since I left home at the age of eighteen to travel and work all over the world, my mother has called me her “little gypsy.” After three decades of moving dozens of times and working dozens of jobs, all whilst living on a planet that’s moving at approximately 1,600 kilometres per hour through an unknown universe, you would think I’d be used to a little uncertainty.
But now I see that my comfort with uncertainty relied on what appeared to be a stable core – a marriage, healthy parents, functioning First World economies, an address I could use for mail and government-issued ID.
As someone in possession of a passport that allowed her the luxury of moving fluidly between borders, I flew from branch to branch knowing I could always come home to roost. But now coming home, according to my government, means putting people’s lives at risk.
Now, even traveling to a nearby branch feels odd, maybe even wrong. Last weekend on a car trip into the mountains of Galicia, the roads were practically empty. At what I assume were usually popular sites – an 11th century monastery, a neolithic fridge – we were the only ones there.
My companions joked of the mythic Santa Compaña (“Holy Company”) walking the twisty roads – a procession of the white-robed dead led by a possessed human. But after a while, especially after the sun set, this was no joke. I could see the ghosts of a life that ended a mere six months ago float past.
Six months ago, my husband held me for the last time and my father, now in the later stages of Alzheimer’s, still knew my name. I’d toyed with the idea of moving to a small town in Canada’s Kootenays to start a new life and accept the job offer of a full-time reporter.
Six months ago, I’d never heard of Wuhan or a KN95 mask. Terms such as “second wave” and “social distancing” weren’t part of daily life.
Now, every ten minutes or so I leave this blog post to stir a pot of green tomato chutney – an attempt to save some of the fruits of my labours. Chunks of tomatoes and onions simmer in vinegar and sugar, reducing into a thick sauce.
As the chutney thickens, I wonder whether it’s time to take action or wait out whatever it is we are waiting out. The sun of an endless Karl Ove summer beats down. I stir and I stir.