Don’t Tell Me To Breathe When I’m Already Drowning
The lift doors close, and I shut the door to the flat and burst into tears. Feelings of loneliness and panic boiling up inside me at breakneck speed. Whirling around in my head are half-forgotten memories, flooding my brain with defunct and spent emotions previously tucked safely away and filed under; ‘done and dusted/thank god that’s out the way/won’t miss that/next!’ I never loved the school run. I hated the school run. Everyone hates the school run, don’t they? The rush and hassle and stress of getting two school-aged kids showered, dressed, breakfasted and out the house with micro-seconds to spare before the morning rush hour traffic hits the village, is not something I ever anticipated feeling bereft over. But, for some bizarre unfathomable reason, I am now wandering around my Marsascala flat, full-on snot-bubble-messy-crying about missing the fucking school run – which, I hasten to add, I actually hadn’t done in about 7 years anyway because my kids got the school bus for the most part and then drove themselves once driving tests were passed in the 6th form. So why the actual fuck have I romanticized a part of my life I hated? I dramatically pull open the balcony doors and take deep breaths to calm myself, my pink teary eyes blinking in the already hot early morning Maltese sun.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
It’s what everyone has been saying to each other throughout lockdown. ‘Just take a deep breath to calm yourself/we’re all in this together/this won’t last forever.’
But the whole time I just wanted to scream; ‘Don’t tell me to breathe when I’m already drowning!’
I may have overestimated myself. Moving to a new country in the midst of a global pandemic might have been one step too far for my emotional and mental capacity to take. Having had my life plans of moving to Malta stalled in March when Covid-19 rampaged across the world, causing countries to close borders, flights to be grounded, and loved ones to be separated indefinitely, I was left stranded living a life ‘in limbo.’ Stranded, on the face of it, was a first-world privileged problem for me. I wasn’t destitute and desolate. I was living in my luxury detached family home in the Dorset countryside with my healthy 18 and 20 year old sons. Thanks to Ocado, I had my shopping delivered throughout lockdown, and was able to exercise my body and clear my tumbling, tumultuous mind with daily bike rides or walks in the forest - a literal stone’s throw from my house. Although I lost income as clients put my services on indefinite hold whilst they battled to save their own businesses from the financial impact of the virus, we were more than able to pay the mortgage, bills and other expenses life throws at you even in the midst of a global shutdown. I had nothing to complain about other than the fact my boyfriend was locked-down in Malta and I didn’t know when we would be able to see each other again. We spent hours and hours, which, when totted up, almost certainly ran into days and days, video calling and speaking to each other on the phone. Whatsapp messages sent throughout the day sealed our love along with online news links containing microscopic hopes of airports re-opening – all too often dashed within hours by more news of further restrictions being imposed. It was an emotional rollercoaster of the most cruel, anxiety ridden and unsettled kind. It’s all well and good being told ‘this won’t last forever,’ but when you don’t know how long ‘not forever’ is going to be, you can’t plan ahead, and you find yourself struggling through the week wishing your life away and then berating yourself for not being grateful for making the most of this opportunity of an enforced ‘pause’ in life. Like many, if not most people, I felt the world had flown off its axis and real life had no rules anymore. No one knew what the daily Coronavirus news briefings would bring, and it felt like we were all playing out a real life fucked-up episode of Black Mirror.
And then my dad died.
As if dealing with a global fucking pandemic wasn’t trying enough for the spirit, fate decided to punch me right in the guts and expunge the already sour breaths I was struggling to take right out of my lungs and through my fragile soul. I sobbed on the bathroom floor as close friends facetimed me with their sympathies, allowing me to just weep; heart-wrenching, guttural, choking gasps on the cold, tiled mosaic, as I berated the fact due to the virus we had not been allowed to see my father in hospital before he died. My mother had not seen her husband for 10 days prior to his death, which was related to her in a phone call from a doctor on the morning of what would have been their 56th wedding anniversary. Restrictions meant I could not even drive the 30 minutes to my mother’s house to comfort her. The rollercoaster of coronavirus had just derailed in spectacular fashion, and I sought solace in the forest; cycling, cycling, cycling with tears streaming down my cheeks, blurring my vision and causing concern to those who saw the mewling mess ride past.
When finally, lockdowns started easing and borders started re-opening, my days switched from uncertain despair to desperate hope, obsessively refreshing the front page of the Times of Malta on my phone; hoping, praying, begging the universe to cut me a break and let me see the announcement that I had been waiting for. When Malta announced a list of safe countries the airport would open to - of which the UK was not one – crazy, fervent plans were made to fly to Sicily via Dublin and then get a ferry to Malta. After 5 months apart, my life on hold, having lost my father, and my heart in tatters, I would have paddle boarded to Malta on a half-inflated novelty lilo to be with my love if it had been a remotely viable option.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. On the 15th July, Malta’s Luqa airport opened to the UK and I finally boarded an early morning flight; masked, excited, and a maybe little trepidatious at the new life I was flying out to. However, uncertainty in the changing world over the past few months due to Covid meant I hadn’t really taken stock of the life I was leaving behind, or the fact that with the virus still very much a global issue, international travel was no longer – for the time being at least – as easy and spontaneous as it was in those halcyon pre corona days.
And I guess that’s the crux of the matter. It’s not the repetitive drudgery of the school run I miss, but the memory of a life less complicated, when there was more certainty in the world. My mind is re-adjusting to not only my new life – an opportunity I am grateful for and longed for over the past dark virus-hit lockdown months – but also to a new way of life which is affecting everyone. Now my children are young adults and no longer need me as much as they once did, I am no longer sure of my place or value in the world. Life is changing, things are shifting; some things are lost forever, only existing now as memories, nudged into the forefront of my mind by a slamming door, a certain smell, an echoing sound caught on the furnace hot breeze carried across the parched Maltese earth; a foggy reminiscence of another time, another life…