A few mornings ago, I turned 22 and – as I do most mornings – I rolled over bleary eyed and probed at the home button on my phone to check the morning news, before facing the world a year older. Within these – my “birthday news notifications”, so to speak – I got a lot more than I had bargained for. Meatloaf was dead, someone had dragged a corpse into a post office in Carlow to claim his pension and the pandemic was over. All since the day before? Surely not. I almost caught a glimpse of my frazzled bedhead appearing in the opening credits for a low-budget remake of the 2003 fantasy-comedy Freaky Friday.
I began to think about the phrase “be careful what you wish for”. It’s funny: I had always imagined it coming from the wrinkled, weather-beaten face of someone who burnt the stick at both ends during their reckless, feckless youth. But there I was, lying half awake, barely 22, thinking about all the years I had spent idealising how it would feel to be in my early twenties – not just being barely 20 or even 21, but really settling into it. Relishing in the freedoms and unpredictable nature of being just lost enough in the world that you feel like you’re almost floating but not lost enough that you can resist putting the arduous, oft-scoffed task of “finding yourself” off for another day or two.
Then I thought about the pandemic and how many times I had wished for it to be over – making friends with a childhood bedroom again. Going on walks. Zooms. Duolingo. More walks. Neglecting Duolingo. Long phone calls. Planning things. Cancelling things. Spending hours “socialising” in three hoodies. The can of cider being warmer than the hand that’s holding it. A perfectly random old man in Tesco accosting me in the middle aisle to divulge every detail of his latest doctor appointment. Feeling bad for standing too close to him at the time. Feeling bad for not feigning more sympathy for his varicose veins. False hope that it would all end. Not caring for a while. Hearing a bad story about a friend of a friend’s dad who “was actually hit quite hard by it, he–”. Feeling bad about not caring. Wondering if it’s fair that I have to care about the fact that I should want to care about the latest change in public health advice. Deciding I can’t decide. Deciding to turn my phone off. Being a few pints deep in the back of a taxi before the 8pm news bulletins groan in through the stereo and out again through the open window.
But it’s over. Right?
Just like that. Words on a screen. A few paragraphs summarising the details – lots still to be worked out – but you have the gist of it. It’s. Over.
Just like that. Words on a screen. A few paragraphs summarising the details
There’s something about the abrupt finality of this two-word statement that makes it hard to swallow. It’s been two years and sure, I wouldn’t quite class myself as a front-row fan of the global pandemonium, but it has dictated my entire experience of early adulthood – every laugh, regret, last time and first step – and I’m not entirely sure who I’d be today without it.
In another light, let’s face it: at the very best of times, the pandemic has been a lingering inconvenience. Something we all put up with because well, what other option was there? We learned from it. It changed us. We had some good times through it all but ultimately, it wasn’t built to last. And for that, I expect we’ll always be grateful.
The events of recent days have made me realise that, in many ways, the pandemic has been a bad breakup waiting to happen. You always knew it wasn’t good for you. It held you back, made you question things – question the world, question yourself, question shades of right and wrong. Maybe you saw less of your friends? Maybe you learned something new about yourself? Maybe you really didn’t. Either way, the jig is up. The text has been sent. Instagram and Twitter are mutually blocked and muted. It’s official. It’s time to move on.
And listen, I can’t promise you won’t get a cheeky late night text in a few months’ time (in the form of one of our charming rotisserie Taoiseachs on the Six One news) just when you feel like you have finally processed your suitcase of muddled emotions through an aptly named Spotify playlist and are ready to move on. I won’t promise that it won’t say something along the lines of “miss you … still think about you … and can’t see now why it didn’t work out” – (also loosely translated as “ look, we’ll just have to close the pubs again for a while but we’ll stay strong and won’t find it now until we’re all ar ais arís le chéile, go neart go cur… and sure good night and God bless, [insert banal Dermot Kennedy quote about life as an effervescent series of challenges here].
Perhaps this little 4am text might get you thinking again about the good times. The short commutes. The easily made excuses to avoid enforced cordiality and socialisation. The conversation starters that rolled like warm butter of the tongue on buses and check-out tills but honestly, bestie, whatever you do, don’t text back. You’re better than that. You’re moving on, no matter how long it might take. Although it might not feel like it every day of the next six months, there are bigger, better and brighter days ahead. Read my lips: It’s. Over.