“being alone never felt right. sometimes it felt good, but it never felt right.”
― Charles Bukowski, Women
Swallowed by Nostalgia
Craig was never very outgoing, never comfortable around lots of other people. He was surprised when he found himself married with two twin children. Then, all of a sudden, he was alone again, his ex-wife and kids out on the West coast, with a new husband and father.
Still, he had his friends. Not a lot of them, but the ones he had were close. He had his activities, his clubs, his scheduled events. Craig never felt like the center of the crowd, but he was there. He didn’t initiate a lot, but people would contact him, offer up events and activities, and he would go along.
As he grew older, he slowed down a bit, still not outgoing, but not a hermit by any means.
And then the pandemic hit… and it all went to shit.
One day, Craig realized he had not been out of his apartment in almost three weeks. His food was delivered, either cooked or groceries. Every day he’d collect his Amazon boxes – everything he needed and more. It was a reflex to search and click “buy now.” Craig felt like a cave man hunting woolly mammoths with a mouse, keyboard and credit card. After a while he turned the camera off on his work Zoom meetings and would usually nap during the long ones. Nobody seemed to notice.
He ordered blackout curtains for his windows and the highest rated noise-cancelling headphones. Sometimes he’d wear the phones without music, even though his place was quiet – simply to kill off any potential interruptions.
This went on, month after month and Craig began to go mad.
The present became more and more gray and blurred, but the past became crystal and colorful. Events from decades before floated up through his memory and wedged themselves into his consciousness. Especially things he regretted – not stuff that he did, but things that he didn’t do. These errors of omission, vacuums of courage, kept flashing in his mind.
The time a girl at a club gave him her number and he didn’t call… the job offer he turned down… the friends that went to an exotic location and he decided not to go with them…. All these and countless more kept coming back to him. In his mind, though, he went ahead and took the plunge. In his imagination he called the girl, took the job, went along. And reaped the reward.
But then, later, he would realize what had really happened, where he was, and who he had become. Sleep became something he feared, not because of nightmares but because of these triumphant dreams where he corrected the mistakes he had made. And this made the morning even more gray, even more useless.
His health provider kept sending him messages about the vaccine, but he ignored them. Why get the shot? He never left his apartment, was at no risk to himself or anyone else. He didn’t care anyway – if it killed him, it killed him.
Then one morning, after a long vivid dream of driving across the country in a sports car that he had decided not to buy once he woke up and scheduled his shot. It might stop the dreams. He left his place for the first time in months and was surprised at how easy it was to negotiate the paperwork and get the jab in the arm. He actually looked forward to the second, couldn’t wait until the three weeks were up.
It was a beautiful day when he got his second shot – the air with a bit of a chilly breeze but the sun out and hot – cutting through the cold. On a whim, he stopped in a park on the way back.
It was full of people, very few wearing masks. They were in groups, grilling, playing volleyball, kids running around, old folks walking, even a keg of beer next to a boom box (he guessed that the park rules were being bent after such a long time away).
He parked and walked the sidewalk on the circular drive looking at all the people. Live people. Noise. The chatter and music rose up. The smell of charcoal lighter and barbecue sauce. The feel of the cool breeze and hot sun.
It was back. He was back.