#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 77
The idea of a collection of daily words describing how you felt for 30 days of social distancing and isolation feels really meaningful to me and something that I think I’d really appreciate having in 10 years. Think outside the box of what you might typically write!— NaNoWriMo (@NaNoWriMo) March 31, 2020
‘Hey,’ my friend call as she sees me waiting on the path.
‘Hey,’ I greet her back a big smile on my face. ‘It’s been so long.’
‘It really has.’
We have not seen each other since lockdown began in spite of leaving a street apart.
‘Your hair is so short,’ she comments. ‘And shaved at the sides.’
‘Yes. It has gone incrementally shorted during lockdown,’ I joke. ‘Although it seems to have stopped at this length.’
Her hair hasn’t changed much in comparison to mine. She doesn’t say anything further about it and we begin to walk. The paths are familiar, the routines of our pre-Covid-19 routine well known. We catch up on each other lives, hers so different from mine. She carried on working through lockdown while I became furloughed. Quickly, our talk turns to work. She tells me about the new changes in place and all the jobs she has to do. I smile and follow along, trying to reconnect to this world I used to know.
Walking through residential streets leading to the nature reserve, I am glad to be chatting in person with G. again. There is a familiarity to our chats, the complaints we have always had about work still there but I cannot fully take part in the discussion. I haven’t lived in that world for too long, my interest and daily life busy with other concerns.
We enter the nature reserve. The paths are deserted. It is too early for most furloughed people to be about. The leaves in the trees have grown, the grass and ground vegetation are spreading into the paths. I realise once more that I do not recognise the nature reserve. The last time I saw so much of it was in the early days of lockdown when everything was still bare and brown instead of green. I swallow the knot in my throat and push aside the nagging tinge of sadness and anger at not having witnessed its growth through Spring. There is next year, I remind myself and focus my attention back on my friend.
At the edge of our work space, we stop for a moment before we have to part.
‘It’s been nice walking with you,’ I say.
‘Yes, it has,’ she replies.
I want to hug her, to ask when I can come around to her house for movie night, but I don’t. Instead I say ‘We’ll have to do it again soon. But maybe not this week given the weather forecast.’
‘Yeah, I’ll probably drive in a lot this week,’ my friend comments and I cannot blame her.
‘See you later. Say hello to everyone from me.’
‘See you. Will do.’ She turns her back and disappear into the warehouse I know so well. I remain a minute longer routed on the spot, the cars parked a few metres away familiar. I try to imagine going in, washing my hands, turning my computer on and while everything loads going to the staff room to make a cup of tea or coffee. There would be a moment of peace then, the last chance to gather myself into my work identity, thicken my skin, and open the mailbox overflowing with queries and never enough staff to deal with them all. But I struggle to image what it must be like. G. has described the changes to the office and warehouse, painting a landscape I do not recognise, one I have not made mine yet. I turn my back to the warehouse and office and begin the journey home, my thoughts going to S. who still need someone to do her shopping tomorrow, to the pinhole camera in my bag and the roll of film inside, to Queer Out Here and all the editing still to do, and to the arboretum I will visit later today.
I finish the roll of film in my pinhole camera in the nature reserve, returning home more than an hour after leaving my friend. I immediately head for the kettle for my first cup of tea of the day. A steaming cup in hand, I walk upstairs to the bedroom where my partner still is.
‘Morning,’ she replies as I sit on the bed. ‘Do you still want to collect the furniture today?’
‘Sure,’ she answers.
With shops reopening this week, we are finally able to collect an order we placed just before lockdown. My partner calls the shop as we’re about to set off into town. ‘We should park at the back they said and give them a ring when we’re there,’ my partner tells me as she hangs up.
The city centre is deserted as we drive through, most shop still closed, their lights turned off. We pull into the alleyway behind the shop and stop by the back door. I get out of the car and open the boot while my partner phones in. I step by the driver’s side of the car, away from the door. A man opens it, holding a flat packed piece of furniture under his arm. We greet each other from afar and he slides the two pieces of furniture in.
‘Thank you,’ I say. He smiles and returns to the shop. I adjust the parcels in the car and squirts some sanitising gel in my hands before going back to my seat. We drive off, past the empty plinth where Colston statue used to be. People are gathered around, looking up at the empty space above. We don’t have time to stop, the traffic light green as we whizz past on the road next to it.
Back home, we unload the car, prepare a pack lunch and leave for Westonbirt Arboretum. I check my phone while my partner drives. There is still no news from the WhatsApp group or J. I text J. hoping she will be more responsive that way. As we near the arboretum, my phone vibrates. J. has texted back. She has been busy at work in the new Nightingale Hospital and hasn’t seen my e-mail yet. I explain the situation to her over texts. She can do the shopping for S. I immediately call S. to let her know.
‘J. can do to the shop for S.,’ I tell my partner as I switch my phone off.
We park the car after having gone through the entrance check, grab out bags and head for the trees.
‘Do you want to go over the tree walkway,’ my partner asks.
We have avoided it in our two previous visits, the walkway high in the trees busy with families and children running back and forth over the metal path. But today it appears empty and we venture on it, seeing the trees from the top down. We meander along the snaking shape until we emerge on the other side. We find a quiet spot and sit down to eat.
‘It’s strange how my family has fragmented over the years,’ I say. The arboretum still makes me think of my grand father. We used to visit every week-end, my mother’s sister and brother joining us too. On the rare occasions we didn’t visit, we would be at my mother’s sister place where my cousin and I were free to roam wild into the vineyards and woods beyond.
‘Then my parents divorced and it kind of stopped.’ I add. My dad would carry on visiting my mother family while my mom, brother, and I remained in our new house. We eventually resumed our visits but they were not the same. My cousin and I had grown older, a gap forming itself between us. I noticed the tensions I had never seen before, too young to care, and grew increasingly uncomfortable in a place where language was carelessly used, homophobic sentences thrown in without thinking about what was being said.
‘And I left. I went to university and then I never really returned home.’ Family gathering at my grand parents place became events. A trip for a birthday, an obligatory visit for Christmas, and maybe another visit or two in between, but rarely did I want to stay. My world was shifting away from the inner circle of my family, the known boundary and treasured memories tinted with a growing dissociation of who I had been and who I was becoming unseen by any family member save my mother and brother.
‘Did that happen to your family too?’
‘In a sense but not like that no.’
Our lunch over, we get back up and begin to walk around, following paths we have not yet trodden. ‘I’d like to go back to the village where I grew up and photograph it,’ I add to our conversation. ‘I’m not sure why but I do.’ I pause before adding, ‘it’s kind of like returning to where a lot of uncomfortable memories are and letting them go. You know?’
‘Yes,’ my partner answers. ‘I do. I have done that myself over the years.’
We carry on quietly, each lost in our own thoughts until I spot a tree that looks familiar. ‘It’s like the tree outside our garden fence!’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I’m pretty sure yes,’ I add. ‘It’s got the same pale soft green to it. What is it?’ I rush to the sign nailed into the tree. ‘Whitebeam,’ I read. I snap a photo of the sign, the leaves, and the bark for comparison. ‘I’ve never heard of it,’ I comment.
‘Neither have I.’
‘Whitebeam,’ I roll the name on my tongue trying to recall a memory of it. ’Whitebeam…’ but nothing comes to mind, not even a sentence in a book.
Our steps lead us to the old arboretum we have so far avoided in fear of it being busy but when we get to it, it is deserted. ‘Platanus hispanica,’ I yell as I spot a London Plane. I rush to hug it, barely taking the time to check the sign to see if I am right. I know I am. ‘I miss them, those London planes.’
‘Terrible pollen,’ my partner comments, her memories of the trees not as sweet as mine.
I nod and press my palm against the bark before walking away. ‘Platanus hispanica,’ I mutter to myself. It was the first tree I learned to identify, the first one I learned the latin name of. Living in London at the time, it wasn’t a difficult task, those trees were everywhere. I know little else about them other than they lined my life in the capital, witnessing me grow into the person I am today, a constant presence to the changes within.
‘Are those chestnut trees too?’ I walk to the trees before my partner can answer. They are. If I am truthful, they are probably the first tree I ever learned about. I used to pick up conkers on my way to school, filling my pockets with the hard nuts for no other reason than I could. I wonder if the tree is still there. The winding street it lived on when I was a child had been radically transformed in my teens. The fields where donkeys and horses grazed when I was six, was replaced by new houses by the time I turned fourteen.
We lay on the grass until a couple of children run past us, screaming and running wild around the trees. Slowly, me meander back to the car, through quiet lanes and onto familiar roads until we reach home.