Strips of old plastic tearing my palms, shoulders sinking, I exit The Big Sainsbury’s- trying to move my brain along from how it used to be. How it is now. The muddy two metres between strangers, breached only by accidental, harrowed eye contact. I used to bump into people in The Big Sainsbury’s- at least two, usually. We’d hug hello and clog up the aisle talking.

An empty bus slides by. I wonder if the bus driver is relieved, or lonely? Something catches my eye. From the flat above the shisha bar across the road, my friend Cal bangs on the window, waving maniacally and smiling. Beaming, I blow kisses- we both do a little dance. I smile all the way home.

My first Big Cry is to my dissertation supervisor over Skype. He asks how work was going- I say “um” – it overflows. He waits till the excess has ebbed away and says, matter-of-factly, “I cried at a staff Zoom call yesterday”. We talk to each other like human beings and, by the end of the call, I feel like I might have something worth saying – in conversation, but also, maybe, in an essay.

My friend Jou is alone in his uni flat in Oxford, and has been for three weeks. He’s scared to go outside – like we all are- but he’s found his own version of balance. We talk about the meals we’ve made recently, and how dedicating a chunk of day to our dinner has helped. Lent traction to the passing time. Later, I make a really good spag bol, and look forward to telling him about it.

Everyone seems to know someone – or know someone who knows someone – who’s died. We can’t hold all of that in our heads, though, so I went for a run today instead. I used to get embarrassed about how red my face gets when I exercise. When I got home, I realised I hadn’t felt embarrassed – not once. I wonder if I’ll remember to care about that sort of thing after all this is over. I hope not.

My friend Evelyn was trapped in Peru, for a bit. Confined to one room, she had no concept of when she’d be allowed to come back. We laughed about an emoji quiz; I sent her the sexiest Dorian Electra music videos. We didn’t talk about being scared. I don’t think we needed to.

I haven’t thought about my exes very much at all. I count that as a win! If you’d told me a month ago that I’d be in isolation for weeks, I’d have dreaded the habitual nostalgia. Instead, I’ve got queerer. Dorian Electra is good – seriously, check them out. The complete absence of anyone has made me think more about who I’d want – who wouldn’t I mind, in this space with me? It’s a more complicated answer than I’d anticipated, but I like having the time to ask the question. It hovers. Gives me something to look up at, and forward to, instead of down at the bloody BBC News app again.

I don’t have anything particularly astute to say about the future of humanity or What This Means. It’s sad. We’re trying to live. I’m just trying to live.




Also by Libby,