What do you even remember about the pandemic years? Are you aware of how much they’ve affected you? Do you still obsessively wash your hands, Sarah? This last year, if we can’t find you, there’s a fair chance you’ve slipped into the bathroom to stand on the step-stool and bathe your hands in liquid soap with the water running, sometimes until the soap dispenser is empty. It’s not likely you’ll remember the ‘before’; you were eighteen-months old in March, that weekend the prime-minister said the lockdown was coming but he was heading to the footy one last time. And Thomas, maybe your memories will start with with this time, the ‘before’ fading out until it seems all your first six years or more were lived in the shadow of coronavirus. I hope not, I hope all the different seasons remain distinct in your memories. I keep asking you about your past to try to keep alive as many of them as I can.
Do you remember those months you weren’t going to kindy in 2020, Thomas? We spent a lot of time in the courtyard, playing skittles, blanket forts, cricket, and bikes. I felt irritated at the extroverts without small children who, when their overly-busy social lives came to a halt, proclaimed on social media or newspaper columns all the new hobbies they were taking up to fill in those endless hours they’d gained. But you know better than most what a curmudgeon I undoubtedly am and was already even in the last year of my thirties. It was also a special time, already golden-tinged in my mind as if the sun was out every day through those autumn months and we were always, always home.
What great or merely popular texts have come to define this time? Are your memories now filtered by a prestige mini-series of the 2030s, starring an aged Leonardo di Caprio in a comeback role? Or Jonathan Franzen’s final novel, published the same decade, which he spent his last twenty years on? Or does everyone move on and largely think about other things, like we seem to have done for the Spanish flu? Except while that pandemic came at the end of the Great War, this one comes just as a much longer and worse climate crisis settles over the world. Perhaps you’ll be thinking how easy we had it back in 2020.
But if it’s hard to find the time and energy to think about the pandemic from the future you’re in, it’s strange to say it’s hard in the midst of it. Mainly the news washes over us in waves. There’s been these heightened weeks where it seems the virus has finally got a foothold here in Australia and we watch press conferences and wear masks and plan our shopping. Do you remember the afternoon in April 2021 all the parents showed up in masks at pick-up time? But then it passes and we watch from a distance as other countries suffer and we know we’re living in history in an intense way and yet the quotidian remains. Anyone could have told me this from the trenches of the Western Front or the long years of the Great Depression, but I needed to live it to know it.