When I heard that Melbourne was going into lockdown, it didn’t surprise me. In the time of coronavirus, those living in large cities are doomed to be confined every time the virus hits hard. Here in Barcelona, we went through it once already. Here’s what I learned:

I will always remember 2020 as the year without spring. Covid-19 forced Spain to go into strict confinement on 15 March. It went on for six weeks, that were followed by another six in which only some prohibitions were lifted. When we entered the “new normal”, it was already summer and, in just three months, more than 28,000 people had died, most of them in isolation.

Home lockdown is tough. When Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said in his weekly speech to the nation that after 15 days it would get much harder to deal with confinement, I rolled my eyes in disbelief. Home lockdown was tough but being bedridden in hospital with a ventilator is far worse, right? It was actually nice to stay home, I thought, with my husband and my five-month-old baby girl. We had internet and phones, what could go wrong?

Oh boy, was Sánchez right!

By the third week, time started to feel heavy. Days seemed to have 72 hours as minutes wouldn’t pass. Both social media and TV were depressing: there was only one topic on all shows and the virus had even contaminated commercials as brands tried to use the pandemic to lift spirits (while uplifting their reputation).

Talking to family and friends was often distressing too as conversations turned monothematic. Entertaining our daughter became challenging as well, as she got tired of the same faces, spaces, and toys. And walking 3km a day in our terrace to stay fit felt like being a hamster in a cage. Actually, it felt like that no matter what part of the house we were in. But when I felt annoyed, I would tell myself: “Home lockdown is terrible but being bedridden in hospital with a ventilator or dying alone is far worse, right?” That was my mantra and still is every time I feel like complaining about having to wear a mask.

The first time I left the house was day 18 of lockdown to go grocery shopping. After so many days, you might think I enjoyed the 45-minute outing. But I didn’t. Despite the fact that cherry trees were already blossoming in my neighbourhood and the chirping of magpies had replaced the vrooming of vehicles, there were no elderly couples going for walks; children screaming in school courtyards; or youngsters enjoying breakfast in the vibrant terraces of the little cafes. The sky was Mediterranean blue but it felt grey. It was as if time had frozen. The shop windows were still showcasing winter clothes with the word “Sales”; travel agencies displayed ads with Easter trips to exotic destinations that would never take place; bus stops were plastered with posters announcing concerts that would not be held.

I just wanted to go back home. It felt safer.

Before lockdown, I used to see my parents every day. We live a short stroll away from each other and they enjoyed spending time with the latest addition to the family. Because of Covid, I didn’t see them for three weeks. With them being 75 and 80, every day you don’t see them you hear the clock ticking faster and louder as you know that, by force of nature, they might not have many springs lefts.

I brought them some groceries but I barely left the elevator afraid all my clothes would be contaminated just from going to the supermarket. There we were, face to face, behind our homemade masks, not hugging or kissing, which was exactly the only thing I wished I could have done. I walked home in tears, I was sad, angry, frustrated, and anxious for not knowing how long this unreality would last. But the mantra came back: home v hospital.

Now, looking back, I realise that the lockdown gave us many good things. First, it granted us the opportunity to do unusual things, such as not complaining about our stressful lives and lack of time. Because if there is one thing the pandemic gave us that was time. Lots. Of. Time.

For me, it was a treasure to be able to do stuff I hadn’t done in years. I set up my Wii and plugged my ‘Just Dance’ game in to move my stiff skeleton a bit. I went through my travel pictures to remind myself that the world was actually bigger than the four walls of my house. Perhaps, though, the best part was finding the box where I kept all the written letters I received prior to internet days (some dating as far back as 1990). I read them all and discovered memories that were in a forgotten drawer of my brain. I shared them with the senders and we laughed so much. It was a great excuse to reconnect and catch up with many old friends.

The second best thing was meeting people again once lockdown was over. What I missed most wasn’t going to the mall or to a restaurant, not at all. It was not being able to see, touch and feel my family and friends. The pandemic helped me become aware of how much I love those I love.

I will always remember the first time I could hug my mum and dad again, or their teary eyes the first time they saw my daughter in 43 days. Yeah, OK, a month and a half is nothing … unless you are just a baby. The last time they had seen Chloé, she had just turned five months and she would only breastfeed, sleep, and smile from time to time. When they saw her again she could sit still, crawl, eat solid food and “talk” non-stop. Their reaction was almost like the one in hospital after she was born. Still engraved in my memory is also the tearful embrace my 10-year-old niece gave me. It was so tight that the force amounted to all the hugs she hadn’t given me in two months.

Covid had stolen our spring but it couldn’t steal our greatest loves. Melburnians, don’t forget that when your spirits start to falter. And repeat the mantra.

  • Meritxell Mir is a Barcelona-based journalist. She has reported from Spain, Switzerland and the United States and her work has appeared in news outlets such as El Mundo, Europa Press, USA Today and The Washington Times

The Guardian

Last Updated on August 6, 2020 by shalw

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