In these plague days, it’s occasionally shocking to me to realize how alien just last year feels already.
I don’t mean the small everyday things, as much as I miss those — even just the feeling of, I’ll just go to the corner store to pick up a Twix because I want to treat myself, as small and formerly insignificant as that is — but instead, how open to possibilities and potential 2019 felt when compared with today.
Last year, I was in Chicago, San Diego, New York, and São Paulo, Brazil. Each was a work trip, and some were more fun than others, sure — sorry, Chicago — but each felt like an adventure in and of themselves, with the world getting bigger as a result, especially in the case of the Brazil trip, which continually felt surreal and entirely outside my experience in all the best ways. Even just waking in the morning and wandering the alien streets, as the city around me woke up; there was something magical, unreal, about it.
Now, it feels unreal in a different way. Weeks into lockdown — I’ve genuinely lost track of how many weeks at this point, which might be a mercy? — who can imagine existing outside of their homes in anything other than an abstract manner? Socializing with strangers, exploring new locales, surely those are things that just happen in fiction, right…? We only talk to the people in our homes face-to-face without masks, and it’s always been that way.
I think back, with only a small bitterness, to how I felt after I returned from São Paulo, my head turned by the experience and the possibility of world travel; the excitement and enthusiasm I felt about getting out there and seeing new places again. Internally, I was making plans to get back to the UK for the first time in years and thinking beyond that: Where else could I go? Where else was waiting to surprise me like Brazil had?
The surprise, of course, was the coronavirus and the way it closed the entire planet off just as it was opening back up. It’s a cruel trick on the part of fate, but it’s nonetheless true: even thinking back just months feels like dispatches from a different time, a different world.