I can’t remember the last time I caught a news bulletin – on the tv, the radio, in the window of a (spectrally empty) electronics store – without an unchecked, volatile reaction spilling out of me. Sometimes in long debates (virtual or otherwise) with my family, others in a barely stifled shudder, sob or scream depending on my depth of feeling/ how much caffeine is in my system at the time.
I just listened to a bulletin, early in the morning – the 8.30am BBC news bulletin at home – telling me that tighter restrictions are being enforced in my hometown. Reporting the lethal lack of testing, country-wide, in a place I’ve temporarily escaped from. Ending with a soundbite from a distraught medical professional lamenting the end of the ‘elastic walls’ of pre-pandemic A&E waiting rooms, wondering where she can safely hold all the sick people that are beginning to flood back to emergency rooms. As if she used to hold them all in her hands and they were slipping away between her fingers. Like she was personally responsible for them all.
There are days I can’t think of anything worse than turning on the radio. On others I can’t bear to be away from it, to be alone, so I bring the voices, jingles, playlists with me from room to room in my empty apartment; blaring tinnily/ defiantly from my phone, filling the flat via the home speaker system, through my headphones while I cook pasta for one in the kitchen.
I sometimes manage to allow my mood to be lifted, but for the hourly punctuation of the news bulletin, reminding me that cases are on the rise, the elderly are in danger, we’re entering a potentially lethal recession and you can only gather in a group of more than six if someone is profiting from your gathering, or you’re a shooting party. The government encouraging neighbours to report one another to the authorities for their need for human interaction that they’re choosing not to conduct in a pub, cafe, restaurant or H&M. As if meeting under the watchful eye of strung-out waitresses with sick parents at home, on the premises of these entities alone, will ensure our adherence to social distancing measures. As if we don’t each have children, teachers, nurses in our families, elderly relatives, epileptic grandfathers in the advanced stages of Alzheimers who wouldn’t survive if the virus found a home in them that we’re frantically trying to protect.
The constant reeling off of reasons to stop giving a fuck about the essay I’m trying to write, the theory that in spite of everything I’ve loved reading and have been so engaged with, thinking how informative it’ll be for my thesis, is an existential nightmare with absolute power over me. I can’t mute it. I can’t tune it out. I must hear out every update to see whether I need to pack my bags and return to my family, to weather the storm with them.
Sometimes coffee before 8am helps. Other times it doesn’t stop the 8.30 news bulletin tears.