by Ed Bottomley
Just so you know, I’m something of an expert on isolation.
I’ve been social distancing since Sept 17th of last year.
Not by my own choice, mind.
You lot haven’t even been doing this for a week. That feeling of how is this happening to me?
You never get used to it.
My quarantine routine was imposed on me by society. Not by everyone, mind. I’ve been floored by the support I’ve had. And you know who you are. I love you.
The hugs, the pats on the back. The packages sending love, books, booze. The tears in co-worker’s offices. A friend texting me, making sure I know he hasn’t forgotten.
Some were late to the party. That’s ok too. You can even join the party now if you want. (Just so you know, it’s not much of a party.)
Every little thing counts. Because, when I’m lying awake at night going through the day with a forensic eye.
That hug, that food, that email, that stupid piddling little social media “like,” means everything to me.
But some people? They’ve been acting like I’ve had a virus from the moment my baby died.
Not talking to me. Or talking to me, but never about my baby.
Or worse, not talking to my kids. You know, the ones who lost a little brother and must be wondering if it could have been them.
Beloved teachers. Former mentors. Family. Friends. Crossing the street to get away from my grief, distancing themselves.
Do they think they can catch my grief?
One night, early on, I got a call about my wife:
“But I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to upset her.”
I told her them that they were family, that nothing they could say would upset my wife more than she already is.
I told them to call – that it would help my wife in ways they couldn’t even fathom.
They didn’t call.
One November night, we were doing dishes. The phone rang, and their number popped up. We got excited; after all, it’s never too late to join the party.
I scrambled to answer it, but I shouldn’t have bothered. It was a butt dial.
Day 185 of self-isolation. Home is where I feel the safest. Outside of the house, I often have to keep my emotions quarantined.
I know who I can cry in front of now, and I know who I have to distance myself from.
All because of death. What a joyless little wanker.
Death isn’t flamboyant; he’s officious – a flint-faced civil servant in a grey suit with a typewriter writing out your loved one’s name and one day, writing out your name.
He doesn’t give a shit about your wailing, your grief. He’s got a job to do.
You can try to appeal to death; you can hold him by the lapels and shake him. “Please, sir! There’s been a mistake!”
Like an angry customer at the returns desk, his cold eyes, like shriveled raisins, will tell you his answer.
Sometimes, he types the name out slowly. An excruciating hunt and peck. Sometimes, he types it fast like a stenographer.
When he typed out:
W I L L I A M
R H Y S
B O T T O M L E Y
It crushed us.
Your quarantine will end. Ours won’t.
But there’s always time to join the party.