see you at the movies

I wish I had a shut-off switch for my brain. My Mom, many of my childhood friends, my boyfriend John and even my freaking therapist have all told me I think too much: “over-thinking” is the term. I think.

I’ve just returned from my daily visit across the road to my elderly neighbours. In our pre-Corona lives, I’d go inside their house. We’d sit in the lounge and have coffee and swap anecdotes and share the photos on our respective mobiles. Now, they stand in their doorway and I stand outside at a distance far greater than is recommended by the government.

I ask them how they’re getting on, how they’re feeling. “Och aye, we’re all right,” Sarah assures me with typical Scottish stoicism.

“’s no what ye said this morning,” Jack says, laughing so hard his zimmer wobbles. I am instantly alarmed – what if he falls?

“Shut it,” Sarah snaps. This gentle woman, whom I’ve never seen anything other than calm, serene and smiling. I never imagined she was capable of using such a harsh tone of voice.

Jack is still laughing. “Oi Kath,” he tells me, winking one rheumy eye, “Ye best keep checking in on us. No doubt you’ll find her trying to bury me in the garden one day!”

Sarah gives me a pained smile. It’s evident that – like me, like so many other people – this new “normal” is beginning to take a toll on her. We exchange further pleasantries and then I head back across the road to my flat.

It’s 12:15 and there’s absolutely nothing for me to do. I pour myself a glass of iced tea and plop down on the sofa in my sunny living room, too disconsolate to even turn on the telly, always my favourite distraction.

Is it just me, or has it occurred to anyone else that life in lockdown is a bit like the Home Alone movie? Except it’s a really shitty final instalment with no comic relief. I’m a loner by nature (“anti-social” Mom used to call me; my boyfriend does, too). I’ve lived alone for the majority of my adult life. So one month into lockdown, I can honestly say I’m not doing too bad: 95% out of 100. Though I do have my days…days when I feel restless and weepy and my thoughts run away with me.

That said, living alone never bothered me much. According to government figures released last year, an aging population and an increase in the number of young people living alone means more than a third of households in Scotland are filled by single occupants, about 885,000 people. I have many young friends who live alone, but it didn’t really bother them: they had active social lives filled with pub quizzes and club nights and regular meals out in restaurants or at friends’ homes.

The same applies to my older friends, living alone due to divorce or the death of their spouse/partner. They may not have enjoyed living alone, but they had activities to offset their solitude:  they sang in choirs, volunteered in charity shops, and had regular lunches with friends or nights out in the Ferry.

Corona has put the brakes on everything. I’m lucky in so many ways; though I live in a tenement building, I have decent neighbours and a private garden. Yet I can’t help but think of the many people who live in tenements or multis or cities with limited access to green space – what are they supposed to do? What about people stuck with the ASBO neighbours from hell? And why am I thinking about stuff like this? There’s nothing I can do about it, so why do I sometimes feel guilty when I sit in my wee garden on a sunny spring day sipping Chardonnay?

I need brakes for my brain.

Know what else I can’t help but think about? All those end-of-the-world movies that I grew up watching on Sundays at Shaker Theatre with my siblings or Friday nights with the boyfriend of the moment at Miles Drive-In. Vincent Price in The Last Man on Earth. Charlton Heston in Soylent Green. Ray Milland in Panic in the Year Zero.

I can’t exclude the more recent crop of disaster films: The Road. 2012. War of the Worlds. Daybreakers. The Crazies. 28 Days Later. Contagion with Laurence Fishburne, which is currently showing on Netflix – can’t believe they are showing that now!

For me, movie fan that I have always been, this virus and its accompanying restrictions is an extraordinary, extreme and extremely unwelcome case of life imitating art. Masks, panic buying, boarded-up shops, deserted streets, lack of essential supplies, frantic efforts to find a vaccine. That shit is supposed to stay on Hollywood film lots or cinema screens….

Oh wait, all the cinemas are closed.

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