That’s what this summer feels like where I live here in Hamilton, Ontario.
The last time I wrote about COVID was in early May, 2020. Now, as then, I feel that documenting my anecdotal experience of life in a pandemic would be useful to someone down the road, amateur and professional historians alike.
But now, I’m feeling less interested in documenting events. Instead, my attention is on things closer to home. In fact, my attention is on home.
There’s a vibe in the air similar to 2016, like the whole works is about to collapse under its own weight. Unlike 2016, it seems all too possible this time.
And yet, the days here have been beautiful. Our case counts are in the single digits, our restaurants and patios are open. The mornings are no longer quiet: even as the sun rises noticeably later, I hear the cars on the highway, the loudest that they’ve been in months.
On the surface, there’s a lot that looks normal, a typical high summer season for the southernmost part of a cold country for whose citizens summer is the most treasured time of the year.
It’s when you zoom in that things start to look a little strange.
An astrophysicist or three that I’ve read note that there are black holes that are so supermassive that if you were within their pull, the gravitational effects would actually feel somewhat gentle. It’s not entirely accurate, of course, so don’t quote me, but that notion stuck with me as a metaphor: that a phenomenon can be so big that it shows up as very small in your direct experience of it, because you are small in relation to it.
That’s the case with this pandemic. We got patios, but you gotta wear masks to use the washroom, and the staff serving you have to be masked or shielded at all times. The tables are set far apart from each other.
There are beach days in the Great Lakes coastlines of Ontario, but if too many people flock to these destinations, the local authorities will close them.
No baseball, at least not as we know it. No crowded concerts. No night markets.
I went to see some friends in Toronto in early August, an impromptu backyard meetup in a Chinatown area house that would have been unthinkable in April. I picked up some other friends along the way, each of us masked in the car, as we made our way up the road to the city. In the backyard, chairs spaced in a circle, and awkward air-high fives instead of real high fives, handshakes, or hugs.
Seeing my friends IRL again was fun and wonderful, though I’ve never known this part of Spadina to be this empty either, though apparently it’s normal.
The bar we went to later was decently spaced out. Some goomba with no mask tried to hit on two ladies at a table only to be given the boot by a staffer for violating the distancing rules. That’s a plus.
The Jays game was on and our Boys of Summer were leading the Red Sox 2–1 in front of an empty Fenway Park by the time we left.
Even the background din of the city I used to visit weekly at one point, the archetype of cities for this Brampton-raised boy, seemed muffled, muted.
But what a great time it was nonetheless to hang with people I love on a strange summer night.
Again, almost normal. And it’s only been five months since this all hit the fan where I am.
The reopening of my home during this first pandemic summer feels like what the Queens of the Stone Age called “The Long Slow Goodbye”. We are very early into the effects of this virus and the response to it, and we have become accustomed to constant and rapid information.
The cognitive dissonance that happens when someone tells you that “we’re just getting started”, that feeling of wanting to counter with “it feels like FOREVER” is a function of our shared acclimation to the speed of our era, even as we slowed down only months ago during lockdown.
We don’t know what’s going to happen in the winter. The American first wave never stopped, and other countries like China and Australia are seeing resurgences. The virus may have already mutated at least once, and too many of those who were infected and survived are still feeling health impacts even weeks or months after they “recovered”. Who knows what winter will have in store for us?
It was with this open question in mind that I decided — after some nudging from the Universe courtesy of a series of unpleasant but unmistakable signs — to give notice on my shared townhouse of the past two years. Sharing a house with others out of economic necessity has been my modus operandi for most of the past five years.
It’s not always easy. You have to vet your housemates for numerous qualities. You have to assess their mental health state, unqualified as you may be to do so, as you want to make sure you don’t have someone likely to kill you or your pets (if you have them) in your sleep, living as they are just down the hall from you. Everyone has a different definition of “clean”, and some people need more prompting to clean than others. They take up room in your refrigerator and you have to fight for space at times. Often, they need to borrow your plates and pans. Any squabbles or arguments can potentially poison the atmosphere of the place and make your house less like a “home”. And, at any point, they can be late with the rent, damage or destroy something, or even bail on you with short notice.
These are the familiar pitfalls of renting in this economy. However, in the COVID age, there’s the added anxiety of never knowing if one of them will track in the virus. You may become infected, show no symptoms, and then possibly infect and kill your elderly parents or immunocompromised friends a few weeks later.
With the case counts in Hamilton low, I decided that it was time to get my own place while the gettin’ was good. So that’s what I’ve done. As I write this, I have my new apartment and an overlap month with my soon-to-be-old house. In my own space, I will be physically isolated from other people and feel free to be more myself than I have in the past five years. It’ll also be particularly refreshing to only have to clean up after myself for a change.
And I will miss my house, as I’ve missed nearly every place that I’ve left that I called “home”. In that respect, the “summer of subtle goodbyes” as I’ve headlined this entry is also a personal one for me.
Years earlier, I wrote here about grief, and the idea that to “belong” somewhere may mean, in the most etymologically-accurate use of the term, to “be set upon by longing”, the opposite of the term’s contemporary usage, which is to have that longing fulfilled, most often by being part of a place or community you call “home”. It may be essential to grieve a beloved person, pet, house, stage of life, or an entire way of life while they are still around.
That’s what I’m doing with this house, and unknowingly, I suspect that’s what we are doing during this first and hopefully only COVID summer.
We are grieving and saying goodbye to this entire way of life, and our grief takes the form of beers on a socially-distanced patio .
When the economic and sociopolitical ripples dissipate, months or years from now, will we still be able to live as we did before? Will the restaurants and patios that we frequent still be here? Will we still work as we do? Educate our kids as we have done? Will our governments and institutions still look the same? Will our leadership — in Canada, anyway — that we’ve trusted to take care of us continue to do so? There are already signs that they are wavering in this commitment, at least here in Ontario.
And underlying all of this, can we any longer take for granted the notion that we’ll still be here to witness the aftermath? Survival has never been a foregone conclusion at any time: whether it was by disease or getting hit by a bus or old age or any other multitude of possibilities, death is always there, lurking in the background of life, giving it precious meaning.
I suspect the dominant global culture lost that constant reminder of death several miles and many many years back along our path of progress, when technology advanced enough to give us health and comfort like our ancestors had never known. Though that technology stands poised again about to save us from COVID (as of this writing), this time of uncertainty about the virus and its impact means we privileged ones can no longer ignore the reality that death is omnipresent. We’ll each have to contend with that in our own individual ways.
This doesn’t mean assuming that we will die. This isn’t a kind of macabre fatalism, nor a biblical incentive to consume everything now because there’s no tomorrow. The odds are fairly strong that most of us will be around, that we will have to pay those debts or lose that weight.
It’s just a reminder that, regardless of our plans or intentions, the Universe’s plans for you are decisive, however much wiggle room you may have within the forces of nature to carve your own destiny. All we can do, as Gandalf said, is decide what to do with what’s given to us. It may seem a trite way to end a thinkpiece, but it’s not wrong.
It was raining when I started this, and it’s now a sunny, breezy second Sunday of August outside the windows of my soon-to-be-former livingroom office as I finish.
When I next write about this topic, it’ll likely be autumn or maybe even winter, provided I’m still here. We’ll see how the world looks by then. Regardless of the the Universe’s plans, I hope and intend for it to be better than how I fear it will be.
Jody Aberdeen is an author, ghostwriter, podcaster, and other fancy-sounding titles from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. His latest novel, Variations of Paris, is available to read on Wattpad.