A walking juxtaposition

“My glasses are dirty, hang on,” Lis says as she takes them off, “I was going to clean them while I was upstairs having a nervous wee but I forgot.” 

She cleans them with her t-shirt, making small talk about how the glasses she’s wearing are at least 3 prescriptions old, before putting them back on and flicking out her hair. “Right.”

I ask how lockdown has been.

“Do you know what, it’s been ever so weird, because, first of all I had loads of peripheral stuff going on. So, aside from the fact that lockdown is super weird, there’s been, erm,” she pauses, “hang on. I’ve made myself go massive. Where have you gone? Oh, you’re down there now. OK let’s switch.” She fiddles with her computer for a minute then stares straight at the screen and gives me a double thumbs up. “I’m so bad at this,” she laughs.

“So apart from the fact that lockdown is super weird, my aunt died just before. My cousin’s Mum. She only lived down the road and she was like..it was..she..” she sighs heavily, searching for words. “She got sick last year and then she got sick again, just with a chest infection, and she went back into hospital,” she blinks slowly and swallows,” and they just sort of said, you know, there was nothing more they could do and she died. It was just before everything locked down so we were able to be there, and actually I took the day off work to go with my cousin to see her, on the day that she died.” 

She pauses and looks around, a little bewildered.

“Completely by fluke, I didn’t know she was going to die that day, and it was just, like, me and my cousin there, and it just happened so quickly. So that was happening and everything almost immediately started to lock down but we were still dealing with ‘okay Hazel’s died, so we need to find the will, and we need to clear the house, and ring everyone’ and it felt like we were just children pretending to be grown ups. And while all that was happening everyone was slowly coming to terms with this pandemic, and then it turns out we couldn’t have the funeral properly. Every day was like a new weird thing that we wouldn’t be able to do for the funeral, like we weren’t allowed to sing, and all these things that were just coming in.” 

Hazel died on the 11th March, the UK lockdown started on the 23rd and her funeral was on the 27th.

“So that completely overwhelmed the start of lockdown but we missed the first bit because we were so preoccupied with that. It just felt like then, after that, we couldn’t even really properly grieve for Hazel because everything else in the world was awful. It was just really weird; it segued from an awful thing into an awful thing and so everything has just been really awful,” she pauses, “and dramatic, and I don’t think any of us have really had any time to process either one of those things happening. A surreal succession of horrible events.”

No one could really go to the funeral, including Lis’s mum, Hazel’s sister. “That was really horrible. Just feeling like a proper grown up and having to deal with somebody’s death was just, well, weird. I think they should teach that in school. I didn’t know half the things you have to do.”

Lis and I are the same age (39) and although we’ve lost people, we’ve never had to be the ones to deal with the admin, or as Lis put it, the ‘grown up part’ of death. 

“It’s such a massive, huge loss to us as well, because she was always round the corner and she was such an important part of our Matlock life. It’s just bonkers. When I go to the allotment I have to go past her house every time and it makes me sad, every time. I think ‘oh I can just..oh, no I can’t, I can’t nip in and see Hazel.” 

I ask Lis how I think this has affected the rest of her lockdown. “I’ve had an anxiety disorder since I was 9, so I tend to always assume the worst is going to happen. So when it all started way back, I was like ‘this is it now, we’re all going to die, we’re going to be locked in our houses’ and everyone teased me. So when it did come to pass that could happen, it’s not like I was mega pleased that I was correct for once in my paranoid fantasies about the end of the world, but it was just nice for once to have some company in worrying about it.”

Lis did her panicking really early on, and laughed when she told me it was probably before there were even any cases in the UK.

“Having my early panic, and then Hazel dying, I seamlessly transitioned into ‘well everything’s fucked now, this is just how life is, everything’s terrible’. But I’ve muted most news media because it’s easier for me not to get anxious and overthink things, and we’re actually super lucky because we have our own little bubble, a garden and now we’ve got the allotment we’ve got somewhere we can legitimately go to. It’s only if I start to think globally, beyond my bubble, that bothers me.”

Ted, Lis’s youngest son, turned 5 in April and she tells me that he’s generally taken everything in his stride, which actually makes her sad. “He’s super cool about everything, but I’m sad for him, and all the kids, they don’t know what they’re missing but I do. I try not to think about that though, and just stay in my capsule of my own personal self-created drama. It’s better that way.”

Probably less catastrophising? I suggest.  

“Oh no, I am, if nothing else, the Queen of self-catastrophising,” she laughs, clutching her chest dramatically. “My friend sent me a link the other day about people who subconsciously seek out emotional pain,” she’s still laughing as she takes a sip of her drink, “that’s probably what I do. I’M BORED, let’s go and traumatise myself with past traumas.”

Another lockdown-specific thing for Lis is acne, a stress reaction. ‘Genuine, full blown, full-face, painful acne.’

“I hide a lot of stuff from myself and deny that I feel things, because it’s easier that way, which is why most people think I’m a ice-bitch because I don’t feel stuff and obviously I never smile. It’s easier to internalise it and drink a lot. I’ve done that and got bored of that now, so I’ll have spots instead apparently.” Another gulp of her drink. “It’s my birthday next week. Not that I have anywhere to go, but I’d rather not have spots.”

She tells me she didn’t really want to go anywhere anyway, and we get onto the subject of friends.   

“I’ve surprised myself with who I’ve missed. I mean, of course I miss everyone, but I really miss the ones who I’d consider grown-ups; the calmer, quieter ones. I genuinely miss their nice, calming influence and I find myself texting them all the time just to see how they are. I miss them. I miss that.” 

I wondered out loud to Lis whether it was a craving for someone to be an adult and tell her that it’s going to be alright?

“Maybe. I would like somebody to pat me on the head and tell me that everything’s going to be fine and this is what you should do. You should start by doing this, then you should carry on this way until this happens and that’s what you’ve got to do. Because when I have to work it out for myself obviously,” she looks left and right, “I tend to go a bit rogue and do dumb shit.” She laughs out loud, “I’m not known for my,” she pauses, “skills and healthy mental decisions.”

I ask her if she’s done any real crazy shit then. “No, I’ve been really grown up. Do you know what I’ve asked for my birthday? A SHED!” Her whole face lights up and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Lis so excited and I laugh. “Yeah it’s coming next week, I’m really excited. Would you like to see a picture of my shed? I mean, no you wouldn’t, but I’m going to show you anyway.”

While she looks for the picture I ask her whether this is grown up life for her now, whether she thinks she’s calming down.

“I don’t know. In my head I’ve always felt 27 for loads of years,” she thrusts her phone at the screen, and a fine-looking shed appears. “I’m going to paint it blue, like sky-blue with white clouds on,” she pauses and a wry smile crosses her face, “and live in it and store alcohol in it,” she finishes with a chuckle. 

“But, no, I dunno, I’ve always felt like I’m super responsible in so many ways, and like hyper-organised, and really good at looking after other people, but as far as myself goes, I don’t want to go beyond 27, I think that’s where mentally I stopped, and given half the chance I’ll be there doing the crazy shit. I don’t know, it’s like a really weird balance of dumb shit that I do because I just want to go back and do it all again properly, but then also,“ she holds up her palm, “I’m super responsible and I know how to make a crumble,” she says with a shrug, “so you’ve got to weigh these things up.” We both laugh.

“I made a coleslaw the other day, I didn’t know how, but I just figured it out because I’m a grown up lady. Only grown ups, from their head,” she taps the side of her head, “can figure out how to make a coleslaw,” there’s a pause, “but then again I’ve also had cheeseburgers for nearly every meal,” she says, deadpan.

I tell her I’m loving the juxtaposition. 

“I know! I’ve always said that, I’m like a walking juxtaposition. Look, I am wearing,” she lifts her head and moves her hair to show off a black t-shirt on which is a neon pink 4-eyed cat and ‘Lagwagon’, a band name that I’ve never heard of, “a 1990’s skatepunk band t-shirt when I’m 39 years old and talking about making coleslaw.” 

I remind her she’s not 39 until Monday and she laughs. 

“I do this all the time. I’m rounding up,” sounding more northern than I’ve ever heard before, and we laugh about being 40. 

That’s definitely grown up territory.

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