At the end of a long cement hallway, a guard pulls the keyring from his belt and jabs a key into the iron lock. With a crank to the right, he steps aside and the cell door — at long last — swings open.
“It’s over,” he mutters with disinterest. “You’re free to go.”
My breath lodged in my throat, I steal a glance out the slit window of the lockup that’s held me captive for 14 surreal months. A tiny airplane crawls across the sky, and I can just make out the hiss of a nearby highway where free people are out living normal lives.
“No, thanks,” I say, tucking back into my book. “I’m good. But can you let me know when lunch is served?”
For extroverts like me, being forced into quarantine last March really did feel like a prison sentence. If we couldn’t throw parties and attend shows, by god, we might as well be getting cavity searched in a drafty six-by-eight, amirite?
We did our time, though. Paid our debt to COVID. And now (thank ya, science!), we’re being released into our lives again.
But … er, what if we’re not (oh, this is awkward) entirely ready? What if we’ve found — much to our shock and somewhat to our shame — that the “recluse” role rather suits us? In fact, it fits us like the cozy, elastic-waist terry joggers we’ve been living in for over a year.
I mean, let’s just start there. I forget my computer passwords after a week’s vacation. How am I supposed to remember how to tie a scarf into a Celebrity Knot after 400 accessory-free days?! I recently realized my bedroom has become an archaeological site full of nearly unrecognizable relics from a time gone by. Perfume? Pencil skirts? Statement purses?? Whatever did the ancients use those things for, she wondered? I pictured Indiana Jones reverently blowing the dust off my wedge heels and slipping them gingerly into his rucksack before diving out the window to whisk them off to a museum.
It’s not just about getting dressed, though. I’m psychologically stuck. I genuinely can’t remember how to … unhermit myself. How to shake off the scrupulous seclusion and reclaim an active existence beyond my street address. I’m stranded between missing my pre-pandemic life (which, let’s face it, is gone forever) and having developed an affinity for life in quarantine (which is about to be gone forever). And forgive me if I’m not eager to know what fresh hell awaits us in post-pandemic life.
Change is hard, and we’ve had enough of it for a while, haven’t we? We rearranged our entire lives to avoid an invisible and unpredictable killer that made us behave unrecognizably. We stopped hugging. We Lysoled groceries. We rationed squares of Charmin.
Now we must retire those rituals and unlearn the fear — and we will. If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that humans are adaptable. But adaptation takes time. And any physicist will tell you that a body in terry joggers remains in terry joggers.
It took me months to make peace with the house arrest of quarantine, to settle into the comforts of home: the puzzling and gardening and Hulu-ing. The un-hasty mornings and midday dog walks and hammock happy hours. The conversion of my living space from Parlour Where I Entertain Guests to All-Purpose Hangar Where I Do Burpees and Make Homemade Pasta and Binge-Watch Ted Lasso. When one is deep in these comforts (and I mean wearing-slippers-to-Gelson’s deep), extrication is inevitably brutal.
On the other hand, I’m starting to get the same feeling about this quarantine that you get at the end of a luxurious bath: that you’re now soaking in your own filth and you really need to remove yourself, unpleasant though the shift of temperature is likely to be.
I don’t want to get all pruney up in here — or wither in a prison of my own making. So eventually I’ll brace myself, unstick the seal on my front door, and step out into The World of Whatever Comes Next.
But know this: It won’t be in a pencil skirt.
Starshine Roshell is the author of Lather, Rage, Repeat.