It was early August, and my family had spent the better part of a week binge-watching Killing Eve (late to the party, I know). In an alarmingly short amount of time, we had reached the last episode. Being Melbournians, we decided it would be rude not to indulge in a Persian fairy floss frozen yoghurt to mark the occasion. I was yet to use my allocated hour of outside-the-house time, so I grabbed my keys and headed to the door. Sitting in the car, I turned on the engine and looked down at the dashboard. Shit. It was already 8:04 – four minutes past curfew. That’s when it really hit – the grim reality of being a Victorian during the second wave of COVID-19. How on earth did we get here?
When Australia tentatively opened up in May, we were all united in our intention to put the previous few months behind us. Like the details of a bad dream, memories of life during the first wave became more elusive the harder you tried to remember them. As winter set in, the rest of Australia began to enjoy an ever-increasing number of freedoms. Victorians, on the other hand, grew more and more anxious as case numbers edged higher. Almost as quickly as we were freed, we were told to ‘stay home’ once more. Our winter months are notoriously miserable. During this winter, however, ‘miserable’ has taken on a new meaning.
I asked some friends to help describe how it feels here.
Some were positive:
Our beautiful city has been asleep for months and we are all counting down the days until she wakes up and returns in all her glory…
… tbh I’m really just waiting to go back to rats (if you know, you know).
More common responses, however, were along the lines of: “horrible”, “utter shit”, and “depressing”.
Personally, I think one friend in particular put it best:
It’s like purgatory. I know for sure it isn’t heaven, but it also can’t be hell because we’re all still f*cking stuck here.
Most of us support shutting down to save lives. And we realise, of course, that we are incredibly lucky compared to most people in the world. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make lockdown any easier.
And this lockdown is not at all like the first. The novelty of pandemic entertainment – Zoom yoga! Zoom baking! Zoom Kahoot! – has long worn off. No one is trying to pick up a new skill or hobby; I gave up on learning Arabic with Duolingo months ago. My baking trays are gathering dust below the oven. I no longer Zoom my friends every Friday night. At this point most of us are just trying to get through each day. And these days seem to last forever, stretching into weeks that merge into months that form an indistinguishable blur in which time has lost all meaning and nothing is ever of consequence.
But how long have we been here, anyway? I’ve had the 16th of October marked in my calendar for quite some time now. This date marks one hundred days of lockdown in Melbourne. 100 days of living under some of the harshest government restrictions imposed anywhere in the world. 100 days of mundanity, insecurity, tedium, restlessness, and melancholy. 100 days since we’ve seen most of our friends and family. 100 days since we’ve enjoyed our marvellous Melbourne.
I don’t think I need to tell you how fiercely (and perhaps irritatingly) proud we are of our beautiful city. Watching silently on the sidelines as it shut down again – witnessing drone footage of a CBD with empty streets and boarded-up businesses – has been particularly cruel punishment.
The attitude of Australians outside Victoria has compounded the sense of isolation in the city. We certainly are not all in this together anymore, and, frankly, I’ve never felt less Australian. Whilst many of our compatriots show support and sympathy, others seem to relish Melbourne’s suffering. For evidence, you need look no further than comments made by other state premiers. All of this has left us feeling even more alone. For those outside Victoria, this may be difficult to fathom. For most ANU students, life is almost back to normal.
Seeing photos and videos on social media beaming to us from Canberra is like watching life unfold in a parallel universe. We want to disconnect, but at the same time, we don’t want to sever the only connection to the lives we should be living. We care how our friends are going, but at the same time it hurts to know. The response from those in Canberra has been interesting. Some call and talk to us in a tone of voice you might normally reserve for someone who is dying, while others call us blind drunk after finally convincing the DJ at Mooseheads to play Melbourne Sound. The sad reality is that, for the time being, relating to those on campus is hard.
That same night back in August, as I sat in my car with nowhere to go, it all felt like too much. I went back inside to finish Killing Eve, but my excitement for the finale had dissipated. And then, just when I was about to click ‘play’, my phone dinged. “Check your front door”. A friend in Canberra had sent a tub of ice-cream through an UberEATS promotion that invited people outside of Melbourne to send free desserts to those in the city. Words cannot explain how much this meant. Not only had she thought of me, but she had also taken the time to find my address (somewhat concerningly) through social media.
It really is the small things that have made the difference; the spontaneous acts of kindness from friends and strangers alike have kept us warm in this long and cold winter.
Despite – perhaps even because of – the lockdown sadness, Melbournians have come closer as a community. These *strange and unsettling times* remind us of the importance of our loved ones – both near and far – whom we cherish now more than ever. Being apart really has kept us together (Thanks, VDHHS).
So, if you are wondering how you can be a good friend to those of us stranded here in ‘Sic(k)toria’, you don’t need to do much – no, you don’t even need to send us dessert. Just hearing from you, knowing that you’re thinking of us, makes all the difference.
And for my fellow Melbournians, hold on, we really are close now. Before you know it, we’ll all be back in downstairs Mooseheads spilling $2.50 vodka raspberries and rapping every lyric of Melbourne Sound.
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