Doing questionable eyeliner, wobbling in my heels for lack of practice, forgetting to eat dinner: it was Saturday night, and it was like going to my very first house party, at age 29.
Really, I was just rusty. I returned to New Zealand, where I grew up, from London at the end of December. I had been fortunate enough to survive the pandemic and months of lockdown relatively unscathed, but when I landed at Auckland Airport I felt like a siren in my brain went off. finally kills.
During my first six weeks in quarantine, the normalcy had a psychedelic quality, and I found that I couldn’t stop talking about the terrible contrast with the stranger. But as soon as the sense of threat passed, the rhythms of everyday life were overwhelming, and I quickly fell back – albeit somewhat awkward.
Some of my pandemic-induced brain runaways took a long time to clear. Ordering from menus was overwhelming, as if I was unable to conceive of dishes other than the ones I had recently eaten. I was so used to always being at home that I neglected to factor travel time into managing my workday.
And I was dismayed to find that I had lost my grip on an ability that I had honed for 15 years: I didn’t know how to party anymore.
From the all too familiar and manic joy of a fellow survivor of my first month (“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” I shouted at strangers), at my first house party, my conversation s ‘is calcified. I didn’t want to turn the mood down with the C word – but when acquaintances asked what I had done, I struggled to know what else to say.
But then the bottle of cheap white worked its magic, and the stilted little conversation mellowed, and I turned from group to group like I was spinning on an axis at my elbow – back in a game that I no longer had practice but glad to find that I still remembered how to play.
Over the past year or so, I had suppressed my extroverted instincts out of necessity, contenting myself with a walk in the park, a stop-start board game on Zoom, and a social circle of six. What a deep pleasure to bounce back between old friends that I never dreamed of calling by video, but I was delighted to see, to consolidate the knowledge with the eagerness that only alcohol can induce, to separate in bunches and join the crowd.
Then, too soon, the speakers failed, cars pulled up outside, and people started to say goodbye. Almost a year after the lockdown, no one has shared my post-pandemic emergency to continue overnight. For them, it was just Saturday; for me it was like rediscovering an ancient witchcraft and, like a Down Under Cinderella, I didn’t come home until the clock struck 12.
I well armed two friends to come with me to “town”, the party district of Wellington that we frequented as students, where we went to a bar that we still felt too old for. This was the place you ended up in in the absence of better ideas, playing the same worn-out floor plaster every night and that you talked about a little shamefully the next day.
Sure enough, we walked in and instantly sobered up. The bar was wet and the ground sticky from sloppy hits and poorly judged Jägerbombs. Men circled the women as we all shouted at Smash Mouth: It didn’t make sense not to live for fun, your brain gets smart but your head gets mute.
It was, objectively, horrible. I was euphoric.
Leaving London when I did, I had skipped the worst of the lockdown – but almost a year of work, no room had yet brought me closer to breaking point. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I had found myself craving the bubbly sensation of having a crush on someone: emblematic of a certain texture that had vanished from life after months at the end of the gray days. .
The creaking sound of it sounded like some sort of spiritual abstinence. More than sex, of course, I missed the promise and the possibility, the intrigue and the excitement of an evening. In this terrible bar, shouting the lyrics to Rock DJ with old friends and dozens of strangers, I felt him come back – and it was a surprise, and a relief, to know it hadn’t gone away. for real.
I told them I was coming home at half past three, texting friends in a closed area of London. “I don’t think a vocal note has ever made me happier,” one replied with audible wonder. “Did you go to a bar?” Did you stand in line? Were there people there? Also… ”Her voice suddenly hardened. “Who the hell leaves the holidays at 11pm?” Don’t they understand how lucky they are? “
I woke up the next morning with a headache and feeling peaceful and full. With this evening, it was as if I had reclaimed one last frontier, and I returned to my life before Covid. This in part reflects how nominally I had been assigned – an extremely privileged position, even before I escaped to New Zealand. But the ease with which I was able to resume my pre-pandemic routines and preoccupations – the way the passing days seemed to keep me going – struck me as extraordinary and hopeful.
For the first time, I understood that there will be a post-Covid time – that it will come for some of us sooner than for others, but ultimately for all of us. We may even be shocked at how quickly we put it behind us, carried away by the momentum of day to night.
When the weekend returned, I went to a concert: Chelsea Jade Metcalf, a New Zealand singer based in Los Angeles, who had also returned for the New Year. From the stage, she looked at the tight crowd with wide eyes: “It’s like a dream,” she said.
I was struck by the same feeling – deep gratitude for this impossible Friday night, sadness for those I couldn’t share it with – as hundreds of voices joined in Metcalf’s cheerful chorus: I come to life in pitch black.
I ran into an ex’s sister, a friend’s ex, acquaintances I hadn’t seen in years. I had blisters from well worn heels and mysterious bruises that took weeks to heal. And when I got home after midnight, talking to friends in London 12 hours late, I told them about all of the parties tomorrow – which were waiting for them, too.