To keep my sanity during the Pandemic, I take a drive to see places I used to go before COVID-19. I go past apartments I used to live in, stores I used to frequent, or parks I liked to hang out at. These drives remind me of what went on before and what can again.
If a place is safely outdoors, I may even take a walk. Vaccinated, double-masked, avoiding people, I pass silently through places I miss. If an area looks to be filled with people, or if I see reckless behavior, I avoid it. It hurts to avoid places I loved.
It also hurts me that so much has changed in a year or three.
Stores I knew are gone. Apartments have sprouted up in places I’ve never seen. New shops have opened with hope and caution. I’m passing through a world I know that is totally alien to me.
What happened? What is this place? Who are these people? Where did this place go? I want to know what happened, I crave the story of the year gone.
A joke passed among my anime-loving friends is that when we finally have conventions, it’ll be like an Anime Timeskip. Everyone will have aged a few years, everyone will be different. The metaphor is funny, but it also acknowledges there will be stories of what happened. There will be a narrative because we can talk and because we kept in touch as best we could.
The empty buildings and new places where I used to go tell no stories. I didn’t witness their shutting down or going up. I wasn’t able to say goodbye or hello. They’re tales I can’t grasp quickly, and seeking them may be risky.
I feel a gap in the way the landscape of my life changed. People need narratives, we need to understand why something is and what happened. We are also creatures of place and context, from a comfy den to a favorite coffee shop. But places and their tales are different after the Pandemic, and there are holes in the story.
So I pass by and through these old, unfamiliar places. I want to know, I want to understand, I want to connect. I cannot.
I am a masked a ghost haunted by the new things and dead years.