I felt her presence the moment she crossed the threshold. I would not claim she ‘breezed in’, but her penetration came with a cold wind of dread, dread not of illness —nothing in me expected to be one of the chosen— but an unnameable dread that suddenly life as I had known it was to end.
It was certain, not apocalyptic.
I should set the chosen victim in context before I introduce you to this ruthless calculating doyenne with her watch chain and gaunt resolve, a Mrs. Danvers mark ten. I was paddling slowly towards old age with some of the irritating symptoms, to which I gave no attention. I still had things to accomplish, a memoir to finish, other works to polish, and the days were filled with purpose and routines. Purpose had driven my puritanical life, to contribute something of small significance. I had long been indifferent to my appearance, or clothes and I wanted little. I hardly saw anyone. A reason to keep writing was all there was, and it was enough for some to say ‘You don’t seem anything like eighty’. I was nowhere near eighty, then. It was three months ago, that ‘then’.
Like any professional invader, Covida cleared her workspace, which was my mind, exterminating any resistance. She knew exactly what was required. I would submit, no nonsense, and since this would be a rehearsal for death I would lie down and sleep while she went about eliminating the value of anything I had achieved, chopping down and uprooting before the pyre of correction consumed it all, the garden of my life lived. All illusions were swept away by her broom of unvarnished truth.
I slept uninterrupted for eight days and eight nights, only broken by a glass held to my lips every four hours, but the inner journey I took was her prelude for the other still to come.
First the landscape went pewter and metallic-ally grey, and the maw of a funnel sucked me slowly and inexorably towards it, until I fell, like Alice into a wonderland of bleak revelations. Grey flattened replicas of Covids floated past, like blood platelets or planarias with their characteristic spikes, as though suspended in a viscous medium, not threatening because being omnipotent they had no need for menace. They were masters in the medium of my blood and brain, and they were a tribe that had total possession, make no mistake.
Then, one at a time, I floated down past recent friends, and each was wrapped in a coloured film of slight colour, blue or green or grey. I saw that film as my projected imprisonment of those friends by my hopes and expectations of them. Those friends wrapped like mummies, had never been fully seen because I had projected upon them roles that answered to me. My longing for a reader had failed to differentiate between someone who admired my writing— in sich— from what I was writing which she couldn’t believe in, not really. Since the substance of what I was writing was my memories reconstructed with all their innocence, she, not believing them, was not believing in my world or my integrity. So my friendship built over years now seems to lie shattered. My hope had blinded me and imprisoned her. Already I miss her.
So it was with each of them. Another, much younger, was wrapped in my confidence that she had never seen me other then as a contemporary, but Covida ripped off that illusion and showed her as kind but never carelessly equal. I wanted her youth, and she had granted it. I had expropriated her kindness. Others more distant were not mummified by my expectations but patiently waiting for their deserving recognition. I had neglected so many. There it was. One cannot unsee what one has seen.
Covida is a ruthless excavator of truth, the truth about oneself.
After the pewter funnel of recent life I landed in a black landscape in which the setting sun was a thin sliver of light on the horizon. It had the atmosphere of a Caspar David Friedrich painting, bleak but inevitable. That light was the remnant of my future life, if I was to live. I took a vow, then and there, that if I survived I would not return to the unthinking, semi conscious existence I had been living. Nor re-clothe myself in the goals of self-importance, although without them the air blows cold about me. How will I spend my days?
I have not yet found another life to live. Perhaps when Covida gives her consent to let me walk more than three hundred yards without staggering, and remain vertical for a whole day I will. She is parsimonious with her spoonfuls of stamina. Some morning I rise with a teaspoonful that will last until noon, other days she is liberal with enough to see me through until tea time, and I have fed the dog before the desperation to lie down takes me back to bed.
Being stripped naked of all clothes of self belief, all the satisfactions from accomplishments ( and I had a few) leaves little from which to restructure a new existence. Perhaps a dulling of Covida’s influence will tempt me to return to smug satisfaction. I hope I will resist.
I have long had a place I go to in the imagination, a weather beaten grey wooden shack above a cove, shining like a coin, enfolded by the arms of the earth, and known only to gulls. That is where I hope to find a new life. Needing and wanting nothing.
I am now just as old as I look, perhaps older than even I know.
I do wonder whether my single experience is also to be the collective consequence of Covida’s invasion of the planet. Will she strip us collectively naked to repent of our blindness? Will we find its ruthless truth cleansing? I give Covida a female gender since women have a deeper appetite for truth, and are deeper mired in roles which imprison them and those they serve.
Humanity has received new vision, and been stripped of outworn illusions. We, Covida’s elected front runners, may have the wind of that in our nostrils. The haltings of the following tribe are still attempting to reduce the sharp salted new air to the recycled old paradigms ‘only a kind of flu’ ‘a variant of Sars’ in the hope of holding onto hope that Man has seen this before, and survived. Survived for another chance at mistaken identity and the death of value and values.
The lens of my encounter with her suggested something utterly unique, and ruthlessly intelligent, something impenetrable beneath the superficial symptoms of her presence. It robbed every conviction that I knew myself ( and I have spent a lifetime following Socrates in that pursuit). The onion has no limits. Nor does the onion of this blundering humanity concerned with appearances, with acquisition, with colour and distinctions, with sex and the liberation from gender, in the absurd belief that the individual is so defined.
The marvel of the unique individual remains hidden by the fluttering of banners. The Cause obscures the Universal.
10 thoughts on “Covida: My new companion.”
Even while I look at the black bank of cloud behind my late-sun-lit apple trees, the light is changing. Every day shifts this fickle narrative – after each night’s crazy dream.
Powerful, the way you evoke this journey down the funnel, the omnipotent happening one can do nothing but surrender to. A rehearsal for death – you nail it – a quickening of perception, though a large portion of humans will deny it. Maybe to soften the shock of miracles, expansion of consciousness has its pace and rhythm.
That weather beaten grey wooden shack above a cove, shining like a coin, seems like a place to be for a while, to recover.
Congratulations to you memoir. I love the elevator pitch – too long, too intimate, too mad … brilliant.
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Always good to hear from you Ashen. That falling through the funnel of revelation is hard to forget, its importance hard to deny!
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Your mighty pen like a sword is not in any way diminished Philippa. Thank you for sharing this with us. I will if I may share this on social media with your permission. The stripping of illusions is only for the very brave. We are comfortable in them and cannot bear reality.
Thank you again and I wish you well. Write when you can and feel the muse. She is there, Covida be thy name ..
Another lost friend arrives! Wonderful Susan. Do share wherever you can, because I believe there is a kernel of value beneath the fears. I have dreamt of Plet so often, the deserted Beacon Island Beach at dawn looking for pansy shells with my mother. A memory that is wholly reviving! All good thoughts.
More than a kernel of value Philippa, and thank you, I will share. I went for a walk late afternoon on Robberg Beach, the nearly full moon was in the sky, the Robberg with the rays of the setting on it and I thought of you. I took a photo and wondered whether to send it to you. I will ..
Dear P, I can’t express my distress at hearing you have had this terrible illness and were required to pay its toll. Plainly it hasn’t robbed you of your voice, nor one iota of its insight and power. I hope you are better day by day, and in the fullness of time can resume work on your memoir.
We lost my father-in-law to Covid in March and are still coming to grips with his absence.
Please know you and yours are in my thoughts. It’s a bad old world these days. I hope you are all safe as you can be.
What a treat to hear from my oldest Authonom-ist! I suspect you were one of the neglected unwrapped. I am so sorry K! You see how true my self rebuke must be. All that energy devoted to self-importance when a true friend awaited. It is SO good to hear from you. Sorry to hear about Chip’s father. I will write more personally soon.
I am glad to hear your voice; you write powerfully and resonantly, as ever.
As someone suffering with a chronic illness, the need to pace myself each day is acutely familiar. If I get housework done, or garden work, or go out anywhere, it’s unlikely I can hope to write. And like you, I wonder whether it’s something worth doing any more.
All my very best wishes for a full recovery in time.
Heaven’s Viv you popped up quickly! I have been so long silent and absent I wondered whether anyone would rock up for this modest offering. You are right I don’t have any confidence that writing will be read. I suppose this post is a kind of tongue out to that. My overlong memoir now languishes. Nobody thinks it is publishable but each opinion gives different reasons, too long, too intimate, too mad
Which is interesting in this maddest of worlds! Thanks for coming and for cracking open the comment bottle ( I cannot even drink except well watered white!)
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I’d just publish and be damned, as they say, and likewise for A Fine Careless Rapture. Chuck ’em out the window like a recalcitrant swift; they usually fly before they hit the ground.
When it comes to beta-readers or whatever, they all have their agendas, unspoken and often unconscious. Get a proofreader and get it done.
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