As Australians begin to find some semblance of normality and grapple with the new normal, Jasmine Wallis ponders in a personal essay what happens when you hadn’t planned on being here?
We’ve done it Australia. The dreaded curve has been flattened and our cases are envied by nations across the world. Cafes and restaurants are polishing their glasses and dusting their floors. Friends are organising real-life dinner parties away from their smartphones, and even with the warning of a second wave in the back of people’s minds, couples are planning interstate trips to escape the confines of the homes they’ve been restricted to for the past three months.
But as some get back to the lives they had pre-COVID (with a bit more hand sanitiser involved), others are coming to terms with what the remainder of 2020 will look like.
The fact that no matter what we do for the next six months, it won’t be close to what we had planned.
I’m one of those people. At the beginning of May, I was supposed to be flying to London to live with my boyfriend of four years. After years of us both living and holidaying back and forth, I was looking to permanently move there. I’d graduated from university, gotten relevant experience in my field, saved up the money, bought the plane ticket; all I had to do was pack.
And then the Australian travel ban was put in place.
As the weeks went on, the situation in the UK got drastically worse and I had to accept that even if flights started up again soon, would it be safe to leave and move to another country?
I tried to accept the situation at hand. When the travel company called to tell me my flight was cancelled, I was fine. It’s what had to be done to protect the health of communities. The date I was supposed to be leaving came and went and while I had braced myself for a day spent sobbing under the covers, once again I was surprisingly okay.
For so many weeks it was just about survival. Making sure the community was healthy and safe, making sure social security measures were in place to save people struggling with job losses and a drowning economy.
But now, as the world begins to move from its viral suspended animation, some people’s lives won’t go back to pre-COVID and there’s a whole new set of emotions to deal with.
How can life go on when the plans you made don’t work out?
I’m aware that even feeling this emotion comes from a place of great privilege. I have the ability to travel, I was able to save the money to buy a plane ticket and start a new life somewhere, I have an education that means I could get a job overseas, I have two passports.
As a child, I was raised to believe that I could do anything that I set my mind to. If I worked hard enough and saved my money and took opportunities when they were presented then I could achieve any dream that entered my mind.
But the virus doesn’t care about that.
The virus doesn’t care that my partner and I have been separated for more than six months with no sign of a reunion. It doesn’t care that I only graduated from my degree in December so should be starting my graduate role in 2020, and it definitely doesn’t care that I lost my job and income.
I have friends in similar situations which is as heartbreaking to witness. One friend was supposed to be moving to LA in April to follow her childhood dreams as an actress. Another moved to London in February only to come right back home to Australia just six weeks later - working as a freelancer was too unstable in one of the most expensive cities in the world (and one of the worst affected nations).
Turning 24 this year, COVID has taught me a valuable life lesson; nothing is promised.
No matter how much money you save, how badly you want something, how prepared you think you are, sometimes life just throws you a curveball. It floors you and makes you feel like you can’t stand, crumpled and winded on the cold, hard tiles.
To deal, I’m trying my best to live in the present. Being grateful for what I have, reminding myself that I’m lucky to live in one of the safest countries in the world with a support system around me. Yet I’m also letting myself feel whatever emotions bubble up each day. A mourning period, if you will.
The heartbreak of not being where you wanted to be ebbs and flows.
Sometimes it’s a soft, simmering flame that lives underneath the Zoom calls and quiet Saturday nights in. Other times it reaches a crescendo of bubbling anger and self-pity upon seeing people getting back to their “regular” lives.
But life goes on. Even if we feel that time paused for three months, the leaves still fell and the cold still set in. And as humans have done for millennia, we have to adapt. The jagged rocks of COVID will turn into stepping stones, and we’ll get there. Just a little later than planned.