I arrived in California on 22 March, just as the stay at home orders were issued. I’d managed to secure one of the last flights out of Australia but I didn’t really trust that I’d make it into the States, given how quickly everything seemed to be changing.
Also, did I have a fever or was it just stress? Or was I stressed with a fever? I spent the entire 21 transit hours stressing about it (stressing about stress, yes, welcome to my brain).
After we finally landed at LAX, I strode through the surreal surrounds of the terminal. Empty gates, closed stores. I could sense the palpable tension of fellow travelers who had a connecting flight — had our delay meant they’d miss their last chance to make it to the eastern seaboard?
I was worried too— through the fiancé visa process I’d had constant reminders that there were no guarantees, and the immigration officer at the airport refuse my entry. Would I be shipped back to Australia amid a pandemic?
Finally, walking out into the arrivals hall I heaved a sigh of relief — and then my jaw dropped. It felt like a scene out of a science fiction movie. No one was there. Not a single person waiting to meet a loved one, no chauffeurs holding a sign with a name on it, no balloons, no teary reunions. No one. The stores were closed, the coffee place shuttered.
The curb is usually a scene of traffic and pedestrian chaos at LAX; today it was totally empty. As I stood waiting for Chris to pull up, I reflected on how the next few weeks would probably be pretty weird.
I had no idea.
It’s now been more than four months since I arrived in California and lots has happened. The pandemic didn’t fade gradually into the background within weeks as I’d hoped; instead it continues to linger and lurch through lives, affecting all kinds of plans, decisions and expectations.
Despite the difficulties, there are a few things I am grateful for about lockdown.
1. My husband is WFH
Chris has been working from home since I arrived in the US. Although we’re both disappointed that the usual World Surf League tour isn’t happening, having him here in our new home is fun. We eat meals together, sleep in until 7am (his alarm used to go at 5 to make it to Santa Monica before traffic) and get to spend way more time with his kids than his normal working life allowed.
2. Weekly family zoom calls
Sometime reasonably early in the lockdown, my family started doing a weekly Zoom call: Friday evening in Brazil and Cali (my brother and me), Saturday morning in Australia (everyone else).
My family is not historically close, and for most of the time I’ve lived overseas contact with my older brothers has been limited to brief meet ups at my parents’ farm once every few years. With our weekly call, this has changed.
Lockdown has since lifted in the various Australian cities in which my family live, but we’ve kept up the habit, growing closer and more connected with every call.
3. More reflection and yoga
Lockdown hit the brakes on the hustle culture. I’m naturally an introvert with anxious tendencies, so the evaporation of the pressure to participate has me heaving a sigh of relief.
The endless rushing, the over-stuffed calendar have made way for a stronger meditation and yoga practices. I’ve been reading more and enjoying quiet evenings at home. When I adhere to my self-imposed limit on news consumption, I feel more focused and calm (when I don’t, it’s not pretty).
4. Joy at moments of connection
Outdoor dining is currently allowed in Orange County, and they’ve blocked off streets at the Orange Circle so bars and restaurants can spill tables outdoors. Families wander around, a festive vibe hangs in the air, around sunset all the fairy lights start to twinkle. It’s so cool, I want it to happen every summer. With the stress everyone is experiencing, these moments of communal connection mean more than ever.
5. More focus on my book
With my diary pretty flexible until my work permit comes through and Chris toiling away in the next room, the time has been ripe for me to really make progress on Spark!, my book about burnout. I’ve conducted interviews, ripped into the research and am in the process of writing and rewriting, with the plan of things coming together a in roaring fashion somewhere in October. Watch this space.
6. A legitimate excuse to have a small wedding
We got married on 14 June and our small wedding was everything I wanted.
Normally, we’d have felt obliged to throw something big to cater for all our friends and family around the world. Instead? I threw $100 at a dress, we had a tiny gathering in Chris’ parents’ backyard, the catering was barbecue takeaway, we drank champagne from paper cups, I’d curated a kickass Spotify playlist… and it was perfect. We didn’t have to go into massive debt for a party, and there was no pressure on guests to spend thousands of dollars and weeks of leave flying in from around the globe.
Am I excited at the prospect of seeing my far-flung family again sometime? Yes. Do I want to see us create an amazing ‘new normal’? Heck yeah. But in the meantime, I’m trying to find the upsides to this strange, stressful situation we’re in.