One of the strange benefits of a socially distanced life is that there is no longer any need to carry tissues.
I’m a sneezer, and a sniffler, and a winter bug will always find me, cuddle up close and ultimately take me down. In August, in September, leaving the house without tissues would be like pairing loafers with footy shorts. You just wouldn’t do it.
This year my handbag contains my “essential worker” permit and a collection of face masks hygienically sealed in a plastic bag and a lipstick that I apply only to have it rub off on the inside of my mask within minutes — but no tissues.
So yesterday morning while stopped in the dark at the traffic lights, when I suddenly and very strangely started to sob, I scuffled through my bag but — nothing.
Funny how tears come. A certain kind of music will always do it — that damn minor key. A deep sense-memory can strike you like a blow. The recollection of Cathy Freeman winning the 400 — I can cry just thinking about the young Australian official standing behind her at the blocks, trying so hard to look professional and impartial but taking the deepest, most anxious breath as she watches the slip of an athlete pull that magic green superwoman costume over her head.
Age does a strange thing too. I remember interviewing a former Rat of Tobruk who creased with tears at my first question: “How old were you when you signed up?” He smiled and laughed as they streamed down his face: “The tears of an old man, love. Don’t worry about them.”
I never really understood what he meant until the loss of friends, the birth of a child, many sorrows and many more joys scrubbed away at the skin of me until tears were always just there under the surface. Some days it’s simply a matter of getting to the end without them spilling out.
I now cry at tissue commercials, too. No, this elegant closing of the advertiser’s circle is not lost on me.
Friends are feeling broken
It’s been a very, very hard week.
Friends and colleagues have told me that last Sunday’s announcement of an extended hard lockdown has simply broken them. That’s the term they use. I know people who have not felt the warm, live skin of another person under their hands for six months. One friend knelt down to pat a puppy in the park at the weekend during their one allowed hour of daily exercise and realised with a shock that this was their first moment of physical affection since March.
In my studio, the live text screen updates every 90 seconds with the direct thoughts and observations of more 400,000 listeners, and this week they seemed overwhelmed with anger, fear, resentment and frustration. At me, at their fellow Melburnians, at the state government — anyone.
Their anxiety was like a shrieking southerly that would not stop until it had blown down everything that stood in the way of them reclaiming their old life. Their unspoken fear was that they might not ever get it back again.
The economic reality of this shutdown has only partially hit. Many of us remember the terrible days of Victoria’s ’90s recession. Our sense of pride in what this city has become is immeasurable; our fear of losing it is profound.
I love this city so much. I miss it, every minute I am not in it.
Sitting there at the lights I had no warning that the wave would come, and as the tears spilled and the tissues weren’t found, I realised had a problem. My sleeves? The hem of my dress? Turns out, a paper medical face mask can easily mop up the sorrow of a loneliness understood only by those of us trapped within it.
As I dabbed at my face, I realised the woman in the next car was looking at me. She was wearing the distinctive blue of medical scrubs, heading to an early shift too. She gave me a rueful smile, half lifted her thumbs from the steering wheel in a weary shrug — hey, what can you do?
I know she would have offered me a hug if that was allowed. But not much is allowed. The kindness of strangers comes to us now through glass, face masks and from more than a metre away. But even in the half-light it feels so warm.
This weekend we take you to the land of dreams: like so many others, have you been having crazy dreams throughout these months? See what AI can tell you about them.
And because music is always the best escape hatch let Josh Pyke walk you, track by track, through his new album.
Have a safe and happy weekend. If sleep, and blissful dreams are eluding you perhaps pianist and composer Max Richter can help. His 2016 Vivid performance at the Sydney Opera House is available as an overnight eight hour live stream this weekend . It’s called
Sleep. When asked the secret to happiness, the Dalai Lama is said to have answered, “Nine hours sleep”. This performance falls one hour short — spend that on a nightcap beforehand.
All our musicians are stepping up right now. Bruce Springsteen knows what we need and he released the first single from his forthcoming album yesterday. It’s just beautiful. Please enjoy.
And go well.
Virginia Trioli is presenter on Mornings on ABC Radio Melbourne and the former co-host of ABC News Breakfast.