This is a dispatch from another planet.
For millions of people, for the rest of this mad, sad year, the world will return in pieces. Instead of remembering lasts we will start counting firsts. The first day the kids went to school. The first time you went to a bar. The first time you went to a bar and it felt normal, as if normal were a thing you could lose and get back.
Normal is never coming back. Not ever. But the aftertimes are coming. Almost everywhere, for almost everyone who has lived through the last year in Europe or South America or the United States or anywhere else where lockdowns have been loaded on top of mass death and natural disaster and civil unrest — something its ending. Which means, of course, that something else is beginning.
As people stagger out into whatever consensus reality comes next, the transition is going to be gradual. Most of us will only be able to assess the damage when we get there. Normal will grow back slow and strange, like plant life after a nuclear blast .
Except for me.
For me, the after times came all at once. I’m one of a small number of people who got to step from one reality right into the other. Two weeks ago, after a year of lockdown in one of the most infected cities in the world, after a year of wildfires and civil collapse and police riots, I got out of quarantine in Australia. I came here to re-unite with my partner. I’m now in Melbourne, where there’s no COVID at all. For me, there was a specific hour, a specific second, when the after times began.
Here’s what that was like.
On my first day in the After Times, I trotted out into the world wanting to see everything, to go in everywhere. The department store! The supermarket! The library! I found somewhere to get a haircut after a year of auto-topiary that left me looking like an extra in a 1960s musical about Victorian orphans. I went to a cafe with my partner, and sat drinking socially sanctioned stimulants in the swell of humanity blithely breathing raw, just like in the Before Times, except that here there haven’t been during times, not really, not in the same way.