A summer of lost side profiles

by maisie ringer ~

I’m sprawled on my bedroom floor staring at the ceiling, listening to ‘Not Nineteen Forever’ by The Courteneers with a single tear of self-pity carving its way down my cheek. The Prime Minister’s address to the nation confirmed what was before the nightmarish stuff of folklore and rumour; that a national Lockdown would commence. No parks, no beaches, no pubs. I think in my wildest Dirty Dancing fantasies, this summer was undoubtedly supposed to be the best few months of my life. This was the summer where I would have countless boozy picnics on beaches fringing declining seaside towns; the summer in which a lead singer in a band spotted me in the crowd, pulled me up on stage and kissed me to the rapturous applause of my fellow teenage girls. This was the summer which I would look back on when I was wrinkled and revel in photos of my golden youth and naive foppery. I was supposed to conquer this summer, stick a flag in this summer and declare to the world that being tanned was one small step for me, but one giant leap for my sex appeal. As it currently stands, I am having three showers a day and pacing my garden like a depressed tiger in an RSPCA-uncertified enclosure. 

The loss of time is a bewildering notion to fathom. I suppose for the 16-25-year age category, the sands of time running through our fingers is especially devastating, as the cultural imaginary dictates that these are the golden years. You are old enough to make your own decisions (have baths at 1 am, drink yourself into a stupor etc.), but also young enough to run rampant down streets screaming yourself hoarse without being institutionalised. But it is difficult to mourn the loss of time when such devastating human loss is taking place. It feels egoistic to allow ourselves to feel blue, because we are perpetually aware of how lucky we are; that we have a garden for example, or that we get on well with our family. But you are absolutely allowed to wallow. It’s a different kind of suffering, of course, and we are painfully aware that people are suffering on a scale entirely incomparable to our own, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we should deny ourselves the right to be sad. For many of us this period of time has mentally metamorphosed into the summer that ‘could have been’, and in various ways we have sensationalised our hypothetically incredible summers, dreaming up hopelessly unrealistic theoretic experiences which were unlikely ever to materialise (although one day I shall undoubtedly be kissed by a Rockstar). But perhaps lockdown was a blessing in disguise, like not being able to go to a mate’s party, only for it to transpire that the party ran out of alcohol at 11 and the mate’s uncle (who consumed three quarters of the alcohol on offer) was dancing topless on a table.

For example, the lack of FOMO. I am joylessly bound by the fear of missing out most days of the year; worried about not getting tickets to the best nights out; or simply from seeing people’s Instagram posts on exotic palmed beaches surrounded by aquamarine seas. I suppose the slightly glorious thing about Lockdown is that we are all in a similar state of stasis; of perpetual uncertainty, and to look for a silver lining in this otherwise unbalanced time is to feel slightly liberated by the fact that we aren’t missing out on anything other than a hypothetical reality.  

Being thrown haphazardly into a brave new world of crackly Zoom calls and infinite pub quizzes has also radically altered what we perceive as ‘a good time’. We need to get our teenage kicks from somewhere else. I have already cut my bangs from home (a horrible, horrible idea; it’s not, I REPEAT NOT, as easy as it looks on Facebook), but the thrill it gave me was analogous to the feeling of skinny dipping in a lake. Getting a pint of milk from the corner shop evokes a similar feeling to attending a wedding (the pleasantries exchanged are worryingly similar). The joy of going to the post office practically matches the feeling of singing obnoxiously loudly on a pool table. Just think how low the greasy, metaphorical bar of a good night out will be once this is all over. I could be crying into a stained serviette at a kebab joint in Brixton at 2 am and it would still be glorious. It would be extraordinarily liberating. 

Perhaps what has become blindingly obvious over the last few weeks is our almost primal desire for human interaction. The pandemic has sparked questions as to whether all meetings in the future will be conducted via Zoom, and whether people will now think twice about travelling or meeting up; ‘a new normal’, as it has been branded. But having recently seen friends, it occurs to me how utterly miraculous it is that we crave physical human interaction with such fervency. The view of someone’s side profile for example, or the way they fidget with their hair. It’s something you cannot achieve over a 2D virtual call. You become anesthetised to the idiosyncrasies of people; like watching them sip from a can, how they smoke a cig, how they laugh. All these tiny little eccentricities that we ignore on a day to day basis become so inherently important. They are what make us us. Yes, you can superficially keep up to date with someone virtually, but you miss all the minute details which make them them. All the individual quirks that on a fundamentally chemical level make humans attract other humans. To see someone in the flesh after a period of separation is to suddenly become re-aware of all the things you loved about them.  

So, to quote The Courteneers, “I know it seems strange but things they change”. Nothing is permanent. We haven’t lost time; we’ve merely spent it in a different way than how we initially imagined. Life as we knew it, will slowly sputter back to normal. We are all cogs in a well-oiled machine. Perhaps we might even long for a time when cutting our hair seemed like the most wonderful idea.