And now, God forgive me, I never wan t to go back to the way that it was before, St Patrick’s Day 2020 w hen the lockdown began – even though – we were among the lu cky ones, still together with two beautiful kids, a house with a garden, tw o good jobs in the city, two cars on the road, but now, I don’t wan t to go back to the stress and rush of each day; to the waking early and ea rlier– just – to drop the kids to the childminders for thei r breakfast before school – just – to sit in the car in tra ffic for hours and hours every day, from Kinnegad to Inchicore, an hour and fifty-three minutes each way, on a good day, when things are light for som e unknowable reason but mostly it’s two hours and ten minutes, and I thank God all of that time for Lyric FM, Marty in the Morning and John Kelly’s Mystery Train back home in the evening – except on Fr idays, which is always the longest commute of the week – every week. And now I don’t want to go back to that way of living of waking in the dark, of coming home in the dark, of spending all day in the dark with the worry, the worry, the worry. The worry every day that something might happen to throw this fine balance off-kilter. The worry at the cost of childcare. The worry that either of the kids might get sick or be sent home from school. The worry of being stopped by the Guards and found out for my out of date road tax or bald tires. The worry of getting a flat in the third week of the month before payday without a penny in my pocket. The worry of not getting home in time to catch the Centra shop still open – jus t in time to grab some frozen food to throw in the microwave while I shower looking forward to kissing the children goodnight in their sleep and settl ing down with my wife to an episode or some sort of shite on Netflix with a couple of cans of cheap German beer only half listening to each other, bot h of us giving out again about the kind of day we had, hoping we don ’t wake the kids again with the noise of another argument, neither one of us awake enough to realise were both just exhausted – worn d own – with it all, and, she says she’s sick and tired of th e rat race – for what – we’ve nothing to show for i t at all – our two beautiful kids stuck in a fee paying childcare f acility for almost twelve hours a day – a forty year mortgage on a house we only ever get to sleep in – a house we’ll never ow n – a mortgage that takes both of us to keep on working all of our lives just to service with two good jobs and two cars on the road every day – that we can’t afford – paying two loans back to the car company who owns both cars until we make the last payment in four y ears’ time if we’re still able to pay on time at the end of the month after driving the cars and ourselves into the ground both almost worthless by then – just – good enough to trade in for spa re parts in the same garage against a brand new model just to do it all ove r again for another four years driving to work in a soulless city far, far away from our children, our home, our garden and each other with no money l eft by the third week every month, no savings, no safety net, no health ins urance just hoping that no one gets sick or losses the job. For what she says again and, this time I feel she wants an answer, but she goes on – for a plate of burnt frozen pizza and hard chips every night and Netflix and a can of this piss. She says, again that she wants to give up work, or, at least go half time and stay home with the kids. – Fuck feminism she says. Fuck the career. Fuck the honors degree and all the hard work – and then she begins to cry and says she thinks we could afford it if – only, I could get a promotion – just, work a little harder. – Fuck that I almost scream, and now I want to cry too, and now I know we should have stopped this conversation sooner, before the last can and gone to bed together before clicking to watch the next episode of whatever it is we only pretending to watch and I wonder if it ’s too late to scream out loud – I never want to go back; I never want this lockdown to end – ever – is that too much to confess.
And, the children are happier too, more than I can ever remember, and after only a while and a bit of a struggle at first, we found our new way of being normal together, we stopped arguing over whose work was more important, we stopped competing for time on the home PC and we found our own way to balance working from home with home education and the children began to teach me new things every day. They taught me things I thought I’d forgotten, like, how to do multiplication tables and long division and the names of the mountains and rivers in every county in Irela nd. And we learn new things together, like, the names of the birds and the plants in the garden and we notice things for first time, like, the order in which trees come into leaf from spring through to summer and how the first spring flowers are yellow, then white, then pink and then blue. And we learn things we didn’t want to know, like how Cavan has the highest rate of Covid-19 and that doctors and nurses and frontline workers in Irelan d are among the most infected in Europe and that some children’s nannas and granddads are dying alone in old folks’ homes and hospital wards without any visitors and that domestic violence is on the rise and that separated fathers are missing their children now more than ever. And we learn things we can hardly believe, like Denis O’Brien and Larry G oodman both own the private hospitals as well as all the other things the S tate pays for, like, the Independent Media, Telecommunications, Wi-Fi, the water and the meat processing plants where the workers are paid just about a minimum wage on Zero-hour contracts and they are not allowed to join a un ion and they are all catching the virus and my kids seem shocked that this is all news to me and then they get cross with me and tell me the caretaker government is only renting these private hospitals – for the publi c good – but the minister for health is refusing to disclose how mu ch our State is paying to them since (and they quote him in inverted commas ) “I am sure the public will appreciate this is sensitive informati on for private corporations”, and my children say I should have vot ed for change and when I joke them asking green or a rainbow, they get cros s with me again and say: dad you just don’t get it do you the virus is the Earth’s way of fighting back, Mother Nature is trying to pr otecting herself against all the wrongs of toxic capitalism and what humans are doing to all the other life on earth. But, we come to learn some good stuff too, like how, the caretaker government can tell the banks how to beh ave with manners and to give an amnesty on mortgages and loans to people who have lost their jobs, and how private landlords who see people’s homes as a way of turning a quick profit can be forced to accept a freeze in rents, how homeless families, and men, and women, and children can b e given a safe, warm bed and a room in an empty hotel that was built by cow boy builders in the good old times when they were given tax reliefs and oth er incentives by bent politicians in return for brown envelopes stuffed wit h wads of money for planning permission and turning a blind eye to overseas workers that were used and abused until they were not wanted anymore and t hen the same politicians let the right wing elements of the small-town medi a loose on them with fascist rhetoric, calling them job robbers, welfare ch eats and scroungers apparently sending millions of euro in child benefit pa yments back home to their poor families and, my children are cross with me again for having lived for so long like a sheep, and I feel like a fool bec ause they are right. But there is more good stuff too, like how the A&E departments are almost empty every night now that the pubs and nightclubs are closed, and my body has recovered a natural rhythm for waking and sleeping with the light and the dark, and now that the roads outside are empty I can hear birdsong all of the time, and at breakfast each morning we discuss and decide what we’d like to eat that day. We map our journey to the local shop, it’s nice to walk slowly through and around our neighbourhood, to shop in the local store with purpose – now we only buy exactly what we need – only what we can carry home comfortably, and it ’s nice to be polite to other shoppers – no rush or risk at all – and we wear a mask every time, and we laugh over dinner, each evening the four of us together, we say the same prayer at the table every night: my mask protects you – your mask protects me, and after dinner we FaceTime all of the grandparents more often, and for longer each day and then after their baths we read bedtime stories to the children and we both tuck them in and kiss them good night and then we go to bed early our selves even though it’s still bright outside. Over the time we ’ve stopped watching our iPads at night, all of the news of Tramp on Primetime and Tiger King on Netflix is all just the same old bullshit – time that we’ve lost and given up freely that we’ll never get back, and, we’ve cut down too on the hours we spend scrolling through Facebook – fed up of all the polarizing splitting going on in the world, worn down with all of the conspiracy theories shared from both sides – who knows the truth anymore with all the fake news and false Gods – now we’ve begun to read books again, side by side in bed with our bare feet softly touching each other now and then, and, we’ve even started to make love again, laughing and giggling and hoping our noise won’t wake the children. After sex we sleep with the bedroom windows left open listening out for foxes barking outside and to the sounds of the birds in the morning singing close by the crows are always the first, then the magpies, then the pigeons, then the blackbird and robin. On Sunday mornings we remember how much we miss seeing the old neighbors at mass, even though we stopped going years ago, sometime soon after the last baptism – we didn’t even go to church last Christmas eve night, but we both make a promise to ourselves that we’ll go again this year with the children and the nannas and granddad, and all of the old neighbours.
Then you tell me that the pain in the small of your back has gone and the headaches are gone too and that you haven’t worried about the out of date tax on the car for weeks, or the bald tires anymore and I realise that the pain in my balls has disappeared too, the one that I’ve had for years from sitting in the car from first thing in the morning till last thing at night and then bent over the desk in the office with no windows staring into the PC screen all day long, board fucking-senseless and missing being with you and our children, and, – we haven’t eaten frozen pizza in months, and now we talk all the time like we used to do in the old days. We find time again to listen to each other and turn each other on, and we both agree – neither of us ever wants to go back again to the way that it was before the shutdown and the worry and pressure was suddenly lifted from our shoulders.
Fergus Hogan lives and works in Waterford where he lectures full-time in narrative family therapy at WIT. His poems have been published in the Irish Time s and various anthologies. His first chapbook of poems, Bittern Cry, was published in November 2019. His novel The Wisdom of Fionn, is a retelling of the old Irish tale with a focus on Celtic Spirituality and boy’s and men’s lives and relationships. It is being serialised, for free, each day of this stay at home time – on his publishers Facebook page eBook Hub Publishing.