It’s the smell, I tell people. That’s how I’d know I was home. I’d stumble through the front door after an anxiety-ridden day and be greeted with the smell of home. Everyone knows that scent; it’s neither good nor bad but you know it so well that you can’t imagine life without it.
You love it because it’s more than a scent. It’s a sigh of relief, to know that you can tear your shoes off, have a shower and let the tempo of the day wind to a gentle close. I never realised how much of a luxury it was to feel that, and I couldn’t imagine what it’d be like to lose it. But in lockdown, as our homes have become classrooms, offices, libraries and lecture theatres, they’ve lost what made them homes to begin with.
Home – what was once a retreat from the stresses of work and university has now become the source of those stresses. Every decibel of our formerly public lives now reverberates into our bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms from our phones and computers. We no longer have a place to escape the noise, because the noise now lives amongst us, its every utterance keeping us from relaxing. How can you find the serenity of your home when you’re not allowed to leave it?
I’m writing this in the backyard, on our splintered bench that wobbles in the wind. I’m out here because this is the only place in lockdown where my mind will let me finish a thought. There’s no internet. Just a gentle breeze, the rustle of leaves and the blades of grass between my toes. Yes, there are the hideous shrieks of the cockatoos who are currently having an orgy on the garage, but the backyard has maintained a semblance of serenity nonetheless. I have to enjoy it while I can, because I have roughly an hour before my laptop overheats and begins to burn through my trackie dacks. I try to meditate, but my phone interjects – I’m reminded that I need to remember that I have a Zoom call on soon. That’s fine. I guess I’ll just have to find my zen tomorrow. Again.
Back in my bedroom, I join the meeting room. Camera off, with the laptop tilted a fraction to the right so people don’t see the Star Wars poster I haven’t taken down since year three. It seems that every tutor’s fear is talking to a wall of names, so faces flicker onto the screen, a gallery of lobotomy eyes and mouths ajar. They’re staring at me as I speak, every twitch, shiver and stutter a sign of my omnidirectional anxiety. Radio silence in the breakout room.
The hour’s up, I slam the screen shut. Ten deep breaths. Eyes closed. Vinegary droplets stream down my arm. I need some time – just a moment – to switch off and try to relax. An hour later, I’m learning who WatchMojo considers to be the top 10 bald dudes. But instead of focusing on Vin Diesel’s polished dome, all I can think about is how I haven’t started an OLE that is due in under a week. The noise is too loud – I can’t study or sleep. I’m in purgatory, lying in limbo between the shame of what I am and the guilt of what I ought to be doing. If I can’t spend a few months in my home without going insane, how can I possibly get anywhere in life? Let it all stop. All I want right now is to walk through that door and smell the home aroma.
This article is about a month in the making. It’s taken that long because my ego and I can never decide on the ending. I wish I could unfurl my secret to overcoming the stresses of lockdown and communicate it to you through wit and literary flourish. I wish I could tell you about how I’ve started a hobby farm, or a Zoom hip-hop dance crew, or got into a really healthy routine that’s kept my body at the top of its game.
But I can’t. I have nothing to offer you but comfort. The comfort of knowing that it’s not just you, that other people also freak out and sweat profusely during Zoom meetings. The day will come – I hear it’s soon – when we’ll be able to step into our homes again, to amble through our front doors and be greeted by that sweet, homely scent we each know and miss. Until then, I’ll be out here on the bench. Enjoying the serenity and waiting. Either for the noise to leave or for my laptop to overheat – whichever comes first.