The Ghost Of Normalcy Lingering Past Its Time

Everything seems mostly normal.

And it’s that word, that one word — “mostly” — that’s getting me.

A day begins, a day ends. Cars go past. Some cyclists, too. I make breakfast, I write some things, I make dinner, the family tosses a baseball around the yard. And then while we’re out there playing baseball, a plane goes overhead, and I make a quick joke to my wife and son — “Now, those people really know how to win at social distancing.” Because, y’know, forget six feet. They’re up in the sky and we’re on the ground. Only people doing it better are the people on the ISS, right?

But that joke, it’s not a normal joke. It’s normal to make jokes, to be clear; in times of standard operating procedure and in times of tumult, we make jokes. Light-hearted jokes and gallows humor alike. It wasn’t the joking — it was the joke.

That wasn’t a joke I could’ve made two weeks ago.

Shit, maybe even a week ago.

I wouldn’t have understood it. It wasn’t a thing. And now, it’s a thing.

A week ago, we went out to breakfast with a couple friends, and even though things were starting to get a little weird (my son’s school closed for a day due to “The Rona,” or are we calling it “The Cove?”) we still felt, you know, fairly normal. The blips and glitches in everything felt expected and unexceptional in the sense we knew we lived in strange times, what with the unbridled fuckery of the Trump Era, and we’d grown accustomed to those little bumpy hitches and pulled stitches. But now, looking back, that breakfast feels somehow indulgent. Like we didn’t appreciate it enough. And we don’t know when, or even how, a breakfast like that will happen again.

That’s what gets me, most. It’s that we’re living presently beneath a veneer, a shiny shellacking, of normal. Are things broken? No, not yet. Will they break? Probably somewhat, though to what extent, who can say? But right now we’re still in this interstitial space where things feel mostly normal, until something hits us that really, really doesn’t feel normal at all. A photo of emptied shelves, a cart full of toilet paper (stop hoarding toilet paper, by the way, you’re not going to poop more in the apocalypse, settle down), a picture of the stock market, a mumbly-mouthed presser with Trump, a new picture of the stock market as it plunges during his mumbly-mouthed nonsense, and then a Facetime call between kids because they can’t see each other, and then an e-mail from a local business about how they’re weathering the quarantine, then the quiet fear that the ground is shifting underneath your feet in a way that is as-yet-unperceived, a silent and unmoving earthquake, as much spiritual and emotional as anything else —

And then you look back outside. Cars and cyclists. Birds birbing. A plane overhead.

It feels normal, but that seems like an illusion. Like you can run your hand right through it — passing your fingers through a ghost. I suspect the illusion will continue. Until it doesn’t. How long will it be before something I did today feels rare, like a gift I didn’t appreciate enough at the time?

I think we’ll be fine, of course.

Not now. Maybe not soon. But eventually, eventually, we’ll be fine.

And eventually, we’ll find a new normal, whatever that will be.