It was pretty much as I expected. When the apocalypse came he was a liability …
And when things got bad, he came to me because I was his friend. He trusted me. I’d always looked out for him I suppose. When you’ve already had experiences together you get a good sense of what they’ll be like, whether they’ll panic, stand their ground or run away maybe. Whether they’ll do the right thing or take care of themselves. The coward’s way or the right way.
He knew me pretty well in that sense. But soon we were playing by different rules and he just wasn’t cut out for what was to follow.
We spent the first wave at my place. It was still busy and there was lots of confusion. It wasn’t too dangerous back then. He showed up on my doorstep with a backpack, a torch and a box full of canned food. I could see there was a part of him that thought this would be an adventure, but I knew better than him, and that’s why I was worried. Keep away from the windows, I told him, and never leave the door unlocked. Not even for a second. Not even if you take only five steps outside.
But the writing was already on the wall. He wasn’t cut out for it and he was going to cause problems.
When the second wave came we had to leave town. The killing had begun and it was too dangerous to stay put. We moved only by the night, sleeping whenever we could during the day. He was already starting to struggle then. Weight loss, sleep deprivation and threats of ambush. The first man I killed only got near us because he fell asleep during his watch. I told him not to fall asleep. Never fall asleep during your watch.
Sorry, he told me, I’m so sorry, I only closed my eyes for a moment.
It wasn’t long before he became desperate and brought a group of survivors to our camp. He wanted food and they had some but you can’t trust people anymore the way you used to. I stayed calm and let them sit down. They told us how they’ve been moving about, not staying in any one place for too long.
Yeah, I said, looking them over. I tried to press them for some answers of where they’d been but they wouldn’t tell me.
“Just around,” they said, and I nodded back. Before long they took what we had and tried to kill us.
“You can’t do that,” I told him afterwards, “Not even if they look like good people.”
He just cried and said he was hungry, but now we had to move on. I was angry at him for that. Everyone is scared of what’s out there but the real danger comes from within. People aren’t good when they’re confronted. I was tired of being the one to pick up the pieces and I was tired of being right all the time.
We walked for days. We’d hear gunshots, distant screams, a car revving somewhere and then silence. We came across a plane wreckage, we saw a house burning on the horizon, signs of muted horror we’d never know.
We’d both lost things since it happened. I know I can keep going, but it will get worse. No one gets to live like this and keep on being the person they wanted to be; or thought they once were.
Three more times we came across survivors and each time we had to fight, the first two as night ambushes, the third when he let slip that we knew of a nearby stash of military rations.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time. We’d find bodies hanging from trees or lampposts and he would just look at me silently.
I said goodbye to him in my own way, and then I let it happen. I looked out to the distance and held on as tight as I could. It was over quickly.
There are no more barriers to cross. I’m a passenger in my own body now. But I’m glad it was me who did it and not one of the others. I wouldn’t want him to go that way.
I’m alone now, and I’m a different person, but somewhere down there I still exist. My purpose is survival but it brings no or less meaning than it did before. The hunger distracts me from the danger, the pain numbs the loneliness. And the sky still turns blue from time to time.
Perhaps people will come across the scene at the top of that hill and maybe think of what happened there that day. But they’ll be busy fighting their own battles which I will never know. And I know mine is no more important.
Cam’s a very good friend of mine and a great writer. He has a dog called Mickey and he gets up at 04:30 every morning to run. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon.
I’ve just finished reading A Happy Death by Albert Camus again and recommended it to my mate Cam, who’s a proper hero. We both share a similar condition and check in daily. But Cam’s the real deal. He saves lives and makes a difference in this time of uncertainty.
I’m a lone wolf in isolation and I’m liking bits of it but I’m alone. Boo fucking hoo. It’s the wee things that get me through like a coffee and a chat, even if it’s a chat to the lad at BWS who’s very fucking depressed, and I get his pain. I could see the tears in his voice. He trembled, and I respect him for that moment.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this, it’s to smile at people, when you pass them by. Be good. Be decent. Be kind. And as Camus says,
“In a minute, in a second.” he thought. The ascent stopped. And the stone among the stones, he returned in the joy of his heart to the truth of the motionless worlds.”
Ps. That’s me in the cowboy hat when I was three.
I’ve changed the name of my blog to The coronavirus diaries until this thing blows over. So, if anyone wants to send me a story they have to tell about self-isolation, coping with self-isolation and basically, anything to do with their experience of this time in our lives, send it through and I’ll post it for you.
A few top tips for writing a blog:
- Keep it short, no more than 800 words (less is more when writing a blog, many of the greatest blogs I’ve read are only 500 words long, or shorter)
- Use simple language
- Try to work out what the intention of the story is
- Give it an edit once it’s done for spelling and grammar etc, and
- And remember that everyone’s story is an important part of this historical event
If you do send me your story, please include a very short bio of 50 words and a photo of some description to: firstname.lastname@example.org
During times like these, it’s important that we document and share our stories, especially if you’re in isolation and feel like you need your voice to be heard.
And just as the zombie apocalypse kicked in, I quit my job. I’ll tell you why later in the piece. So, now I find myself unemployed at 50, in the middle of a pandemic. This is a concept that should scare the shit out of me but I’m strangely calm about my state of affairs because hysteria only leads to anxiety and anxiety ends up leading to expensive counseling sessions, with somebody who speaks softly and does a lot of nodding.
For the first four weeks of unemployment, I was holed up in my flat because I went over on my right foot and stretched a few ligaments, meaning I spent a lot of time sitting in my IKEA chair with my foot up on the coffee table, watching depressing stuff on the telly. Just what you need when you’re unemployed and injured. I also drank a lot of wine even though I have the word ‘Sober’ tattooed on my right wrist. Meanwhile, the coronavirus was seeping into our collective unconscious around the world, and I was already self-isolating.
Self-isolating, when you’re not sick, is fucking awesome. You don’t have to deal with the ocean of idiots who exist beyond the front door, endlessly bumping into each other while they stare at their phones like cretins caught in the headlights. Why the fuck should I be responsible for their spatial relations? Every day I suppress the urge to knock their phones out of their hands and explain the laws of physics to them. The other upside of self-isolation is that you have time to reflect upon your life.
However, in the wrong hands, self-reflection can be a dangerous venture. It can lead to suicide, a mental breakdown, and the agonising realisation that life is meaningless. Not so for me. I had a great time picking through my ‘reason to be’. It was an existential holiday in my wee flat. I worked out that my life was meaningless because I’d made it that way. In short, I’d spent the last two years hating my job, which was akin to having somebody take to your soul with a potato peeler. Hence, the decision to quit.
I live in a state of chaos and my workplace could no longer accommodate this. A sense of order had been installed by top brass – project management software called Slack, the worst kind of corporate mind control. There was even a stream called #wheremyhomiesat, where you had to let ‘the team’ know where you are at all times; cue Orwell and that cage with the rat in it. So, in short, dishes were done. Plus, I have recently diagnosed PTSD (PCL-5 – 63), so something like #wheremyhomiesat is about as helpful as dropping me in a K-hole and telling me the paranoid hallucinations are all part of my new reality.
But let’s get back to being unemployed at 50, amidst the zombie apocalypse AKA the Coronavirus AKA Covid 19. What’s next? Will our hero ever ride again? Every once in a while you have to make a stand in this life and tell the people who don’t add value to get fucked. That’s what I did. I quit my job in the middle of a pandemic and strode, sorry limped, into the unknown. Now, I’m going to concentrate on the things that matter to me, the things that don’t make me feel like I’m an injured hamster on a wheel, spinning recklessly into a void of chocolate-coated diarrhea. In essence,
To love oneself is to truly understand the secrets of the soul.
A good kicking on the way home from the pub, by the hobo chic quartet (excerpt from a novel – The exit line)
I’m being repeatedly kicked in the ribs by four pairs of feet. I can feel blood pouring out of my mouth. It’s pissing down with rain. I remember people telling me you stop feeling anything after a while when you’re being beaten up, and I thought they were talking shite. They’re right.
For some inexplicable reason, I have the song My Old Man’s a Dustman going through my head. I wonder when they’re going to stop. It feels like they’ve been kicking me for such a long time. I’m going to be a right mess in the end. Cindy’s being held back by two women. She’s screaming her head off. A good lass that one, probably the best woman I’ve ever met.
I really hope I live through this because I want to spend more time with her. Come on fuckheads, finish up and let me bleed on the pavement while Cindy holds my head up and tells me she loves me. That’s my cue to be all debonair and smile, then tell her that everything’s going to be alright. Deep down I’ve always been a gentleman.
Stuart’s final words to me as they finally stand back are, ‘That’s what you get when you mess with us’. What an idiot, he’s stolen lyrics from the chorus of Karma Police by Radiohead. The irony is mind-blowing. They walk down the street and I roll over onto my side and moan very loudly.
I’m really fucked up. Cindy’s immediately by my side holding my head up and kissing me on the cheek. The rain’s stopped. I don’t want the rain to stop; it feels more cinematic that way. Somebody’s shouting, ‘Fuck you, you Pommy cunt!’ I think every one of my ribs is broken. I haven’t lost any teeth, which is a total result because dentistry is expensive in Australia.
Cindy’s crying really loudly and swearing. I tell her everything’s going to be alright. My heart rate’s quickening, I can’t fucking breathe. Cindy’s stroking my head. I’m going to pass out.
Dark red vapour trails wandered across the after-work sky. The yard was dry for a change and the glasshouse looked like a gigantic Fox’s Glacier Mint, under the pale blue sky. We all left the factory together for a change, slagging each other off, as we traversed the yard to our caravans.
‘Hey Billy!’ said Pat, ‘Get a fucken spliff rolled now!’
‘Whoooaaaaaaaaaah!’ replied Billy, ‘We’re gonna get a ride tonight lads.’
‘In yer dreams’, said Ger as he jumped onto my shoulders, spilling cigarette ash on my hair.
‘Get off ya fat cunt ya’, I said, straining, as my knees buckled.
Even Shaine looked happy with himself, holding his head up, cigarette dangling by his left side. Jerry was chanting his ‘hey jiggy, jiggy’ mantra, high on the prospect of a long drink with Harry down at the Hookie Bar, surrounded by an abundance of young, unattainable women. Michael was silent as we walked, planning his weekend foray into the red-light district of Amsterdam.
Liam broke free from the pack and ran towards the football that lived in the gutter.
‘Come on lads!’ He said, ‘I’ll go, goalie.’
‘Not a chance, Liam’, replied Pat. ‘It’s spliff time. Isn’t that right Billy boy? Eh? A three-papery fucker, with three grams of Special Skunk and just a sprinkling of that Afghan.…Shit lads, look at those fuckin vapour trails. Fucken mad shite! Hey Lachlan, you get into all that nature crap. Have a look at the sky.’
‘I know’, I said, staring up at the sky. ‘I fucken love those things.’
Huge, ragged, bloody gashes lay across the sky. A fine blend of natural sunlight and good old-fashioned pollution. The rest of the lads looked up and passed the appropriate ‘isn’t the sky wonderful’ comments, before lowering their heads again and then directing their vision towards Ger, as he bounced out of his caravan with a pile of tell-tale glossy magazines.
‘Wha, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha’, he said. ‘Look what I picked up at the Aldi last night, while ye were all buying bog roll and cans ah beans.’
Ger bounded over with a pile of Russian porno mags, showing women in various public service uniforms, looking bored and sultry. Cold war knock-offs from the 70s. Meanwhile, Billy plucked, as if by magic, a three papery spliff from the interior pocket of his company issue body warmer and toasted the correct end with a battered Hell’s Angels Zippo lighter. We stood in a circle, waiting for either a toke or a visual poke, while conversation and smart-arsed comments spiralled up into the sky and joined the aerodynamic works of art.
For the first time in seven weeks, we stood together as a cohesive group without the threat of verbal violence. I hadn’t felt so good in years. It was like being back at school again with all my old mates. That empowering feeling of us against the world, before the world kicks you in the bollocks and laughs in your face. A faint glimpse of what things should be like between people, no bullshit, no lies, no hate, no promises, just a sense of need for one another, without the usual emotional VAT. I loved them all and cursed myself for slighting them in the past. A plane moved slowly above our heads, creating fresh vapour trails. For once I didn’t long to be on it, eating over-cooked broccoli from a rectangular plastic container and sipping gin from a ribbed plastic cup. Things were ok for a change and I was willing to go with the new flow, no matter where it ended up stagnating.
I thought about my girlfriend. She’d be home from work by now, feet up on the sofa, drinking coffee from one of our mugs. I needed to write to her more often and tell her what was going through my mind, tell her that I loved her even though the music hadn’t been obvious enough. The music had always been so important. She asleep, or pretending to be asleep, while I sat on the edge of the bed, half-pissed and passionate from the fingers up, my guitar wide awake on my right knee. I knew she’d be wondering what was going on, wondering why I hadn’t written every week like I’d promised that morning in the Stella Maris Hostel, the morning before I left to catch a bus to Holland from Innis. But we all promise to write every week at some point in our lives. It’s like some inevitable cliché that snatches the reason from our tongues when we can’t think of the right thing to say at the moment of departure. A stupid promise that ends up on the pile of promises that promises to sail us away to the easy way out of a difficult goodbye. Goodbye good intentions, hello spineless fucker, your time is up, row back in please, we’re all eagerly awaiting your next line of bullshit. But I couldn’t allow my shallow conscience to destroy this moment of clarity because the band, as it should always do, must play on.
When Laura answers the door I can’t believe how much better she looks. She’s still fucked on prescription drugs and red wine but she’s got dressed and bought a new grey knitted dress and a pair of white knee high leather boots. I’m impressed and I show it by raising my eyebrows and digging my hands deep into my pockets. I’ve never tired of looking at Laura, it’s the closest sensation to love for me. The house smells of grass. She tells me I look tired. I walk in.
The renovations are incomplete, giving the house that slightly fucked-up chic look, synonymous with inner city warehouse apartments. There’s something about broken plaster that gets my pulse racing. The lounge is set up exactly the same as it was in her, our, last place. The big red leather couch, the coffee table with the knife marks, the black and white portable TV, her progressive literature and a stereo that will only pump out British Indie anthems. The Stone Roses are on again. I’ve always thought it was ironic that the lead singer ended up in a cell with Doctor Shipman the Hippocratic serial killer.
She pours me a glass of wine and the next thing I know I’m kissing her bright red mouth and rubbing my crotch while thinking about The Stone Roses disappointing second album. I can never concentrate on sex because my mind is constantly questioning everything at once. I can’t relax and listen to a song without dissecting its influences and cultural relevance. Laura knows I’m not concentrating, so she withdraws and tells me she was released from hospital yesterday and that the ambulance cost $800. I take a sip from my wine and tell Laura that for that kind of price you’d at least expect a free bar.
The last time I was in an ambulance, it was snowing. I’d done a back flip off a couch and landed, left hand first, on a pint glass. There was blood pissing everywhere. Big Stu went mental because it was a new carpet. The ambulance took ages to get to me because Saturday nights always belong to the scalp hunters. By the time I got to accident and emergency, I’d lost so much blood that I abused some nurses then passed out. When I woke up Dr Phil was on the TV and I wanted to be asleep again.
Laura is what Sylphia Plath would have been as a marketing executive. She always jumps to the end. Nothing is straightforward for Laura. For example: she has this little white fluffy dog called Snuffy. Snuffy represents the centre of Laura’s universe; all she ever talks about is how she’ll fall apart the day Snuffy dies. She once spent $3,000 on vet bills after he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. When asked why, she replied ‘he’s my baby’.
When we finish the bottle of wine I ask her why she tried to kill herself. She tells me that she’s in love with me and couldn’t bear to see me in bed with another woman. I tell her that Valium doesn’t kill you but it does make you less anxious. She concurs rotating the hospital nametag on her right wrist. There’s something sexy about white wine and sleeping pills, the way they make you think of fallen Hollywood starlets, and the sound of static in the background. Laura should have been a child star instead of a marketing guru. I should have been less of a cunt but I can’t help myself these days. Snuffy jumps up on my lap and licks my nose. He’s a WWF wrestler trapped in Zsa Zsa Gabor’s body. Laura smiles and sighs, like Snuffy’s our baby, and I’ve been away on business.
I’ve not been away on business but I have been rather active of late. As well as being a copywriter for a Public Relations firm I also abuse people’s trust with alarming regularity. Some people have called me a sociopath but that’s a bit too dramatic and panders to their own sense of drama and tragedy. I’ve always wanted to fuck Lady Macbeth, she’s everything a woman should be; violent, calculating, supportive, and barren.
I abuse trust in a way that can only be described as emotional abandonment no. I wasn’t beaten or bullied as a child and my parents were nearly as good as the parents from Family Ties. My Mum even looks a bit like Meredith Baxter, only shorter with crooked teeth and irritable bowel syndrome. I didn’t mean to let Laura down, in fact, deep down I’m madly in love with her but too narcissistic to acknowledge such a strong emotional connection to somebody who’s not me or looks like me. I instantly admire and respect people who look a bit like me. It’s a problem.
I was lured away from Laura by a portly blonde chick with a penchant for firearms and Christianity. One minute we were meeting each other for the first time at a party, the next I was licking her out in a broom cupboard with a trapped cat. Her name is Alice and she’s convinced that Dustin Hoffman is her Dad. Laura caught Alice and I in bed together at my place yesterday morning. Laura staged a dawn raid based on information received from my flatmate who’s in love with Laura and wants to take her and Snuffy to Krufts one year. Alice and I were asleep when Laura walked into my bedroom. We were definitely awake by the time the police were called. Laura was cautioned by a detached policewoman and told to ‘fuck off home’. She went home via the doctor’s.
Alice thinks Laura’s a walking cliché. They know each other from some women’s group they’re both in, some shit to do with wolves. When I read Iron John I went out to the forest with some friends to commune with nature but I was attacked by some wasps and vowed never to return. You should always fuck strangers. I put my hand on Laura’s lap and tell her I’m here for her and Snuffy. She laughs in my face, then suggests we go to the pub for vodka shots. She also wants to pick up some amyl nitrate from the sex shop. I tell her that amyl is bad for her. She attaches Snuffy’s lead and we leave arm in arm.
* * *
Club X is brilliant. Laura smiles more when we’re around pornography. I go straight to the S&M section because I have a very low threshold of pain. Laura hovers around the Lesbian section stealing glances at me, as I read the back cover of a DVD called In Booty Bound. It’s about a young cheerleader’s voyage of discovery through the dark world of bondage, where she discovers a talent for domination and humiliation. Her teacher, an older woman from Zimbabwe, shows her the ropes and in doing so opens the young girl’s eyes to a new world of possibilities. Fuck, it sounds like the bondage version of Sophie’s World.
Laura buys her amyl and takes a sniff of it, before falling down and knocking over an impressive display of butt plugs from around the world. I help her up and we head for the door. As we’re leaving the shop, an assistant asks us not to come back. I nod politely and help Laura navigate her way through the large rectangular hole in the wall. Outside it’s home time for normal people. The trams are packed and the traffic is slowed to a standstill. Across the road some school kids are smoking and trying to look cool in red school uniforms. If Sydney Road were an actor it would be a mixture between Bob Hoskins and Sophia Loren.
We stumble down to a pub, which is known, like almost every pub in Melbourne, for its excellent Chicken Parmas. I’m not a fan of the Parma. For a few dollars more you can enjoy a porterhouse steak with mushroom sauce. However, the Parma does come with a free pot, which invariably makes decision making problematic. As it’s a rather dull day, I decide to go for the all day breakfast. I guide Laura into the bar and on to a stool. I order two vodka shots and two pots of draught. It’s at this point that I realise I’ve made a serious error of judgement. Alice is the barmaid. Blondes always pull the indignant face better than brunettes. Laura hands Alice the amyl and we leave. I expect a scene but am sadly disappointed when Alice changes the channel on the TV and opens a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. Maybe I read too much into the situation.
Outside on the pavement, Laura can’t believe I took her to Alice’s pub and slaps my face in front of the school kids, who laugh loudly and light up more cigarettes. I shrug and tell Laura I have a memory like a sieve but I can’t work out if I did it intentionally or not. She tells me I’m stupidly insensitive. I think I genuinely forgot Alice had started working there but it’s so hard to tell these days. Laura doesn’t believe me. I’m not even sure if I believe me anymore. Laura screams something crass into my face and staggers off down the road. Two minutes later, I see her being thrown out of the sex shop. I hail a taxi. One of the school kids calls me a faggot. There should be rain during moments like this. The taxi pulls into the kerb. I watch as Snuffy bites the man from the sex shop, then Alice comes out to tell me the Simpson’s are on.
I’ve always had a bad track record with relationships. I don’t know where it started or how it got so bad but it’s always been that way. Or so it seemed to be. There’s a moment in everybody’s life when something decisive happens, and it changes us forever. Whether the change is for better, or for worse, it’s a turning point that we take to the grave.
I was talking to a friend of mine about relationships and he said he’d only ever had one relationship in his life, and I got the impression that this made him feel less experienced than me. I looked at him and envied his inexperience because if relationships have taught me anything, it’s that people turn into toxic beasts during a difficult break-up. My soul would be stronger without those memories.
When love transmogrifies into repulsion, you lose a part of yourself. I lost a part of myself a few years ago when I took my eye off the ball and made a terrible mistake. Some people call it the ‘Magpie Syndrome’, that shallow pull towards shiny objects. And the problem with shiny objects is that they often lack depth, so once you’ve rolled them in your hand and seen yourself reflected in them, you’re faced with a difficult decision. I made the wrong decision, and the shiny object wormed its way into my soul.
She was a shallow, soulless person with no internal fortitude. An emotional leech obsessed with consumerism, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and she truly believed that mascara is a god given right. Add a dash of designer goods and you had the perfect recipe for mindless narcissism. Needless to say, I learned a lesson in true beauty and saw that a coy smile and cutesy shoulders that shrug on cue, hide nothing but a brittle husk.
So what the fuck does that say about me? Nothing good. And that’s because I’m the bad guy in this story, not the so-called narcissist, she’s just a foil for my villainous shite. If I met me in the street now, I’d break my nose for being a moron, and tell me to be out of town by noon.
But it’s what I left behind that’s the greatest tragedy in this story and makes me a despicable villain. She’s the opposite of the leech and me. She’s the most beautiful and caring person I’ve ever met in my life and I hurt her to the very core because I saw a shiny object, and was hypnotised by my own reflection. I remember walking down the street and she called me and told me she’d had to clear all of my stuff out of her flat because she found it physically painful to think about what had happened. I’ve never experienced that kind of pain and I can only imagine how awful it must feel.
So, this is my apology to you. The words of a fool who’s led a frivolous life and is willing to sacrifice everything, to let you know I’ve changed and I regret everything.
Our Creative Director, Jesse Kingsley, used to be a pool attendant in the 90s. He talks fondly of the position; halcyon days, simpler times, all sprayed with chlorinated water and discount confectionary from the pool kiosk.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when Jesse came up to me and said: “Gary Sweet was my swimming teacher”. I lifted my head up from an exquisitely baked chicken pie and told him that I once had a parking altercation with the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. A weird stalemate developed where neither of us knew which story was better. That’s when our Head of Business Development chimed in with a story about dating Sting’s cousin’s daughter.
Later that day, Jesse wondered if Gary would remember him if they ever met on the street. I asked Jesse if he’d done anything out of the ordinary during the swimming lessons, and he said no, he hadn’t. But then he smiled and said: “Yes he would remember me! Because back then, my last name was Beaver!”
Brian Cho sits behind me at work, and calls himself The Brian. He’s the kind of person who strolls into meetings he’s not invited to and contributes like he’s organised the meeting, while everyone else sits there, too polite to say anything.
The other day, I was having lunch at my desk, when The Brian swivelled around on his chair and said: “Callum, I got your email about looking at your friend’s website and I wanted to know more about your relationship with her. What does she mean to you?” I told him she’s one of my closest friends on the planet. To this, The Brian replied: “Then I will make sure I give it my complete attention”.
When I gave my friend The Brian’s feedback, I told her what he’d said, and she teared up and said: “What a lovely man, he must be great to work with”. I nodded, took a sip of my drink and ordered a tin of sardines.