The house is quiet, a rarity. Ben left for work late in the morning for his evening shift, he only works on location on Wednesdays, and no online meetings had been scheduled for me. We had woken up together and had stayed under the blanket’s security a little too long, but both of us were too riled up not to get out from under it. Now, I am here by myself and decided to treat myself on a smörgâsbord of piscine units, all bought at the Albert Heijn, with a focus on shrimp, which are part of the weekly deals. I had to visit another chain for the whiskey sauce. On this early November day, the Albert Heijn did not seem to be packing any and although nothing beats homemade whiskey sauce, after that salmon I couldn’t justify buying any liquor and we’d already finished the cognac. I did get the 3 Euro Chardonnay.
I pour a glass, even though it’s only two on a Wednesday and I have assignments due, and assemble my plate, including a dash of store bought artisanal butter and a piece of baguette, and walk over to the table. Our table. A table that the previous inhabitants of our semi apartment left behind. A couple of weeks ago I crawled underneath it and spread out on the crisp laminated flooring, synthetic boards in distracting tones of gray that our landlord had selected for us, and smiled up as I looked at Ben, who was still in his chair. I extended my hand, motioning a question I keep asking him, which he keeps answering and in an uncharacteristic moment he joins me underneath the irregular timber. In our attempt to retrace the decisions in the table making process – there seems to be an IKEA table stripped of its legs screwed in for support – we are secure. We have been secure for the past eight months, as we continue to go to battle the best way we know how: isolation. As a defense mechanism, social scarcity has always been natural to both of us, and we are almost happy to comply. I know team introverts might seem at an advantage right now, but we have also lost the enticement to step outside of ourselves. We are secure, but I might be losing it.
I remember being in class in February, a small class of only five people including the professor, and discussing the implications of a potential lockdown. I remember thinking that the lockdown wouldn’t possibly obstruct my friends’ exchange to Canada in the fall. I remember thinking my social circle would act intelligently when facing these extremities. I remember being secure with more people, but now security seems to be reduced to us, trying to find new experiences in the corners of our first apartment in the northwest of Utrecht. I know that we are happy here. It’s a shoddy apartment and I had only chosen Utrecht because of its central location within my social network, a futile reason now, but we have enough space, an outside and, for the most part, it’s comfortable.
Still I do get anxious, scared even, when I’m home alone. Even before the pandemic. There was a time when people would hang out in our walk-up and I would be scared to leave. At one point, I heard somebody rattling the door handle. Another intrusion? Rather than helping me out, my adrenaline accelerated my paranoia and I called the police. The person that responded did not take me seriously. I knew from the mocking tone in her voice that I was being ridiculous. I am ridiculous. The cops that showed up were kind. They urged me to call sooner next time I felt unsafe: they’d been informed of the situation before. A week later, one of my neighbors was molested on the steps leading up to her home.
We’re comfortable, until we are no longer. Today it is November 4th 2020 and last night I was determined to go to sleep. Four years ago I had the same intention, both nights it turned out the same. I woke up at intervals, every two hours. He couldn’t possibly, right? They couldn’t actually believe he would do them any good? The world is in a liminal space. We are ill, we are at odds, we don’t understand. I take my shrimp and crawl underneath my table, trying to make sense of it. <
Written by Saskia Soelaksana
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