Hamster On A Wheel

In conversation with one of my closest friends, I told her about my life. The routine and the things I hated that have become part of the new-normal. She interrupted, “Like a hamster on a wheel?”

Nothing had ever made more sense to me. 

I was that teenage rebel who swore she would never live a life where two days felt the same. It’s been two years of the same day every day. A few breaks every now and then, but I miss so much about life before all this. Surprising even to me, it’s not the fancy vacations, the trips to Paris for “work” or the drunk stumble home. 

I miss the little things I don’t get to see anymore. The different people on the train every morning. The ones with earphones, wet hair and a lost stare. The ones in a suit, hoping to be more productive today than the day before. The familiar face that worked in the same building, a small smile of “I see you even if I don’t know you.” I miss elevator rides. You never know if you’ll be in time for your best friend or your boss. The walk to get a morning coffee, not always because you need it. It’s more for the conversation, the steps, a loud sigh about the people we had to deal with as we waited for a latte we all knew wasn’t worth the money.

I miss walking into the office, turning on my computer and knowing my day has begun. The random knocks on my door for “Lunch?” “Second coffee?” “Walk?” or “Yay you’re here. I need help!”

The moment I walked into my house at the end of the day. I knew the day I’d had the moment I dropped my bag – productive or procrastinated. Did I spend too much on Starbucks? Do I continue to feel energy to pre-make lunch for tomorrow? Am I cooking? Netflix and instant noodles it is.

There was a joy in knowing I would wake up and see a whole new world of people the next day. A different train, different passengers, different barista and a different routine.

I miss familiar moments with strangers. Getting ice cream at McDonald’s as I headed to my apartment. A little treat to myself. Her stories of a boyfriend that refused to respond as she swirls the ice cream cone perfectly. I’ll never know her name but I’ll always know she’s annoyed at him. 

I miss long nights at my parents’ house. It was in the dark that our laughter was at its loudest. Past bedtime, dogs curled up at our feet, talking about our day, our lives, the people in it and the many memories. A sarcastic comment from my sister that sends us into fits of uncontrollable laughter. A remark from my dad we tell each other we’ll remember forever. Unafraid, unbound. 

I miss the feeling of there being no end to my physical world. If I took a plane, I could go anywhere. I could get in my parents’ car and we would drive for hours. We’d pass fields and towns, windows down, music loud. We had a destination but if I chose to, I could drive on for days. I could see nature at its purest. That stretch of sunflowers I notice every time. The group of old men sitting together smoking and talking as cars fled past them. I look out the window, observing. Knowing I’ll never see them again. I’ll never remember their face or that exact place. But in that moment, they were there, and they were part of my journey to a destination my parents were taking me to.

That’s the hardest thing about the last two years. The feeling of being walled in. There’s no endlessness to my physical world. I can try all I want, there’s only so far I can go. It wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t travel for my ‘gram. But it matters that a plan I’ve been making to go visit my parents at the end of this month is yet again in jeopardy. I feel like I have yet again been caged in.

Repeating the same day over and over again. The same emotions, the same processes, the same people. Wondering when the groups of 5 will turn into groups of 2 again. Wondering when the imaginary walls of the country I live in will open to let me be free again. Wondering when travel to see my parents filled with fear and agony of infecting myself or worse, them, will change again.

I miss knowing my parents are healthy still. I miss not being afraid to lose people before I could spend enough time with them. I miss existing in a world where I don’t feel terror when hanging out with my best friends. Not having to wonder every minute of every day where every person I see on the street has been to over the last 14 days. 

I miss breathing. Not the “say no to masks” kind. The emotional kind. The calm as I took on the world kind.

Every morning, I wake up and for a brief minute, I imagine being somewhere else. Head out the window, driving for hours past fields, towns and cities I’ll never remember. Wind in my hair, nothing to think of but the stillness of my emotions. Calm and happy as I breathe in a world without walls.

I get out of bed and go repeat my day. A hamster on a wheel again.

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