If Covid-19 teaches us anything, let it be to this: make time for the people you love whenever you can, and appreciate the hell out of them always.
My friend and I already knew that we would be saying goodbye in May. Her visa is up, you see, and she has to fly home to Australia. Forever. Or, at least, until one of us has saved up enough pennies for an overseas visit.
Back in February, this didn’t seem too bad. I mean, it sucked that our time together was limited, but we had planned lots of lovely things to make up for it. An escape room, maybe, and a theatre trip or two. An obscene number of brunches and dinners. There was even talk of an old-fashioned sleepover: midnight snacks, sleeping bags on the living room floor, a Netflix series to binge-watch.
Above all else, we planned to be less flaky. To be the sort of friends who genuinely work to find a date we can both do, stick it in the diary and keep to it, no matter what.
The coronavirus, however, had other ideas.
As the Covid-19 reports continued to trickle in from China and Italy, we slowly began to realise that the best-laid plans of mice and (wo)men often go awry. We pushed back a dinner, and then another, as we waited for things to die down. Then, the social distancing guidelines were brought in and stepped up. We assumed this meant my friend would fly home earlier than planned: maybe just before Easter, at a push.
“What if I have to go without saying goodbye?” she asked, but we brushed those concerns aside. They seemed too silly, too melodramatic. As if that could ever happen.
And then came the final nail in the coffin: the Australian government began urging its citizens to fly home as soon as possible.
Numbly, my friend informed me that she was booking a flight. That she would be leaving in less than a week. That she wouldn’t be leaving my life, just the country. And that we should Zoom, or FaceTime, as soon as possible.
Quite honestly, it was the strangest phone call of my life. She was sat just a few miles away from me in a London living room, yet I couldn’t pop round for a goodbye dinner. I couldn’t even give her a hug. Instead, we contented ourselves with a digital drink – she raised a glass of Prosecco from her corner of the city, I raised a juicebox from mine – and we talked about work. About mutual friends. About books we’ve read (not many, not at the moment: it’s hard to concentrate). We wondered aloud how long all of this might last.
Right at the end of the call, when she gave me her two-minute warning, we talked about her flight. We promised to stay in touch, 12-hour time difference be damned. And I, being horribly awkward and British about emotional farewells, failed to say a lot of things I probably should have said. Like, “I’ll miss you”. Or, “you were bloody brilliant during the good times and the shit times.” Or, “you’re honestly one of the best people I’ve ever met.” Or, “my world will be a lot less brighter without you in it.”
Or, “I love you. Thank you. Please, please don’t let’s let a little thing like being on different continents ruin our friendship.”
Like I say, I find it hard to put things into words sometimes. And it’s a hell of a lot harder when you’re talking to a pixelated phone screen, and the signal keeps dropping, and you keep missing vital bits of conversation. But I truly hope she knows all of the above to be true.
The coronavirus pandemic is terrible for so many reasons. I’m not here to pretend that I’ve had it any harder than most: so many people missed out on seeing their mums this weekend, lots of us can’t hug friends and family, some of us have permanently lost loved ones to this virus. But being denied the chance to say do a farewell celebration for one of my most important people? Well, it ranks pretty highly up there on my Covid-19 shit list.
I hope that, one day not too far from now, all of this will be a distant memory. All that being said, though, I hope I remember the lessons I learned during this time. That I’ll make time to see the people I love whenever I can, and appreciate the hell out of them always. That it won’t take a ‘special occasion’ for me to be a better friend. That I won’t, above all else, flake on plans and rearrange for the following week.
Because, just sometimes, that “following week” won’t be there to fall back on.