NETWORK CONNECTIVITY ISSUES | Eimhear Ní Thuathail looks for ways to connect in a world without touch or intimacy.
by Eimhear Ní Thuathail
I’ll be quite good at lockdown, I think, as I browse eye-wateringly expensive last-minute flights home to Ireland. Yes, I’m leaving my city, my friends, my job, my flat, my TBR pile, my memory foam mattress topper, my daily chat with the girl in the bar near work who always pours me a scalding café con leche the second she sees me climb off the bus – but it’s fine. It’s just a few weeks. I’ll be back in Madrid before I know it.
Day 57. From the sofa in my parents’ house, I read a tweet that says ‘all I do is masturbate, buy skincare and cry’. I send a screenshot to my best friend, captioning it LMAOOOOO. I do not LMAOOOOO as I don’t want to crack my third Lush facemask of the week.
BBC News, BBC World News, BBC1 Northern Ireland, ITV News, UTV News, Channel 4 News, Sky News, El País, El Mundo, Le Monde, CNN, etc
There aren’t enough beds. There aren’t enough ventilators. There isn’t enough PPE. Frontline staff are having to wear binbags. This is the calm before the storm. Spain remains on lockdown – oh, look, that’s my street in the background on BBC News! The Spanish army is right outside my bedroom window! Another new case in Northern Ireland. 16 confirmed cases 624 deaths in 24 hours. A surgeon a doctor a pregnant nurse has died of coronavirus and 832 muertos en 24 horas. CORONAVIRUS: minuto a minuto de la pandemia and it’s much worse than we feared. Lasting impact peak slump crash crisis infectious diseases to mooove through the population. Had to say goodbye to his mother, her husband, their father over Facetime. The death toll currently stands at three hundred thousand and thirty-four, nine hundred and seventy-four thousand PLEASE SHARE we could . . . take-it-on-the-chin! And now we join our local news teams where you are.
I sweat on the sofa and can’t feel my legs.
‘If you’ve donated money to the NHS through Virgin Media, you’re an IDIOT. You’re BASICALLY grabbing money out of doctors’ hands and lining Branson’s POCKETS with it. Don’t be such a DICKHEAD next time, yeah?’ 98,476 likes.
My oldest friend sends me a selfie taken at the end of her shift in intensive care, with her protective mask pushing her glasses up towards her hairnet.
My younger brother reposts a PSA of Belfast Trust staff imploring the public to #stayhome and #savelives, then leaves to spend yet another evening at his girlfriend’s house. She’s a pharmacist who posts solemn Instagram stories on the importance of social distancing.
This is how I learn that taking your chances with a deadly disease, and endangering your elderly parents’ lives, is more appealing than spending three weeks living the way I live all the time – without a partner, without being touched.
“This is how I learn that taking your chances with a deadly disease is more appealing than spending three weeks living the way I live all the time – without a partner, without being touched.”
My family stops hugging, opting instead for an ironic elbow bump. When the novelty wears off (much later than it should), we don’t go back to embracing, and I soon give up trying to initiate it. It’s embarrassing to clutch at my mum when she’s busy trying to cook dinner for her newly refilled nest, and even more unthinkable to disturb my dad or my brother from their comically huge computer monitors.
Every evening, there’s always someone hosting an online quiz. I laugh along with my aunts, uncles and cousins, boxed into separate rectangles on my laptop screen.
I now know that red is the colour most commonly featured on the flags of the world, that the US city named after a British Prime Minister is Pittsburgh, that Madonna has had 13 UK number one singles (bonus points if you can list them in order), and that Galway beat Waterford in the 2017 hurling final. I don’t know when I’ll next feel someone’s arms around me.
One of the questions that’s haunted my early twenties came from a Jessie Burton novel. ‘Do you have a body if no one is there to touch it?’ The narrator immediately conceded that yes, ‘I suppose you do,’ but the question has niggled at me for four years – like an upcoming smear test, or letters from the student loans company marked ‘Urgent’.
Only on the most premenstrual of days would I morph into a frantically thirsty Ross Gellar yelling about karate. Of course, I have a body, I’d always tell myself. Even if nobody had their hands or tongue in me or on me, I had a body. It walked with friends, hiked for miles in the sun, danced until the nape of my neck was drenched. It could ache and bleed, and shake with pleasure. Of course, I had a body.
Now I have a big vat of white dough that I feed and wash and drag from bed to the living room and back again.
Sour panic about nothing and everything stops me from sleeping. When I do doze off, I wake up soaked in sweat, and nauseously yawn my way through the rest of the day.
On a whim, I create profiles on dating apps that I’m normally too shy to use in my fishbowl hometown.
I match with Matt, 28, business developer, who has ‘Feminist!’ in his bio and who wants to hear about my feelings. I tell him that I’m sad because my life is dissolving. He replies with a photo of his penis sticking out of his checked pyjama bottoms.
I spend hours chatting to a lovely, grey-eyed boy who works in A&E, and who points out that we’re listed as being just 1.9 miles apart – ‘So close yet so far! Haha’. He jokes (jokes? Please don’t let him be joking) about how quarantine needs to end sooner rather than later so that he can nibble on my neck, and tears fill my eyes. Christ, how embarrassing! Good thing it’s 4.13am and I’m under a duvet where nobody can see me. Birds start singing outside as I paste his messages into my Notes app for safekeeping.
I half-heartedly sext an Argentinian with my spare hand while stirring a risotto or sweeping the floor.
I’m in the bath when a Spanish boy I spent a night kissing in an underground bar back in February messages after seven weeks of silence. He’s bored and wants us to have a Skype date. Wink emoji, wink emoji.
Reasons to say yes: He was nice, and he was a good kisser.
Reasons to say no: He was nice, he was a good kisser, and he’s very far away.
I go out for some government-sanctioned exercise and the woman from three doors up – who regularly posts on the local neighbourhood watch group encouraging us all to look out for one another – avoids eye contact whilst refusing to move from the middle of the pavement. As I fling myself into passing traffic to avoid inconveniencing her, I’m overcome with a ridiculous urge to cackle or bark, just to see if she’ll look at me.
I don’t know what to search for.
I’m alone – I’m not alone. There are three other people and a cat in the next room.
I’m single – That’s not it either. I’ve been single forever and other than the big ’uns – Christmas, birthdays, hungover Sundays at 4pm – it’s fine.
I have no friends – I do, though. I have lovely friends whom I don’t deserve because I’ve stopped texting them back. These newly pixelated, palm-sized relationships feel like trying to eat a takeaway pizza through the cardboard box it arrived in.
What do I Google?
I have a lump in my throat
My skin is sore for no reason
Someone in my house is always cross at someone else
My chest feels like it’s being tugged apart
I can’t remember what my best friend’s perfume smells like
There’s a big tangle in my hair and I can’t be arsed brushing it out
My phone makes me feel sick
I keep crying about nothing
I miss feeling self-conscious about my stomach pressing up against someone while they run their hands over my waist
My empty arms feel like I’m carrying a pile of wet laundry around with me
I’m scared all the time
Did you mean – Loneliness?
Google Images yields 580,000,000 results, most of which feature silhouetted people crouching in front of sunsets. Did I mean loneliness?
My best friend’s lovely boyfriend creates a new group chat, asking her friends, family and colleagues to send him a short video wishing her a happy 25th. I download the finished compilation that he sends us the night before her birthday. It’s seven minutes and twelve seconds long. I delete the video, wait for eight minutes, and text him several heart-eyed emojis. She’ll love it!!!
Pity for oneself, especially a self-indulgent attitude concerning one’s own difficulties, hardships, etc.: We must resist yielding to self-pity and carry on as best we can.
The same ad always plays for the obligatory five seconds before I’m able to skip to the video. Over sombre music and a slow-mo montage of affection, an anguished voice intones ‘No pulling them close . . . NO holding hands’. I never watch long enough to see what’s being advertised.
YouTube (five seconds later)
“Kim, there’s people that are dying.”
Skin-to-skin contact is vital for maintaining good physical, emotional, and mental health. Touch releases oxytocin, decreases blood pressure, and reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. Skin-to-skin contact can also increase premature babies’ chances of survival.
Skin hunger, or touch deprivation, occurs when humans experience little to no touch from other humans. Lack of regular human touch can affect immunity and reduce serotonin levels, which in turn can lead to insomnia and mental illness. Human beings deteriorate fast, physically and mentally, without touch.
I double-cleanse and moisturise my face, as soon as I get up and before I go to bed. I religiously down three litres of water a day. I switch to decaf coffee. I eat an apple after lunch even if I don’t really want it. I scribble daily gratitude lists. I slather factor 50 on my skin before I go on my daily walk, before I stop going on my daily walk.
Hiiii lovely! Omg girl I’m so sorry for only replying now, I swear I’m the actual worst with my phone! All is goooood here thanks, just getting on with things really haha! How are you doing?! Miss youuuu, facetime soon?? xxx
Eimhear Ní Thuathail