OYSTERHOOD is reclusiveness or solitude, or an overwhelming desire to stay at home.
We called him Chopin. In high school, a stalker followed me around for a few months. In the beginning, I did not understand why he was always on the same train as I (no matter when school ended), why I repeatedly spotted him around town, why he kept staring and smiling at me with cold eyes, and why, right from the start, I did not feel comfortable about any of it. He did look like Chopin, and in the beginning, my friends and I could still laugh him off. But when his constant shadow became unbearable, when I could no longer feel safe anywhere, with the help of a teacher and my parents I did report him to the police. That wasn’t the end of the story, but today I wasn’t reminded about how he finally disappeared from my life; today, I remembered what it felt like to know that you are constantly being watched.
It is a fear that crawls in your veins until you feel totally paralysed. Everything is out of focus and it is impossible to do anything right. This morning, it was so pervasive that it took me forever to leave the house, and even after I had left it, I had to return once because my anxiety was skyrocketing.
My pearl earrings were the reason I returned. I hadn’t worn them for a while, but decided this morning that I wanted to put them on again. Yet, in all the chaos of getting ready to go to the shops, I forgot the earrings. I went back because of a strange memory. The day of the first house break-in I have ever experienced (five years ago), before I left home, I put André’s wedding band, which had been next to the bed for weeks after his death, in a different – safe – place. An uncanny premonition. Almost everything else was taken that day, but I still have the precious ring. Something told me to hide the ring back then, and something told me today not to leave my earrings behind. Leaving the house, I remembered the creepy man we’d called Chopin.
I wasn’t even half an hour gone before ADT phoned. First alarm activation in months. I told them to please go investigate and rushed home myself. Those few minutes that felt like an eternity in the car on my way back were so tense with apprehension – and a sad kind of resignation – that I had to switch off the music, fearing that even the gentle sounds would distract me too much and I could, on top of everything else, cause an accident. Pure survival mode.
By the time I arrived back, the ADT guard was exiting the property. “It is all fine,” he said. He got there in time. Together, we investigated which of the security beams had been triggered and could reconstruct how the thief had intended to access the house. These are all additional safety features I’d had installed after the second successful break-in last year. The alarm scared the thief away, this time. The system worked. It protected my property, and my sanity. The guard left with a truckload of my gratitude.
After making sure that The Cats were all unharmed and safe, I had to admit to myself that I had learned to live with this constant fear, need for vigilance, and a sixth sense for someone lurking and waiting to pounce. The thing is that you cannot really admit to yourself that this is what your life looks like; seen from the outside – with clear, objective eyes – it does not make sense. You have to hold all of this as close to your consciousness as you can, and simultaneously push it as far away as possible. It is a cruel balancing act: to know that you have a panic room in your home, to still be able to sleep peacefully, to leave the house to buy essentials. How fucked up is that?
The armed response guard’s eyes shone with kindness above his mask.
My pearl earrings have a beautiful story that is connected to writing (perhaps all writing is not about love, but about loss?). In my heart, they replaced the earrings that were stolen from me during the first break-in – they were a gift from my aunt, I had worn them for over twenty years before they were taken.
At a time of loss, every single disturbance of balance, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can be extremely triggering. All my alarms systems are going off and the panic room in my head is getting smaller and smaller.
Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Stay at home. (Right… Fuck.)
“Physical distancing remains one of the key strategies to curb this pandemic.”