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Global stories, local voices

|| Now dare to call me crazy

Ep. 1/3 - Neurosis Made in Sao Paulo

By Tati Bernardi

Lire en français (FR) | lido em português (PT) - versão originale

Do I have any reason to suffer, to go crazy and be anxious?
Most of the voices in my head are saying no
because I am privileged. 

The reasons for isolating yourself are blatantly obvious and repeated ad nauseam in the press, WhatsApp groups, and social networks. Yes, you have to protect yourself, protect your family, your employees, the elderly, the immunosuppressed, and above all, not join the throng of idiots who would like to see the Brazilian public health service collapse!
Having said that, now I feel obliged to warn you of something else: in these days of lockdown, do not be afraid to discover how low you may feel at times. Relax, buddy, we can all make it through this.
If you found motherhood to be the supreme joy, the apex of your life, you will start to understand that it only works that way because you are able to leave home a few (precious) hours a day.
If you thought your marriage was going reasonably well, you may nevertheless start to do the math to see if breaking up is financially viable!
If you entertained the illusion that your little corner of pot plants was "a delightful excursion into nature", you may finally wake up to the fact that you live like a rat, holed up a shitty flat, in a suffocating city. Your plants only fooled you because you left early and in a rush, and came back late, exhausted.
Yes, my friend, life is just a drag. That's all there is to it. And deep down inside you always knew it, but you were too pissed off by the traffic and your problems at the office to notice.
I'm saying this because I sincerely feel for you and because I've been working from home for over ten years, sharing a desk with my husband for about three. I've been through my share of wanting to dump everything and run away. So I can confirm: the feeling won't peter out.
There are people who are seriously ill, unemployed, bereaved, and raising three children without help from anyone. If you are one of these people, I beg your pardon for my rather frivolous chronicle.
But for me, and perhaps for you, these days of quarantine will only highlight just how ungrateful we are and how much we cling to escapism as a means for staying sane.
Of course I love my daughter and I love my husband — ok, I admit, I love my daughter much more — and I enjoy my little corner of pot plants a lot. But having those feelings does not equate with being constantly filled with enthusiasm. And I only really feel fulfilled when I have a meeting planned. I'm sorry, but it's true.
I am only happy on holidays because I am thinking about all the work I will be able to do when I return, feeling more rested. I managed to feel a little less crazy while breastfeeding because I kept a notebook handy in which I could jot down ideas.
I feel immense pleasure playing with my daughter because in the eight hours that preceded that moment I accomplished tasks, studied, read, kept projects moving forward, received praise for my work, paid my bills.
Now, with my courses suspended, with work that depends on face-to-face meetings also suspended, the one thing I can still do is write. In other words: I have somewhere to run to. For your sake, I really hope you’ve got an escape like that too.
Calm down, OK! Before you tell the love of your life how much you detest him, before you traumatize your teenage child with a sentence like "what the hell have I done with my life?" and before you go crazy and start smashing your stupid pot plants, breathe deeply and repeat after me: life sucks for everyone.
My life sucks. Your neighbor's life is unbearable. Stuck in meetings, breathing air conditioned air, I wanted so badly to rush home to this tiny flat and to this life "where each day is like Groundhog Day" that I just didn't realize it.
You wanted more from life, I know. Oh, how nice it was to be on your own, do whatever you wanted, go on a date, travel without needing to be back on any particular day or time. Wasn’t that great? Or was it? Not at all! It sucked, too. Fucking loneliness. You just didn't realize it because you were in meetings. To cut a long story short, just stay home and wash your goddamn hands. 

*

Last week I bought a flute. I don't play an instrument and I have no intention of learning how to play the flute. I don't even know where I can buy one. I don't remember what it's like to wear makeup and shoes anymore. "Ah, you poor little thing! Such big problems you have, princess? Trapped in your white-lady’s neuroses over on the west side, life’s so tough, isn’t it sweetie?" That's one of the many voices in my head. At least "the superego has a social conscience" is a friendly voice. Sometimes friendlier to others than to me. The worst is when I suddenly hear, "Get down! Ten push-ups, and get rid of those flabby arms!", or "Without basic notions in philosophy you will never understand anything, ignoramus!" I’m going stir-crazy, locked up in my office all day. I don't even know what I'm writing anymore. Are you going nuts too?

The voices "sorority is in fashion" and "compassion & psychoanalysis" recriminate me every time I dredge up lists of petty hates. But, by God, it's Day 28 of lockdown here and I'm going off the deep end. While I'm taking a shower, crazy anger flares up just thinking about people I fought with in high school, in college, in my first jobs. Yesterday I called Luis, my best friend, and I started going on about a colleague of ours: "She thinks I got the job because I had dinner with that horrible guy. Well I'm calling her RIGHT NOW and I’m going to let her have it! He was silent at first, probably incredulous, then he burst into laughter: "But that was eleven years ago!" I know, I know, but it's all coming back. Do you also get the feeling that the longer you are isolated, the more you are shut up with the past? Yesterday I remembered that, in the second week of my relationship with Pedro (over seven years ago), he took me to a party full of "movie people" and then disappeared. We fought for two hours about it. "Who do you think you are? You made me look like an idiot! You better not pull a stunt like that again. The next party we go to, if ever we’re allowed to go to parties again..." Pedro made me a cup of tea and said he hoped that they’d find a vaccine in the next eighteen months or so.

Do I really have any reason to be distressed, crazy and suffering? Most of the voices in my head say no, because I am privileged. I should make donations and take care of the family’s elderly folk. I have no right to think of myself at a time like this! But to you, dear reader, I can confess that I have been thinking about myself a lot. In every decision I've made since I was six years old until this very morning. And I ruminate and ponder and try to decipher everything from my appearance through to my secret motivations lurking deep in my character. And I push my body to reach into every last corner of the house. To scrub and clean again, convincing myself that it’s still dirty. Me and my flat in a kind of obsessive vigil. Each week I buy storage boxes over the internet. And when they arrive, I wipe them down all over with hydroalcoholic gel. Several times over.

I know I can go out at five in the morning and enjoy the empty streets. I could even dance and do cartwheels. But who wants to wake up at five in the morning? I'm not in the mood to dance and I don't know how to do acrobatics. The only time during the quarantine that I dared to venture down to the street, the next day there was a circular in the apartments saying that the hall is not a place for taking your clothes off. Someone was very offended by my sagging ass. I used so much hydroalcoholic gel that I started to feel guilty, like I was the world’s biggest consumer of the product, that I started to spray myself with Listerine. I have even started to smell like the restroom in an expensive restaurant. My whole Sunday was dedicated to inventing a way of ensuring that fruit and vegetables are not covered in bleach water. I spend my time googling which vegetables and fruits are porous because I'm afraid of getting an ulcer through ingesting bleach water. And there goes another a day. No time to play the flute, and I don’t even want to. Is papaya porous?

*

I loved my grandmother, but I had to kill her. In front of the house there's a bank branch I like a lot. That's where I go when I need to withdraw money from the ATM which, unlike my late grandmother, works 24/7.
My grandmother would start yawning already at six in the evening. By 9pm, her eyes were closed. Her operating hours were incomparably lower than that of an ATM machine. So when our president told me to choose between my grandmother and the economy, I killed my grandmother.
Grandma would often stroke my hair. She also praised me: "My child, you are more beautiful with each passing day." But frankly, the beauty salon at the mall does a lot more for me. It cuts, washes, moisturizes, brushes, does hair botox, highlights and Californian tie and dyes. When I pay on the way out, they tell me how chic, divine and powerful I am.
So when our president told me to choose between my grandmother and the economy, I killed my grandmother.

I miss her, for sure. But she already had trouble with her walking and, according to the doctor, this wasn’t likely to improve. Our minister, "Chicago Boy," keeps saying that the Brazilian economy, which is limping more than my grandma, will soon be running marathons. That's why I killed my grandmother. You should do the same.
It's no use just dressing up in green and yellow and going to Paulista Avenue to show that you're not afraid of the "flu". Waving a gun around is for amateurs. You actually have to prove that you are a true patriot by killing your grandmother.
Grandma bad-mouthed her brothers and sisters, friends with whom she went on outings to Serra Negra, and — keep that to yourself — she put the boot into my mother a few times. Unlike the local pastor here in our neighborhood. He has nothing but good to say about everyone. He says we are chosen, blessed, wonderful.
The president declared that we must keep filling the churches... even if he didn't explain exactly what this has to do with the economy. But I know it does because I'm not a complete idiot.
So, between a gossipy old lady and a redeeming offering, I'd rather kill my grandmother. Between the R$ 100 she gave me for Christmas and the credit card payment facilities, I decided to kill my grandmother.
Between her lovingly baked codfish cake and Baby Back Ribs with delicious Madero Steakhouse barbecue sauce, I chose to snuff the old lady out.
Oh, and I got tired of being locked up here. All for what? To avoid, as that businessman-TV host put it (no wonder he carries the word Justice in his name), the deaths of 10% to 15% of the elderly?
I read somewhere that young people can also die of it, but, frankly, only if they are not athletic. Really, they should try to be more like the businessman-TV host and our God-like President. People don’t want to bother exercising and it's the economy that takes it in the neck?
Some days I leave very early and come back real late. On the way, I find a lot of oranges and bananas, a divine sign that I'm on the right track. Of course, it's not easy! I feel terrible, depressed, full of remorse.
Nothing in the world could buy the feeling I had lying on my grandmother's lap (even if I could buy it, everything is still closed, and buying online could take a while). But I see light at the end of the tunnel: I think it's an advertising agency that’s open. Everything’s going to be fine.

These texts were previously published in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo

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About the author

Tati Bernardi
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Tati Bernardi lives in Sao Paulo. She is a writer, screenwriter and columnist, notably known for her work in the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. Her latest book published: Você nunca mais vai ficar sozinha (Companhia das Letras, 2020).