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13 Sep 2020

I_Residency: Projects created by female artists duos during isolation


You Got It Today


Photographs: Anka Gujabidze
Text: Salome Asatiani




She’s been sitting in that armchair for three hours, frozen. Maybe four. Her mouth is dry, but water is in the kitchen and there is no way she can get to the kitchen now. She feels heaviness on her shoulders. In her heart. In her head. With sweaty fingers she checks the phone – half past eight, quarter to nine, nine. The curfew has begun. There are no messages. There’s news on television, but she can’t get to the TV now. 

The voice came back last night, when she was almost asleep. “Get up, go stand in the corner, turn around and go back to bed. Get up, or you’ll get it and die”. She got up immediately. Doesn’t remember how long she stood in the corner of her bedroom – a minute, maybe ten. Went back to bed and the voice was there again – “you’ll lose everyone. Soon. Everyone will die soon”. She’s known this voice since she was a little girl. Once she even saw it – in front of the bed, on top of the bookshelves, sat an old, chubby woman, laughing loudly and moving her limbs in a freakish, asynchronous way. She wanted to scream but was paralyzed with fear. After that night, she was scared to go to bed, tearfully begging her mother to keep the lights on in her bedroom, the living room, everywhere. Parents even took her to a clinic. She’s a sensitive girl, very imaginative. Keep her away from intense emotions and it will pass – said the doctor. And it did pass, more or less. The visits of the voice became infrequent after her student years. It did return fully though, during her divorce. “You are ugly. Fat. Boring. Stupid. Nobody loves you.” And it is with her again now, during the quarantine - especially when she can’t sleep.

She’s been living on her own since her divorce, so she did not think this “self-isolation” would turn out to be so difficult. The only difference, she thought, was that she would not have to go to the office every day. Other than that, not much would change, she spent her evenings at home anyway. But these evenings have become too long and intolerable now. The feeling of emptiness, which is heavy and presses against her shoulders and heart, is unbearable. “Should read more books” – she tells herself. “My wardrobe needs to be organized too”.

That night, she could not fall asleep again. Her heart was racing, and it made a weird thumping sensation in her ears. She closed her eyes and remembered the three Snickers bars scattered on the kitchen table. She promised herself she would not eat at night. No, not just at night – that she would eat less overall. But now she is starving, empty. After the Snickers she has a slice of the pizza she brought from the bakery three days ago, then some ice cream. “That’s it, I’m not eating from tomorrow” – she thinks, while wiping her wet and sour mouth and looking down at a small piece of the pizza, floating in the toilet. This used to happen to her often during her student years – she would lock herself in the kitchen, shove everything that she could find into her mouth, then run to the toilet, open the faucet to muzzle the sound and, putting two fingers deep into her throat, would vomit up all the food she had eaten. Back then, she wanted to lose weight, as everyone commented on her chubby cheeks. Now she is relatively thinner, but still eats a lot at night. “My face has gone round again” – she thinks with sadness, while looking into the bathroom mirror after vomiting. “Fuck it. Everyone gains weight in the quarantine.”

Since the quarantine began, her sleep is constantly disrupted at night. With sweaty fingers she keeps checking the time on her phone. Four o’clock, half past four, five. In a couple of hours she will call her mother and ask about her blood pressure. Her mother, an elderly woman living in another town, is an early riser. The elderly are particularly endangered now; so it has been weeks and she has not seen her. And she could not, even if she wanted to. The city is sealed off, there is no public transport. “You mother will die. You’ll never see her again” – says that voice often, when it comes.  

This morning she had to go to the supermarket. Maybe that’s why she is so tired today. Wearing a latex glove, she held the shopping list somewhat uncomfortably – “potatoes, apples, coffee, porridge, oil, soap, toilet paper.” There were people in the shop, all in masks, all trying not to get too close. The sight of the people made her tense and sweaty. She quickly put her items in a green plastic basket. “I forgot chocolate” – she remembered when already at the counter, and it took a long checkout line to get there. There are Snickers and Mars bars on top of the counter and suddenly the feeling of intense hunger overwhelms her. It’s her old habit to always choose odd numbers over the even ones – “brings her good luck” – and now she must quickly decide what will it be, two Mars bars and one Snickers, or two Snickers and one Mars. There is no time, the cashier is already counting her items. She takes two Snickers and one Mars bars, but the sight of the Snickers that are coupled together makes her uncomfortable. She adds one more Snickers bar, but now, with Mars, she is holding four bars altogether. “Move on, would you!” – says someone sternly behind a mask, from the queue. “I’ll take three of each” – she decides quickly, but realizes that then she will have six bars altogether – and six is a bad number, she strongly dislikes it. Still sweating, she puts the Mars back on the shelf and drops three Snickers bars in front of the cashier. Her mood sours. She knows this is all very silly, that the number of chocolate bars simply cannot be a sign of anything, good or bad. “It’s anxiety” – she tells herself. “And I need to take care of it.” But the feeling of restlessness creeps on. Her entire back is soaked in sweat.

She decides to walk home from the supermarket. Remembers that she has not spoken to anyone today, maybe also yesterday. As soon as she gets home she will first call her mother to ask about the blood pressure, then her only childhood friend, whose husband drinks a lot and has become so violent in the quarantine that he has even hit their child. Three days ago, two of her co-workers called her. She was sitting in her armchair as usual, when WhatsApp rang. She looked ugly in the phone camera, with unwashed hair and bloated face. Her head hurt and that heaviness was palpable again – on her back, her shoulders, her heart. This made her tense, unable to truly join the conversation. At one time she laughed out loudly, when one of the women spoke of her mother-in-law, saying that her neurosis had gone so bad that she refuses to leave her room and sanitizes the dishes when someone brings her food. “I should not have laughed” – she thought immediately. “That was really inappropriate.  What will they think of me?”

This self-isolation was easier in the beginning, when she still had her job and everyone was working online. She even developed a new morning routine – she would put a sweater on top of her night t-shirt, open her old laptop and do Zoom meetings with her colleagues, with the hotel manager mostly. Then the boss wrote – that the tourist sector had been particularly hit by the situation, their hotel network was no exception, so they are stopping work, everyone goes on unpaid leave and their corporate health insurance is halted. The letter did not surprise her, but her anxiety has markedly grown ever since. She checks her bank account several times a day. “Should be enough for two months” – she thinks. “After that, hopefully, the borders will open”.  

This evening she is deeply tired. And heavy. Tired also because of being constantly tired and heavy, constantly thinking of herself, aware of what exactly she is feeling – sadness, fear, confusion, tension. She hopes this is all because of the quarantine. It will all pass once the quarantine is over. She checks her phone again – nine, quarter past nine, half past nine. Her mouth is dry, she is sweating and feels some scratchiness in her throat. She remembers she was at the supermarket today, amongst people. Hopefully she won’t get a fever now. Hopefully she did not contract it from someone.

“You got it today, you will die soon” – the voice returns. “They will bury you in a box and there will be no one to ask for you”.