The first thing I notice is just how piercingly bright the lighting is. Then the bareness. Plants that used to dot our workspace were taken elsewhere before we started working from home and now the space feels cold and austere.
Across the two floors, most of the desks are empty. Once the workspace was full, now the empty desks remind me of all that has changed over the last year.
My team are there before I arrive. No hugs just a huge relief in seeing them again. They are already busy, and I’m spared the embarrassment of crying all over them.
My desk is exactly as I left it, the farewell card I got for a colleague in February 2020 is still there. The screens are at the same perfect height as when I left all those months ago. Notes on our white board stand as a reminder of the time before. The chair needs some adjusting.
Messages about a tech issue start coming in. This is the part of my job I love – problem solving. For a moment I feel at ease.
It’s nearly 11.00 and we go for coffee. Work seems to be the least important thing today. My team and I catch up, it’s so much better than doing this online.
For weeks I’ve been dreaming of the eggplant and potato curry from the Indian place on campus. It’s everything I hoped for and better that I can eat it with a friend.
Throughout the day there are friends and colleagues to meet again. Seeing them is like finding the thing you didn’t know you needed. Zoom has been a lifesaver but it doesn’t quite match bumping into a colleague in the hallway and seeing their smile.
By 2.30 I feel out of sorts, my head is aching and I want to go home. I’m not sure how to be in this space anymore. It is deeply unsettling how everything is both familiar and new.
To get to the office, I had to find things I had not thought about for more than a year – my pass, a mug, cutlery. I packed snacks, as though I’m a child off to their first day at school. Putting on work clothing feels like I’ve dressed up for a special occasion.
I’m out of practice driving on busy roads and have forgotten the level of concentration needed. On the ring road, I have to remind myself that I can’t daydream, as cars move in and out of lanes and onto exits.
How normal the twice daily commute used to be – being stuck in traffic was just a part of life. How much better is it that these are now a rarity. Although as fate would have it, not on Friday.
Listening to the news while driving reminds me that we are still in a global pandemic. We are safe here. For now. But life is different. The kind of normal we now have is not the same as before.
At home, I check on the cats. Of course they have been fine without me. I’m not as sure that I’ve been fine without them.
I get changed into my trackies – were my work clothes always this uncomfortable and turn on my computer. There are messages from support sites, and other things to be deal with.
It’s getting late, I’ve eaten a toasted sandwich and had a cup of tea. I’m almost too wired to sleep. It’s been an emotional day.
Eventually, I’m tired enough to go to bed. Hemingway sleeps next to me.
I don’t sleep well, my brain is still catching up. I feel disorientated about the world around me. And a sense of slipping, like we haven’t hit the bottom yet.
But the sun rose in the morning, and there are cats to feed and life to get on with. And maybe for now these small things are enough.