We’ll take the win, but we’re counting the cost

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Here we go again.

In some ways, coming out of lockdown feels harder than going in. When the rock rolls past Sisyphus back into the valley he knows what to do: trudge back down behind it.

Hopefully the busy cafe strip of Hardware Lane in Melbourne’s CBD will spring back to life on Wednesday.Credit:Getty

But here we are at the bottom, again with the rock in front of us. Time to rebuild lives, revive businesses (or try), reopen the social diary. Push up that narrow path back up the mountain, wary of the steep drop on either side.

The end of each lockdown is a rebirth. Blinking back into the light. What even is Melbourne, this time round? What’s left of it? Is it up to us, again, to create this social city from scratch?

What casualties will we stumble across – what restaurants won’t reopen, which bars, what cultural events have gone to the tragic trash-heap of lost art? What shows will never hit the stage, what music will we never hear? Which shutters will stay down, collecting graffiti, the funeral shroud of a small business dream?

A Melbourne favourite, Madame Brussels, was a COVID victim, closing its doors for good.Paula Scholes, aka Miss Pearls (second left) with staff Ebony, Nick and Holly.Credit:Justin McManus

What fun has been necessarily punted to the impossible dream land known as 2022?

It’s time to take a deep breath, get out there and find out.

And there’s pride and joy here, too.

We’ve leashed Delta, again. The Australian city defined by getting together for stuff, has just about snuffed another outbreak by going utterly against its instincts, because it accepted it had to, and it knew it could.

Cautiously, but with justifiable hope, we can embrace each other again without fear of passing on an invisible plague.

We can shake hands without apologising, shiver in pub gardens over shared war stories. See colleagues in person. Take strength and inspiration from that.

We can see a movie. Plan a real weekend, one that doesn’t drag on, and on, and on.

We can drop the bloody kids off at school. Oh thank you God, we can drop the bloody kids off.

Coming out of lockdown is that moment in the movie where a superhero discovers their powers. You mean, it’s possible to sit down and work for more than 10 minutes without fielding a complex, emotional complaint or request from a child?

School’s back on Wednesday, out of homes and back to classrooms.Credit:Chris Hopkins

There are so many things to look forward to.

Little things. A friend treasures the email from that hairdresser she visited once landing in her inbox. “Woohoo, we can finally see you again!″⁣

I look across the road to the hairdresser there, its windows still covered with Venetians that will rise on Wednesday to announce the theatre of their business: the stream of people bemused by their chaotic hair that seemed to grow four times as fast in lockdown.

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:The Age

But there are little disappointments, too. Every lockdown has a hangover. Each hangover is painfully different. This time it’s the ‘no visitors’ clause.

I can’t go round to my mate’s newly purchased home as planned. A bunch of us were going to help him rip up the carpet this weekend. Now he’s on his own.

On Messenger we’re joke-strategising. What if he markets the carpet removal as an immersive theatrical performance? Then he can have up to 100 people per space, as long as he adheres to the one-per-four square metre rule. Seems legit. Or he can cut our hair afterwards – as long as he knocks up a QR code in advance we should be good. Yeah, nah.

My daughter still can’t go on play dates with her friends. She’s missing them: her astonishing ability to spend long hours monologuing to her soft toys is wearing thin; even a five year old has an upper limit on the number of times she can watch Frozen II.

We’re still all in masks, sucking in our stale, recycled breath. We’re never going to love them. A friend of mine performed to a masked audience and said it felt like he was in a room looking at hundreds of people who hated him.

And there are wider clouds beneath this silver lining. The unfolding, shiver-familiar Sydney outbreak to our north. The growing number of people without work to return to, either because of the remaining restrictions, or cancellations, or closures. The resulting stress, grief, anxiety.

This pandemic has many months to run. This isn’t a triumph. This is a hard-fought, nail-biting midwinter victory in the wet. But, you know. A win’s a win.

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