Three Stories to Make Your Head Feel Different
The Walrus|November 2021
GENDER REVEAL PARTY
DOUGLAS COUPLAND

I’m not sure if it was ultimately a good thing, but here’s how it went down.

The four of us had been isolating for six weeks and were going squirrelly like everyone else. Time dragged and then it magically sped up and then it dragged again. We basically abandoned the kids to play their brainless video games while Christian and I drank way too much. When we weren’t drinking, I made lumpy sourdough baguettes and Christian locked himself in his workshop in the basement, a sort of isolation within isolation. Families aren’t meant to spend so much time together. They really aren’t.

Are we nice people? Somewhat. We’re not churchy or squeaky clean. We cared enough about each other at least to try to make it work. We didn’t think we had any big issues to deal with, at least. My friend has a drug-addicted son who lasted about four days in lockdown before he took off. He slithered home a couple of weeks later, coughing and feverish, and of course, his family took him in, and soon everyone was sick. What were they thinking? They should have locked him outside and thrown rocks at him from the windows. Instead, he got a hug and a houseful of people to infect.

Maybe, if the virus had actually turned people into zombies, we could have seen the real impact. It would have made isolating feel a lot more purposeful if we were fighting off zombie hordes. Sometimes, the whole pandemic felt like another y2k. I knew people were dying, but for a long time, I didn’t know anyone who had. Maybe I’m retroactively justifying.

The first thing that happened to shake up our new normal was that the parents of our kids’ friends bought a trampoline and posted videos of their kids having the most fun any human being has ever had at any time in human history. Our kids, Brandon and Kellie, had only ever seen trampolines on TV and were desperate to go over and jump on this one, but Christian and I said no effing way. We thought elasticized nylon trampoline material was the equivalent of an Ikea ball pit. The kids might as well go to the mall and lick the escalator handrails.

But it’s all about temptation, right?

One afternoon, my best friend, Macy, was having an online gender reveal party. We’ve known each other since kindergarten, and I was really sad she couldn’t throw a real-life celebration. I’d spent half of my isolation zooming with her and my Chardonnay collection. The thought of not being with her in person at this big moment was too much to bear. So . . . I told my family I needed to take a sanity walk, a long walk of at least five kilometers. Nobody even gave me a second glance as I went out the door.

The stroll to Macy’s was nice. If I squinted my brain, I could almost pretend it was normal everyday life again. When I got to her place, she was so happy to see me. I sat in her little courtyard area with only a glass sliding door between us — much better than a computer screen, that’s for sure. When she set a bottle of Pinot Grigio and a glass outside her door for me, I teared up at the sight. I poured myself a glass and then toasted her through the window. Then I lost all track of time.

It turns out that, while I was gone, Christian also went out for a “mental health walk.” His was a booty call with his personal assistant, Janeen, who lived in a condo about two kilometers in the opposite direction as Macy’s place. He told the kids the same thing I did: “Off to do a walk, just like your mom!”

Christian was gone for maybe ninety seconds before the kids hopped on their bikes and teleported to the trampoline. To their credit, they did stay two meters away from their friends, and they took turns, but after an hour or so of bouncing, Kellie got motion sickness and had to go sit on our friends’ deck until she got over it. Brandon kept bouncing, and like me and Christian I, the kids lost all track of time.

Pretty much the moment the kids left, the soldering iron in Christian’s workshop short-circuited and eventually set the house on fire. Ours was an old wooden house and was basically a torch. I noticed the smoke and heard the sirens as I walked home from Macy’s. Brandon and Kellie caught up with me just as I rounded the corner. We saw Christian coming from the opposite direction.

The beam at the top of the staircase fell into the basement. It looked like an orange Popsicle lit from within. The four of us stood in shock as we surveyed the glowing remains.

The fire chief approached. “You the folks who live here?”

“Yes. I — yes,” I said.

“All of you accounted for?”

“Yes . . . yes!”

“Were all of you out together?”

“Uh . . . yes.”

“Can you tell me where you all were?”

“Out for a walk,” I said.

“Okay.”

Christian said, “Me too.”

“It looked to me like you came from different directions.”

“We didn’t walk together.”

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