This article was originally published on VICE en Español
After months of strict lockdown, in June of 2020 the Argentinian government announced restrictions were loosening in Buenos Aires, where I live. Suddenly, we were allowed to roam 500 metres from our homes.
That day, I strapped on some boots I hadn’t touched for months, and ventured outside, full of hope. But I didn’t get further than a few blocks away before my legs tensed up. I was so overwhelmed by the sensations that once felt so natural – of walking in proper shoes and meeting the eyes of strangers. I went back to my apartment, deflated.
For those in the grips of a second wave, it’s hard to imagine re-learning things that seem so alien now, like socialising in big groups or being tactile with friends. These are stories of people who were surprised by their bodies when they ventured back into the real world.
Pedro, playing football
Normally, Pedro loves playing football. He competes every weekend, trains with friends and will cancel anything for a game. But when lockdown arrived, the walk to the supermarket every few days became his only exercise. Pedro had never spent so much time off the pitch, so when the first, timid invitations arrived to resume matches, he wasn’t afraid of COVID, but of embarrassing himself.
His first game back, he felt anxious. “My body knew the motions and remembered them. But I fought the impulse to run around the pitch like a puppy, and jogged for the first few minutes. I called for the ball, pivoted, got some bruises and even scored an early goal,” he says.
But ten minutes in, he couldn’t breathe. Being sedentary for so long had done its damage, and his lungs couldn’t handle the effort. With no subs available, he decided to walk for the rest of the match.
Stretching afterwards, he asked a teammate who had managed to run without stopping whether his first game back had been just as bad. “The same or worse,” the teammate replied. “With time you’ll get your breath back, don’t worry.” Pedro believed him, but he still hasn’t been back to the pitch.
Catalina, sexual contact
Catalina lives alone in central Buenos Aires. Before the pandemic, she’d spend most of her free time out of the house with friends, lovers, at parties or walking. A few weeks into lockdown, she noticed she was craving sex. As time went on, it got worse. I’m going to go crazy if I don’t get some, she thought to herself.
Desperate for physical contact, she started fantasising about the few men she had contact with. First, it was the service guy who came to fix her internet. Then it was the guy who served her at the supermarket.
“Every few days, I would go down to the supermarket and there he was. A person who I would never have looked at before with any sexual interest became attractive to me,” she says.
When restrictions loosened, she reopened her Tinder account. After a few failed attempts, she met a guy she liked. But when the moment to have sex arrived, Catalina felt disorientated. She’d forgotten a lot. “What did we used to do?” she asked the guy, laughing.
“I realised what I needed wasn’t an orgasm, because I can give myself an orgasm,” says Catalina. “What I needed was a million kisses, strokes, caresses.”
Paula had 20 shows booked the month lockdown was introduced. Forced to cancel everything, she tried moving to Instagram Live, but like many lockdown experiments it didn’t last long. In January of 2021, with restrictions loosened, she booked a live performance.
“Musicians are kind of like athletes: it’s not high performance, but we give it our all with all kinds of muscles. Muscles can cramp, go numb, seize up,” she says.
Paula tried to re-train with finger exercises and vocal exercises, but she didn’t consider other more basic things, like what it would require to play music for over an hour without stopping. Her fingers had lost their calluses, and the forearm that used to hold the instrument against her body had weakened.
“The skin on my fingers just peeled off,” she recalls of the performance. “I had lost that daily closeness you create with the instrument.”
Now preparing for a tour, she’s still trying to harden her fingers by filing the skin, hoping to encourage the calluses to grow back.
In lockdown, being touched became a privilege some hadn’t experienced in months. Karen knew this when she re-opened her massage parlour, but she was still shocked by the state of some of her clients. Pale, stiff and in awful pain, with swollen and raised shoulder blades – “as if their bodies were hanging from a coat hanger” – from being at the computer all day.
Massage doesn’t only target physical pain, it explores what our bodies are trying to tell us, she explains. And the pandemic has affected our bodies in ways deeper than our posture. Fear, nerves, fatigue and boredom have all found nooks and crannies to settle into. Massaging again, Karen began to feel this in her own body, too.
“I started to seize up and feel more pain,” she says. But even more surprising: “I’m sweating loads,” she says, adding she believes the sweat is her way of releasing her clients’ emotional blockages. “I cry and sweat a lot. They do too. Since I’ve been back at work, nearly all my patients cry at the first touch.”