Time has been so strange during this era of human history and this past year was no exception.
It feels both like ages ago and just yesterday that I was reflecting on a year of working from home, that I was seeing my coworkers for the last time, that I was nursing my husband back to health, that I was welcoming my brother to New York.
Time doesn’t feel quite precise enough for reflecting on the past 2 years.
But we’ll try.
The Ongoing Pandemic
A lot has happened in the past 365 days when we consider the ongoing crisis of the pandemic.
I struggled to secure vaccine appointments for myself and my loved ones, but once I did, I felt — I think much of the world with access to the vaccine felt it — a big shift.
After a few weeks, I was able to see my in-laws over Memorial Day weekend, our first reunion since January 2020. We even saw a friend during the same trip. In fact, it the first time we left New York City at all since coming back from our last pre-lockdown trip. (A cruise? A theme park?!) Not only were we able to dine outdoors safely, we even dined indoors with relative safety. We went to the movies with my brother, we kayaked, we visited a museum…
… we were living again, not just surviving.
Not just getting through each day but living them and looking forward and making plans and seeing them through.
And as much as I wanted to cannonball back into seeing loved ones and visiting places and experiencing things again, the delta variant had devastated India and I was pessimistic enough to know that it was a matter of time before it would start spreading in the United States, too.
By the end of summer, I was having anxious chest pains every day. Could I still attend and officiate one of my closest friend’s weddings without catching COVID? Could I get on a plane in the midst of a string of physical assaults by anti-mask passengers to go to a foreign country where I could get stuck if I tested positive for COVID for our other dear frieends’ wedding? Can I afford to damage two of the very few friendships I had remaining during this pandemic? Can I afford not to and get sick and possibly get other people sick?
To be honest, I spiraled a lot in the weeks leading up to those 2 weddings in particular. I had such certainty in my heart about that first one, that I was going to return to New York with COVID, and I wouldn’t recover in time to go to Portugal to see two of our friends finally marry. Or I’d land in Portugal, test positive after all, and be trapped in a hospital in a country where I didn’t speak the local language. (The second part wouldn’t have been an issue, most everyone in Lisbon is fluent in English, but still I studied Portuguese like my life might someday depend on it!)
We were so incredibly relieved to survive this brief wedding season without infections as the delta wave started to come down. We celebrated my husband’s birthday by having dinner with friends, a rare pandemic treat. We made plans to see my in-laws again, before Thanksgiving to avoid too much holiday travel, and we came back with my brother to help him move to New York. We celebrated Thanksgiving with family again, grateful to have infinitely more family than in 2020. We enjoyed Friendsgivings and game nights. I started going into the office for a few days to work and to see coworkers in person.
We started looking ahead at December: I could have a birthday dinner too! Maybe even some birthday karaoke? My husband had to really convince me about karaoke, my favorite activity, my go-to birthday request, because shouting into a microphone in a small unventilated room didn’t seem like it would be possible for the past 2 years.
But by the 2nd week of December, the omicron variant had already begun ravaging New York. The morning of my birthday, seeing the meteoric spike in positive cases, the lines at the few remaining testing centers after many had closed, the rush on rapid tests, the emails from my office informing us that colleagues I had seen had tested positive for COVID… I cancelled my idyllic birthday brunch plans and cried on the floor as I cancelled the karaoke reservation my husband spent so long convincing me I should let myself have. I went to the ballet with 2 masks on and a knot in my stomach. The NYC Ballet would close one week later due to staffing shortages from COVID infections. The cocktail bar my brother wanted to treat me to informed us of reservation cancellations for the same reason. We pressed on for the small dinner I had planned for the following weekend but it felt risky and I’m not sure it was wise to do so. But I’m grateful for that stolen evening of food and fun with friends and family, especially because none of us were exposed that evening. (One of my friends who was meant to come to karaoke did end up testing positive the following day.)
Many people cancelled their winter holiday travel plans but many others didn’t. For a while, it really seemed like almost every young person on social media in New York City had tested positive for COVID. I was holed up in my apartment, having reverted to the only mode that felt safe: spring 2020 quarantine, where I stopped leaving the building altogether. It was funny that I received Spider-Man: Miles Morales as a gift because I tried to comfort myself with the in-game Christmas-in-New-York experience that no longer felt safe to have in real life. Watching the Hawkeye show also helped a little to fill that hole in my heart from not being able to experience my favorite time of year in my favorite city in the world. Right before New Year’s, my brother was exposed to someone who tested positive, so he had to spend New Year’s Eve alone and we celebrated a few miles away instead of together.
The omicron surge has been tapering off, especially in New York City, where we are nearing fall 2021 positivity rates. But I don’t feel quite safe yet, even though I know I felt safer in fall 2021. The loosening of vaccine and mask mandates makes me uneasy as another variant begins to pick up steam. I don’t know how to plan for the future, for dining indoors, for leisure traveling, for spending time with at-risk friends and family.
The Ongoing… Personal Tragedies
I haven’t seen my parents in over 2 years. The longest I had gone without seeing them prior to this pandemic was several months. Even with them both working in China full time, we made time, we flew across the planet to see each other, and we haven’t seen in each other in over 2 years. My mom tells me that the last day I saw her, as she was leaving New York, she sobbed as though some part of her knew she wouldn’t see me again for a long time.
I lost both of my remaining grandparents over the past 2 years. I attempted to mentally prepare myself the last time I saw them, that this might be the last time I ever saw them, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t be able to support or comfort my parents in their grief and mourning. That I would be completely isolated while I grieved and mourned on my own. That they would pass before my brother got married.
It’s not unreasonable to change as a person after 2 years, especially when those years are marked and marred by a global pandemic.
The most disturbing change I am seeing in myself is a numbness to the world that is punctuated by an occasional and overwhelming flood of emotions. I’m working on a separate post about this, since I have a draft that I’ve been attempting for a few months now and this current post is already getting very long, but I’m worried. I’m worried that I’m losing the parts of myself I always intended to keep. I don’t know what (or who) has replaced what I lost. And I have this feeling that I don’t like this new version of myself very much, this version that has diverged so much from the one I was building towards.
It’s been a really isolating time, not only on the family side but on the social side as well. I was already struggling a lot with leaving behind my DC-area friends and struggling to find my social footing here in New York. (After all, it took me years and years after graduating from college to start figuring out who “my people” were in the DMV, and then I left them all behind.) Social distancing really distanced me from a lot of people, and I don’t know if I can or want to repair some of the friendships that were damaged over the past 2 years because of the different paths we went down during this pandemic.
What is left of me? Who is left of me? How much did we lose and how much more is left to be lost?
Anyway. It’s been 2 years. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a 5-day-a-week offie worker again, but I’ve come to accept this new reality. I’m trying to figure out what I want and then, get this, ask for it. Demand it, even. Refuse to accept something else? Who knows. I’ve taken a big step back in asserting myself with friends and family and service workers (bad haircuts… cold food… thankyouverymuch here’s a big tip so you don’t notice I never come back) but I’m trying to at least start by asserting myself with myself. We’ll work on everyone else later.
Writing this blog post sent me to a weird and bad place mentally, if I’m being honest. But it was necessary reflection and I think I will be better for it on the other side, when I get there.
I hope you’ve been holding up over the past 2 years. It’s all anyone can ask of you, but I hope also that you are finding moments of joy and peace and love despite everything that has changed and happened.