Looking back on the Pandemic Year, season by season.
How it Started
In March 2020 I was just beginning to get settled into what I thought would be my adulthood — the previous summer I graduated college and made a prodigal return to my home state of Texas, determined to get back to my “roots”. Already I felt I was floating in midair, stuck in the emotional limbo of what I call the post-art school blues. After recovering from a mysterious illness that left me bedridden for a month and on the watch for pneumonia after traveling from NYC in January, I returned to my room in my rental house in Austin, and had just landed a new receptionist job that was exactly what I was looking for — low effort and high(ish) pay.
In the early aughts when we were just hearing whispers of the strange new virus that we are now all too familiar with, a good friend and I had decided that we were “so over” the clubbing scene, the party scene, the social scene at large — we had seen it all, done it all, heard every bad techno set, exhausted every gay club the city had to offer, been to every 80’s night, women’s night, trivia night, and themed party we could stomach — we were firm in our belief that it was all a trivial distraction from the higher calling of our writing, our purpose, our art. We slumped in dark corners of musky clubs and sighed while chewing the straws of our overpriced vodka red bulls, thinking is this it? Is this all my life will offer?
Little did we know that just a few short weeks later we would give just about anything to be pressed against a sweaty stranger in a dimly lit room.
The early weeks began with optimism and self-optimization intermingled with the rising panic. I began to craft an intensive writing schedule and turned to extreme acts of physical exertion under the blazing Texas sun to bade away my rising levels of anxiety. I bought an electric guitar and dusted off my electric mixer. Friends locked themselves in their households, too fearful of the unknown enemy to even wave across their front lawn. Toilet paper was missing for weeks, and my roommates snagged one of the last bidets in town, which we all frequented until the grocery store inventory righted itself. The weeks stretched on and on, lonely, shapeless, a large question mark looming into infinity.
Summer was brutal and traumatic, stuffed with extreme temperatures over 105 degrees, marinating in a stew of mishandled policy and rampant misinformation. I moved houses, quit my receptionist job after a wildly mishandled COVID scare and general right-wing weirdness from upper management, and began applying to an Infinitum of jobs that I was and was not qualified for, some at home, and some abroad. Tensions came to a crescendo, with racial justice protests being sparked nationally, finally forcing the mainstream media to grapple with our country’s faulty, horrid, and undeniably unequal foundations; wildfires ravaged the west coast — a friend in Portland sent me a photo of the hellish view out of her window, the whole city blanketed in red light; relief packages began to fizzle out, and new solutions were not coming easily. We spent endless days baking on our dusty front lawn, a lazy sprinkler squirting us with tepid tap water, the sun bleaching our minds and our morale. The womxn that I lived with formed an impromptu cooperative style of living, equally splitting the household labor, taking shifts for communal dinners, and cultivating a healing space within our walls: a rare and nurturing microcosm juxtaposed with a world that was often too terrifying to look directly in the eyes.
Fall was fraught with the political tension of the election, with hope dwindling by the minute and faith in democracy at an all-time low. We threw a Halloween party just for ourselves, trick-or-treating for cocktails in plastic cups at each other’s doors. We bought a spooky gingerbread house that we never made, and spent weekends curled up on couches, watching reality television together and dabbling in prolonged states of collective escapism. In some ways, day-to-day living cooled from a raging boil to a simmer as we began to accept that this crisis wasn’t something that would just vanish; that a sense of normalcy would be a long fight coming. I began to see people in masks even in my dreams; my brain cloaked masks on faces in my memories. It became difficult to remember what we did before, the ease of it.
I got news of my acceptance to an English teaching program in Madrid, Spain. With only a week to think over my decision, I accepted and began to uproot the life and sense of contentment I had fostered over the past six months. Tearful goodbyes, intimate holiday celebrations, suitcases, and cardboard moving boxes. VISA appointments, last-minute plane tickets, COVID tests, and a wavering sense of hope, anxiety, and excitement for an unknown chapter. The neighbors left all the holiday lights on their houses well into January, and I walked around my neighborhood on my final night in Texas bathed in a festive, incandescent glow.
How it’s going
Amongst difficulties and devastation, there have been some joyful things, some shining things I’ll call bronze linings: I’ve written more than I have ever before; I’ve felt intensely, both joy and sorrow and everything in between; I’ve disconnected from people and outlets that are no longer helpful, and have rekindled old relationships that had been collecting dust. This global crisis has coerced me into a decade of personal growth and introspection in just a year. Forced to be in no one’s company but my own, I feel growing contentment with my personhood, my existence. Being alone now doesn’t feel so lonely, but like spending time with an old friend.
Madrid has been and continues to be good to me. My Spanish is slowly improving. People here move with a sense of ease and smoke too many cigarettes. No one questions wearing a mask in public, at least no one that I’ve encountered. My school has vaccinated all the teachers, and I am scheduled to receive my vaccine in the coming weeks. After a month of non-stop cloud cover and rain, the sun has finally returned and is now pouring like warm honey through my open window.