The Year That Never Was

What if we just forget the world ever happened this year? What if we eschew the personal hells we endured, together yet separate? What if we think about the year 2020 in much the same way we view the thirteenth floor of a building? Technically both 2020 and thirteenth floors exist but we don’t acknowledge their reality. What happens if we just let 2020 lie there, unresponsive as a cadaver, and move on to the new year? Can we do that? Maybe we can all practice a bit of groupthink, an agglomerated shitshow.

No?

If I’m feeling this way, someone that hasn’t lost a loved one, that has kept her job (albeit at reduced pay), that has space and land with which to stretch my legs and keep sanity by making fires or building furniture, I can’t imagine what life must be like when even one of the horrors that people have experienced this year has happened to them. Well, that’s not entirely true—I am an empathetic woman and my heart mourns for all the hardships imposed on us this year. Even if we push aside the death, the murders of our black and brown citizens at the hands of those meant to protect them, and the ineptitude of the American response at our highest levels, the simple fact is we were all put on hold. Life stopped, forward momentum came to a very real and abrupt halt.

At the beginning of the pandemic, there wasn’t much time to think about the future. I was living in New York City when the numbers started rising. Day after day, sirens punctuated the city air as ambulance after ambulance carted more sick people away. My hours were filled with financial calculations to see when I would run out of money if I lost my job. The hours were filled with a non-stop litany of news shows and Cuomo press briefings. Rocky nights of minimal sleep, weeks not leaving my shoebox apartment, and the stresses of helping keep the company I worked for afloat did a number. By the time the numbers came down in the middle of the summer, I was packing up and moving to rural New York, ninety minutes northwest of the city.

Life changed, didn’t it? The plans and travel I had for 2020 were forgotten, pushed to the back of the bottom drawer. The things that were going to take their place—the novel in progress, learning a new programming language, reading and reading and reading—didn’t have enough fertile ground with which to grow. I was spent from the emotional toll of everything. The number of dead back then in August seem silly in light of the numbers from the end of this year but they were no less scary. It is sad to think that our current numbers—over 310,000 deaths in the US, where I am a citizen—are much bigger now but do not invoke the raw and real fear that those early numbers did.

Now, though, the horrors have become something manageable, at least from where I write this. We still have a president flailing, the infection rate here in my county in New York is 6.1% (seven day rolling average), and southern and central California are out of ICU beds. But, we have a vaccine and after nine months of the unknown, that knowledge is a buffer. It is a cool wash cloth on a fevered child’s head. I suspect we still have another eight or nine months of rolling lock-downs, ICU beds at capacity, and thousands more deaths. There seems to be a general feeling that 2021 will usher in normalcy and an end to the atrocities of the past year; we know this is not true logically but the human side of us, that optimistic little imp in all of us is chomping at the bit to go back to normal, to travel, to hugs and kisses and casual sex.

Personally, my plan is to treat 2021 much like 2020. Batten down the hatches and stay home. Call it the sane prepper in me to plan for another year of the same. Things will get better but I don’t see normalcy until 2022, and even then I am unsure what that kind of normal will look like (but those ruminations are for a different post). For now, we would be foolish if we didn’t take the lessons learned in 2020 and apply them to 2021. A robust emergency fund, a box of toilet paper, and a smart TV with all the streaming channels on it seem to me to be the minimum for 2021.

Had I known what the year that never was would have looked like, I know I would have done things differently. But, as much as this year had its horrors, personally some very good things came of it: a promotion at work, falling in love, getting back into school, land and space to build fires and furniture. I am glad of the personal outcomes that have been born of 2020. The luck that I have experienced this year is something I am tremendously thankful for; things could have ended much worse.

The year that never was, if we allow it, can be a great teacher.