One year ago, today, we closed on our dream home. We had no idea that it was the last normal day we would have. Yesterday, I received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. These two events feel like symbolic bookends of the last year. 2020 was the most surreal year of my life. Of our lives, really. Could any of us have pictured what Covid-19, one year later, would have done?
The changes we have all experienced over the last year would have been unimaginable before. Before. I feel like I am writing about a dystopian society. On March 12, 2020, my children were on Spring Break. They had no idea that they would not set foot in a classroom again for eight months, or that their father would no longer leave for work every day, but instead would take conference calls in the front parlor and work from the couch. They left for spring break in 2020 and ended up not going back for the rest of the year. Instead of schooling and normalcy, they had some fun online activities that the school provided, some zoom time with their teachers, and a weird homeschool type of curriculum that their mother could put together without ever leaving the house to buy anything or encountering anyone.
There was a month, probably April or May of 2020, where people started creating art for other people. Facebook groups popped up where people would sing a happy song or play a musical instrument and post it to the internet with a comment like “even if we can’t hold hands, you still matter to me.” We all craved human affection and did our best to ward off loneliness. Steve Martin made a video playing the harmonica among a beautiful grove of trees. Neil Diamond played a special acoustic version of “Sweet Caroline.” I recorded a video of me singing a lullaby and uploaded it to a Facebook group. I was looking to connect with someone, somewhere. There was an uncertainty in our lives and when humans face their fears we do so best when we are together.
Those who kept their jobs largely worked at home. Those that had essential jobs went to work every day, brave but resentful. So many of those people died that did not have to. We were not prepared. None of us believed this would happen to us. Unemployment went sky high. Gas prices plummeted with no one buying gas. I did not fill my tank between March and August.
The longer the pandemic grew, the louder the voices on the fringe became. Little dependable information came from the CDC or the federal government. Some states handled this better than others. The smallest effort by any government to reduce the spread of COVID-19 was derided and ridiculed by conspiracy theorists and social media posts that convinced even the most reasonable people to put their lives in danger by ignoring the health authorities that they could trust. There was a vacuum of leadership and dependable information, and people with ulterior motives filled it. A year later, 530,000 American lives have been lost – well beyond the original worst case scenario numbers.
Then, the election. The losing candidate refused to concede, and claimed that the election was stolen. This was not surprising, because he told everyone before election day that this would be the strategy he would use to hold on to the Presidency if he lost. While hundreds of Americans died every single day, he fomented a rebellion among his most ardent followers that led to the first breech of the U.S. Capitol, the evacuation of Congress people. We watched, horrified. Well, some of us were horrified. Some of us cheered. We are so divided as a nation we no longer even share basic truths.
A few months into our new reality, we invited my husband’s mother to come live with us. Her health was ailing, and we now had room for her in our home. My kids were so excited. Summer during COVID, no friends or playdates, no camps or sports or parties, my kids welcomed their Nana with open arms. She would sit in the shade of the sunroom and watch the girls swimming outside in the hot Texas heat. She loved that more than anything else. She loved watching her grandkids play, and she loved the sound of their laughter. Then they had to say goodbye, so quickly that the memory of her living here is just a wisp. By July, she had to be taken to a nursing home, as we could no longer safely care for her. We were not allowed to visit her in the nursing home, because of COVID. Then, a couple of weeks ago, she passed away. My children said goodbye again, but we did not have a funeral. We could not. Because of COVID-19. Instead, we had a zoom meeting with family. It wasn’t the same. It wasn’t enough.
Our family has always been very social. We spend the weekends out at festivals, visiting with friends, or traveling. We love to go and do things. For the first six months of the pandemic, we went nowhere. We did almost nothing. The only time I went to the grocery store was when I absolutely had to because there were no delivery services available. I wore a mask, and gloves, and shopped by myself. I got in and out as soon as I could and washed my hands so much that the skin became pink and raw.
Not all the change was terrible, though. We began to cook more at home. We started getting outside more to just take walks or work in the yard. We swam a LOT. Our dream house came with a dream pool, thank goodness. I started a few new hobbies. I cross-stitch now, and I have a few dozen houseplants I check in on each day. I also read and write a lot. We painted our kitchen cabinets, one by one, a little each day, over several months.
We saved so much money on everything from dry-cleaning to movie tickets to spring festival tickets. We lost some weight. My bloodwork at the doctor was fantastic, and I no longer had high blood pressure. It seemed like a simpler life with less busyness was better for my health, if nothing else.
Eight months into the pandemic, I had basically run out of things to do. I do not watch much TV and I have never been great at sitting still long enough to just binge watch TV all day – I’d much rather putter around the house with an audiobook playing in my headphones.
I decided it was finally a good time to get back to work. I spiced up my resume and sent it out to about eighty prospective employers over a period of thirty days or so. These are estimates but you get the idea – I applied to several jobs every single day. I wrote cover letters, the whole shebang. I had not been employed in the corporate world for fourteen years, as I was home with the kids. I had worked temporary contract jobs here and there, but nothing that really built on any skill set.
I did not receive one single phone call or e-mail requesting an interview.
I had a lot of time to think. At first, my ego was bruised. I decided that if I did not have any skills that could get me a job, I would go get some skills. I found a class on Coursera for Search Engine Optimization, offered by UC Davis. I audited the class for free, and it was a perfect refresher for my skills.
I came up with a plan. I would create a website. I would write a blog on it and write about anything I wanted or found interesting. I searched for interesting and easy to remember domain names. I settled on http://www.breezyafternoons.com because that is my favorite type of day and the domain name was available. I enjoy being outside on a breezy afternoon doing anything from walking to gardening to laying in a cabana and reading a book. I bought the domain, a logo from a freelance artist, and started the website. I worked day and night, and when I did not have work to do on the website, I used the time on continuing education. I took classes, I read books, and I watched lectures on YouTube.
Shortly after launching the website, I started applying for freelance work using my blogging and affiliate marketing skills. I created a portfolio highlighting my writing work. Within a month, I had more work than I could handle. Six weeks later, I got a book deal to ghostwrite a non-fiction book. The weirdest thing about this year for me may not be COVID. It might be that I am an actual author.
We survived the Texas ice storm. We have several thousand dollars of damage to our swimming pool and yet we are lucky compared to some. Many have tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Others lost their loved ones to freezing, to fire, to sickness. The despair felt by Texans right now is immeasurable. It felt like a surprise kick in the teeth after finally reaching a truce with an angry bull. We are angry. We should be. Our government completely failed us, and they did so for economic reasons. When did people forget that we are the economy and we deserve to be protected, too?
Yesterday, when I received that first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, it was the closing bookend of a year that will change the way we live and work for the rest of our lives. When I get the second dose, will I feel free? Will that be a new bookend for a different type of year? Maybe we should be careful what we wish for. No matter what happens, I wish that those people that reached out to others for connection and friendship during a tough year do not lose the courage to continue to search for kindness and beauty.
This essay is also posted on medium.com: Covid-19. One Year Later.