Plague Diary: January 1, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

For the better part of the last twenty years, I’ve slipped from one year to the next, often drunkenly, usually at the bar up the street from my old house, always sequined, sweating off my mascara, standing in the dance floor with a bottle of champagne under a wing of balloons. The year passes in a holler of a second in which I wonder, like the overgrown adolescent I am, whether it would be nice or invasive to be kissed at midnight (I suppose it matters who is doing the kissing) to the opening bars of Prince’s “1999.” And before I start dancing again, I always think, always think, “Can’t believe I survived this year. Next year has got to be—simply got to be—better.”

I certainly thought so last NYE. 2019 had been a year of a few excellent highs and some truly blistering lows. I was living in Trump’s America, with all of its attendant horrors, and slouching through my forties. I’d spent the front half of the year in constant travel with one of those chest colds that didn’t go away for approximately six months (this felt less irresponsible then than it does now) and the back half hospitalized for what was maybe a misdiagnosis, fighting off a surgery that I didn’t need, before finally escaping with a bacterial infection (caught in the hospital) that was worse and more long-lasting than the thing that had put me into the hospital in the first place. Then I flew off to the UK with a bottle of insane antibiotics that made feel like I’d been racked and dream about murder. I got sick again in Scotland (another chest cold, probably not Covid, because we were still a couple months pre-covid at that point) and arrived home just in time to learn that my landlord was selling my home of fourteen years and I had a small window in which to figure out the rest of my life or something. By the time I hit the dance floor some ten weeks later, I was under contract on a new house, but only halfway packed up because the process of buying a house is kind of like being chased through a booby-trapped labyrinth by a legion of hectoring bureaucrats armed with an electric cattle prod and a file containing all of your sins There was no guarantee that I would make it to closing without being mauled by a minotaur or humiliated by a mortgage broker. So I was a wreck, a disaster, an anxious chatter of a middle aged woman in a glowstick bracelet and a novelty crown trying to grasp at some material threshold of adulthood, because I thought maybe it would make me feel more secure and less of an untethered and withering disappointment.

You know, typical New Years stuff.

I finished my dance, finished my drink, stood in the cold of the back patio to watch my friends smoke and secretly wish I hadn’t quit. I wandered home under the sparkling x-marks-Orion in the cold night sky over the leafless limbs of the tree tunnel down Maple Ave, and tried to type something clever on social media.

“2019 sucked, friends. 2019 is dead! Long live 2020” was what I two-finger typed in my chilly front yard, then went inside to run a bubble bath and wonder whether if it wasn’t embarrassing that I’d spent my 43rd New Years the same way I’d spent my 27th. and bar and dancing aside, not that differently than I’d spent my 15th, when I sat on a rusty piece of public art that resembled a petrified rubber band, in the center of my hometown, watched the fireworks and thought, 1991 was the worst. Next year. Next year, things will certainly be better.

In retrospect, 1992 ended up being a very normal teenage shitshow year ( the music was pretty good), though a shitshow nonetheless. But no underwhelming auld lang synes—even those of the last few mostly miserable years– could possibly equal the squealing vortex of hell that was 2020. So titanic was this year’s suckitude that it overwhelmed the scant triumphs (I closed on and moved into the house), but still managed to amplify all of the now petty-seeming bullshit that stalked me from the previous year. How can a person, you ask, in the wake of a global pandemic, systemic injustice, a government attempting a coup, mass unemployment, civil unrest and a planet literally on fire still be circling the drain in some misbegotten midlife crisis, obsessed with her lack of success? How can a woman, in the shadow of 350,000 dead from Covid-19, still spend enormous chunks of her waking hours having hypochondriacal attacks about a million and a half things that are NOT Covid-19 (but certainly her own fault)? Isn’t it enough to worry about plague and Trump and the unfolding environmental apocalypse? Is it really necessary that I still wake at 4am and stare at the ceiling trying to gauge how much pain I deserve to endure because I’m a lazy, self-obsessed underachiever with zero sex life, some medical PTSD and a credit score roughly as mediocre as my mediocre CV? Then my chest feels tight and I think, Definitely Covid, probably The End, and chide myself for my failure to put my affairs in order and elucidate any advance directives. Because, as I was told during a recent telehealth appointment, “You’re not so young anymore that you can afford to leave those things unspecified.”I

I’m not so young anymore. That’s the truth.

Last night at 11:15 on New Year’s Eve 2020, I stood in the closet and changed into sequins and so I could dance alone with my best friend. I could hear Beastie Boys on the party playlist through the floor which maybe dates me, and could see my reflection under the unflattering closet light, which definitely does. I thought my face looked both drawn and puffy, not terrible for my age, perhaps, but unavoidably my age—eight weeks shy of 7” turntable speed. I thought “2020 has done this to me,” and that’s true, but maybe would have been even without the 2020ness of it all.

I came back downstairs and we opened a bottle of champagne to watch a mostly-empty Times Square on mute. We stepped into the foggy drizzle and out of the old year with leftover 4th of July sparklers in the front yard, while the next door neighbors shot of rounds of waterfalling fireworks in their driveway.I hugged my raincoat round my shoulders as I listened pink and green sparks fizzle and crack in the rainy quiet.

New Years at home means you can avoid the midnight anticlimax. New Years with the world at home means even the most FOMO-afflicted can rest easy in the knowledge that they aren’t missing anything. I should have been relieved. Instead, I felt a kind of nothing, save cold feet and damp hair and the blank, calm certainty that comes when you recognize that no amount of wishing and hoping will keep things from getting worse. That maybe the best thing to do is to concentrate on right now–the smell of the rain, the ephemeral pleasure of dirt cheap glitter boots, your favorite old B-52s song playing muffled from the stereo inside your house, the friend beside you, the other friends at sensible 6-8 feet, across town, across the continent, across the oceans. You love the things you still have, material and memory, even if those things are just figments and flickers. You grieve for all that is missing, ellipses-like gaps where your life used to be, the empty seats around the holiday table. Then you turn your face to the gray black sky and float, suspended for a second or two, in the turning tides of history, where, for in the white space between the years, all is kind of calm, if not also bright.

I don’t know what the new year will bring. I hope it’s vaccines and recovery. I hope I will be able to dance in public, to sing, to gather, to hug, to touch, to be touched by someone who other than the single friend and single biological relation inside the bubble and/or a latex-gloved, masked and shielded medical professional that is probably giving me bad news. I hope I will be able look forward to something—not some amorphous if/then/maybe—but a real honest-to-god something with three dimensions, five senses and no Zoom invites. I’d like the Future back. I know the majority of the lives I imagined for myself are maybe not probable or possible at this point, but it would be cool if there were something on the road ahead that seemed promising or desirable. I would like to look forward without a shudder and a rising heart rate. I would like to not be so afraid of tomorrow that I miss today.

But I’m superstitious, and maybe a little bit cursed, so I won’t count my chickens and I won’t make any promises. I’ll eat my black-eyed peas and make my resolution list.

I’ll wish you a Happy New Year.

Picture today is of my full, expanded 2020 resolution list.

As of this writing, 59,641,536 people have recovered from Covid-19.

The Author

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