Well, I guess we made it, even if it doesn’t quite feel like I hoped it would.
2020 is finally, mercifully coming to an end. Just surviving this year has been a positively Sisyphean task. And if you’re reading this, you’re more fortunate than the nearly two million people who were not lucky(?) enough to slog through this onerous shitshow of a year with the rest of us, thanks to COVID-19. For those of us still here, the worst year of many of our lives is at last receding into history, and something resembling hope has started to become vaguely discernible on the horizon.
Unfortunately, though, those sanguine midsummer memes about opting out of the rest of this year, of skipping to 2021 a la Adam Sandler in Click, continue to underestimate the prolonged winter of our discontent, even as the seeds of optimism slowly start to take root in the cold, hard ground. Alas, a global pandemic does not adhere to the rules of the Gregorian calendar, and the ball dropping in Times Square will not mark the end of the coronavirus. Whether 2020 will become “the new normal” is still a stultifying, unanswered question that we wait to resolve with trepidation.
We will never be the same as we were ten months ago, that much is already clear. The souls we’ve lost; the massive disruption to the status quo; the wholesale restructuring of American society; the loss of so many things we once took for granted — our reality is in flux. So, as we head into a new year, our collective future more uncertain than any time in recent memory, it’s worth reflecting on this lost year and trying to extract something of value. I can only offer my own reality, my own lessons learned. But I write to remember. I write to document this year, this moment, in the hope that I will someday look back on the past 365 days not only as a tragedy, but as an flashpoint — that a phoenix may rise from these ashes.
The world ended not with a bang, but with Rudy Gobert and some microphones. Okay, that might be a touch hyperbolic, but the Utah Jazz center was at least somewhat responsible for Covid’s metamorphosis from a distant threat confined to cruise ships, nursing homes, and panicked Twitter feeds, to a clear and present danger for the United States at large. When the NBA season shut down on March 11, it was a moment of reckoning for the country, particularly for those of us who are invested in sports. I remember that night with astounding clarity, almost like the morning of September 11th. Sure, it wasn’t quite as jarring as watching 747s crash into skyscrapers, but the feeling of holy shit, this is really bad was analogous. But wait, let’s back up just a little.
Since the beginning of the year we had all heard whispers of the “Wuhan virus,” the “coronavirus,” and “COVID-19” — pumped through our social feeds, mused about by coworkers — whispers full of misinformation and largely used as fodder for jokes. We’d lived through the Swine Flu, the Bird Flu, and Ebola. Of course this new virus would be contained to other countries and would not scathe the armor of our American exceptionalism. Even with an incompetent, intellectually-bankrupt reality TV star asleep at the wheel, the American machine was impervious to the crises that befall those other countries. Covid news felt distant and unwelcome, an unpleasant interruption to the latest exploits of our idiot president. Even as someone who prides himself on being informed, I mistook the writing on the wall for amateurish graffiti. I vividly remember perusing AskReddit in early March and coming across this thread. I went down the rabbit hole until four in the morning. I pored over the horror stories. I had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the anonymous reports being posted. Covid was a big deal in Italy.
And yet…it still felt alien. My parents’ neighbors had been trapped on one of the cruise ships quarantined off the cost of California, but they were doing pretty well other than the claustrophobia. Colorado had not reported a single Covid case. Things would probably be fine. It was three years into the Trump presidency, after all, and existential threats had become easy to dismiss as commonplace. At work, on Friday afternoon before we checked out, our CEO sat us down for a meeting on a “contingency plan” in the “unlikely event that the coronavirus forces us to work remotely.” Hand sanitizer was dispensed to the fifty something employees in my office. I spent that Sunday at a Colorado Rapids game attended by 16,000 maskless people.
Right, so Rudy Gobert. On March 9 — a day after I attended the aforementioned soccer game — the NBA star concluded his press conference by touching every microphone in sight, poking fun at the paranoia around the coronavirus. Naturally, as fate would have it, Mr. Gobert was the first NBA player to test positive for COVID-19 two days later.
This is where I tell you that I am a degenerate gambler with a particular affinity for Daily Fantasy Sports — Draftkings and Fanduel are the names with which you are probably familiar. On March 11, like any other day ending in “y,” I had entered an excessive amount of fantasy lineups into Fanduel tournaments. I couldn’t keep close tabs on my lineups on this particular night, however, because I was also attending a punk rock show (The Wonder Years and Spanish Love Songs) at a crowded venue in downtown Denver. After the opening act completed their set, I checked my lineups on my phone. I was greeted by a surprising message. The game between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder had been postponed due to Rudy Gobert testing positive for the coronavirus. Initially, I was pissed off. I had chosen players involved in that game, and now they would be saddled with zero points. I seethed and tried to enjoy the next set. When I next checked my phone, I was shocked to see that the New Orleans Pelicans–Sacramento Kings had also been postponed, as one of the scheduled referees had officiated a Jazz game a few days prior. My primary concern was still for my fantasy lineups. I was annoyed at the prospect of losing a few hundred bucks, not worried about the country and world at large.
Right before the headliner, the Wonder Years, took the stage, I got another update. The NBA was suspending their entire season indefinitely. The NHL was following suit. Soon, the MLB and NFL, and, well, most of America would suspend all in-person activities for the foreseeable future. A buzz fell over the crowd. I showed my phone to several sweaty dudes in the mosh pit section where I stood. We discussed the news, half-joking, half-shocked, fully uncertain of what it meant. The lights went down, the band came on, and we all lurched forward, our maskless mouths screaming along to our favorite songs for what would be the final time in at least a year. Whiskey-soaked particles of sweat and saliva filled the air.
The Wonder Years cancelled the remainder of their tour the next day. I reluctantly went in to my office job that morning, and my coworkers were frightened that I had attended a sporting event and a concert in the past four days. I wiped down every square inch of my desk with Clorox. I didn’t touch door handles. On Slack, we panicked and made vows of solidarity to work remotely the next week, no matter what our department leaders said. That Friday, I addressed the director of my department directly, telling him that I would be remote the next week. He understood, but he still planned to come in. It became a moot point. That was my last day in an office. The following Monday, the office closed indefinitely and we were all working remotely.
The next part will sound familiar to anyone who was fortunate enough to be employed at any point during this year. Zoom calls and remote meetings and busywork replaced any actual productivity. Leadership expressed tone-deaf optimism that things would return to normal soon, even as the news perpetually blasted ever-more-dire figures of infections and deaths across the screen. In many cities, we were placed under lockdown, urged not to leave our residences for anything short of an emergency. Days turned into weeks. Our facial hair grew long and our legs grew stiff. We ached for human contact, for the lives we knew just a few weeks ago.
After about a month of busywork and bullshit, we were furloughed. At first, it wasn’t so bad. I slept in late and spent the days getting extremely tan on my rooftop. I decided to buy an Xbox — I hadn’t had a gaming console in six years — to help alleviate some of the boredom. My live-in girlfriend and I spent the days watching Netflix, improving our culinary prowess, and bickering like two people being forced to spend every minute together. It was like an extended vacation from work, albeit a boring one. The money wasn’t so bad either; while on furlough I could collect unemployment, and with the extra $600 a month at the time, I was netting out pretty well for sitting on my ass all day.
Eventually, following a month and a half on furlough, we were called back to work — remotely of course. The executive team at my company was certain that things would be returning to normal by July, or August at the latest.(This is where I disclose that I was working for a movie company, and we laugh together at what a hilariously naive and willfully ignorant prediction that was). So, back to Zoom meetings and calendars for the future and busywork galore. To be honest, I preferred furlough. And after another six weeks or so, I was granted my wish and furloughed again, after it became abundantly clear that movie theaters would not be returning to business as usual by August. They probably never will. Of course, this furlough was longer than the first, and as the weeks turned into months, my coworkers and I began to consider the increasingly-likely proposition that our jobs were never coming back. In September, approximately 90% of the company was laid off, myself included.
The timing of my layoff coincided nicely with the dissolution of my relationship. While the loss of my job can be chalked up fully to Covid, the impact the pandemic had on my relationship is less clear. I guess I’ll never really know if things would have gone differently in a plague-free world. Nonetheless, within a few weeks of losing my job, my girlfriend of two and a half years and I decided to part ways. The life that I had led prior to March 11 was a distant relic of the past.
The summer of COVID-19 had been bearable. The weather was nice and I’d decided to use my newfound excess of free time to get my lazy ass back in shape. I’d started running and biking several days a week and I’d actually managed to lose 35 pounds. But now, as the October chill portended a long, cold winter, I was finally starting to feel the full weight of 2020. I was single, unemployed, and alone. As the calendar moved to November and December, coronavirus cases began to soar again, this time much higher than the previous peaks that ravaged the country in the spring. Bars and restaurants and gyms and salons closed down once more.
I slept in too late and drank too much. Sometimes I got fucked up just because I was bored. It was hard to find a reason to get up in the morning. And I don’t mean that in a suicidal way. I mean that, quite literally, I could not find a reason to get out of bed — every day was exactly the same, my time spent doing absolutely nothing but lamenting the fact that I was bored of doing absolutely nothing. I applied to jobs and got summarily rejected within a day — hiring was slowing down again as more businesses failed. For the first time in years, I truly felt like I was going under. And that made me feel even worse, because in the grand scheme of things, I’m pretty fucking blessed. I have a roof over my head, a solid support system of family and friends, and enough financial security to assure I’ll never go hungry or homeless. But that’s kind of the point; if someone in my position has struggled this hard with the trials of 2020, just imagine what it’s been like for those less fortunate.
I have not lost any loved ones due to COVID-19. I’ve been lucky enough to avoid contracting the virus myself. Losing a job and a relationship has not been great, but has this year been great for anyone, save the executives at Zoom?
I’m not here to tell you things will get better soon. I’m still plenty unsure of what will happen in my own life, and I have even less faith in predicting what this world has in store for 2021. But there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Vaccines are here, even if it may be a while before you and I receive them. Donald Fucking Trump, the man who oversaw our country’s spectacularly awful response to this pandemic, in addition to being arguably the most malignant figure in this country’s history, will be evicted from the White House in just a few weeks. There may be a flicker of light at the end of this hideous, interminable tunnel.
But still, 2020 will be with us for the foreseeable future. It may be a while yet before we can experience sporting events, concerts, bars, even an embrace from our parents and grandparents. What used to be mundane is now taboo. We long for the days when sharing a smoke with a friend, kissing a stranger at a bar, and sharing a meal are again commonplace and not a source of consternation.
I don’t know if or when we will get back to that place. But throughout this year, despite the depression, the anxiety, the restlessness…I’ve become incredibly impressed by the human spirit. We are survivors. We are so fucking adaptable. Our entire way of living has been uprooted and tossed into the wind, and yet, we persist. We still find ways to make it through the day, to make sure our loved ones are okay, to keep food on our tables and fire in our hearths. We have worn masks and spent the holidays with our families on Zoom. We have replaced nights out on the town with virtual game nights. We have taken up new hobbies, swapping post-work beers for sourdough starters and gym memberships for live-streamed yoga. No matter how bad shit has gotten, we’ve found a way to push through.
So give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it. Whether you’re a front line worker or a remote cog in a corporate machine. Whether you’ve lost someone due to this pandemic or not. Whether you’ve lost your job or just got a promotion. You’re here and you’ve made it through the most challenging year you’ve lived through. We’re all humans and we’re all in this together. Let’s all be amazed by the resilience we’ve all shown.
When the day finally comes that we can crack open a cold one in a stadium, or a concert venue, or a party with our dearest friends, let’s savor every second and remember that these moments are never promised. That first sip will taste so much better if we remember how much we had to endure, and how many people will never be able to experience such a moment again. In 2021, let’s care about each other. Let’s start to heal together. Let’s make “the new normal” better than the old normal.
Happy New Year.