When Justin and I moved into this apartment a few years ago, I loved the place. It was bigger than the tiny Lakeview studios we’d been living in separately, and it had a three-panel window that looked out into the park. A dream! After a few months of living together, though, we realized it was way too small and, well, our home decor tastes did not align. Where I saw a place for some lovely thrift store trinkets (the bane of Justin’s existence), he saw room for his signed Rocky poster (the bane of mine). This apartment taught us to compromise and we stuffed ourselves and all our belongings into its tiny closets. Then, I promptly spent three years complaining about it. I wanted to move to a bigger place. I couldn’t wait to leave, looking up condos and bigger apartments on Redfin, Facebook, et al.
Of course, karma pulled out its spindly little finger and decided to teach me the value of staying still and staying put by bringing on a year that has required me to stay nowhere but here. Then it took its yellowed pointer and pushed salt into the ironic wound: I was diagnosed with narcolepsy in February of this year, started medication that helps me stay awake throughout the day in March, and had nothing to do with my newfound energy and wakeful outlook except stay home April through what feels like forever.
I, like most people who haven’t eaten at a restaurant since mid-March, went through a range of feelings this year. Late March through April, I really enjoyed staying home. My introvert self secretly delighted in fact that everyone else was at home too. The slower pace was a welcome reprieve from the going and the doing.
But by June, the country was on fire and my beloved grandpa died. I said goodbye to him on my sister’s phone. I watched him take his last breath via pixels on a two-by-five-inch screen. I stayed home for the funeral, Zooming in to the calling hours and the ceremony as I watched my family say goodbye to him for me. It was awful not being there; worse to know my grandma, safe in a visitor-free nursing home, couldn’t go either; alarming to see so many of my loved ones not wearing masks. The funeral was a briiing-brriiiing wake up call to the reality that many were not taking the reality of a pandemic personally. It made me doubt why we were doing so if no one else was?
This ushered in a period of grief, not just for my grandpa, but also for a lost Chicago summer. A seemingly lost year of our lives, filled with self-doubt about what the “right thing” was in the first place, and a feeling of loss surrounding something less tangible than time squandered—the truth of how fragile everything we took for granted could be. Our collective health, our scientific institutions, our communities, our democracy, and on and one it went.
We did the best we could. Justin and I went to the park across the street occasionally. We went for walks, spooning sherbert onto our tongues from dusty sidewalk seats. But it wasn’t the same. I was sad. So sad about all of it.
By fall I was in acceptance mode and experienced the numbness that comes with knowing this is just how it is, how it’s going to be for a while. I began to mentally prepare myself for the fact that we could be living like this until spring 2021, at the earliest. My autumn was consumed with professional work. I was grateful for the distraction but also experienced frustration that I couldn’t release the work stressies anywhere other than another room in our one-bedroom place. I couldn’t go work from a new cafe, find a forgotten gem in the Chicago scenery as I walked to and from my destinations. I couldn’t enjoy the life our high rent was a trade off for. I couldn’t escape into planning for our next trip—or looking at new places we could move to; after all, who knew what next year would look like and where we would want to live or even be able to afford to live.
I missed my nieces and nephews so much. November marked a year since I’d seen any of them. The baby I bounced in my lap last Thanksgiving I now watched toddling and transforming into an adorably drool-faced sprinter over FaceTime. I longed to hold them, to play, to just feel their curious energy mingle alongside mine in real time. A new niece was born and, sitting in my office chair, I cooed over her perfect cherub cheeks while tears made a salty line down mine.
My dad got Covid at the end of November, and I fretted helplessly two states away. I lived through the cognitive dissonance that transpires when caring for someone sick means having to stay far away to keep them and others you love safe. Waiting for texts on his condition became an hourly grind. The anxiety didn’t lift until the day he sent me a video text from the farm, which meant he was finally recovered and healthy enough to go do his retirement chores, to see the bunnies and feed the hogs, the highlight of his average lung-strong days.
The pace of the city slowed to a crawl but the people throbbed with rage. I began to feel cautious walking alone at night in a neighborhood that has always felt comfortable. I got more honks than usual, and more unmasked men came up to me than ever before, empowered by the chaos to take their shot. I’d turn them down and keep walking. Several followed me home, and I disarmed them by talking about my husband and asking about their plans for tomorrow.
Through all of this, I started to see our third-story walkup in a new light. Our apartment became a safe space, a warm glow connected to familial and friendly lifelines that could keep me whole, even if they were miles away. I found friends on the internet to talk to about sobriety, the pandemic-inspired isolation triggering so many of us recovered. I grew close with an awesome woman I met in late 2019 at a comedy show, our friendship forged over weekly Wednesday Zoom sessions. I strengthened friendships I already cherished, taking walks in so many parks I’d never been to in the city. I gained a writing group that now has 10 screenshots of our monthly Zoom-based workshops to add to our quarantine photo albums. I grew my writing and visual art practices, even as my exterior life wilted to a one-block radius. I found an online therapist that makes me hopeful for what’s next. I watered my jade plant that sits on the sill overlooking the park. She’s got the best view in the house and so do I.
I began to feel so grateful for my job. Grateful for the internet and a remote career that feels creative and aligned with my values. Grateful for a salary that made it so Justin didn’t have to go out either. Grateful for security and income to pay the rent. Grateful for taking that test in February instead of later in this weird ass year. Grateful for not getting Covid and a family relatively untouched by the carnage. Grateful for a best-friend-roommate husband. Grateful for the groceries, the snail mail, the time to focus on art. Grateful for no kids, no mortgage. Grateful for all the decisions that led us to be here, safe and sound, despite all that 2020 wrought. Grateful for an apartment like this, small but manageable, happy and warm. Healthy, most of all.
As I write this, there are nine days left in this unexpected, totally bananas year. Nine is my lucky number. Here’s hoping 2021 proves to be a lucky number too. Or at least a sane one. I’d settle for sane, waiting here by the window I’m fogging up with bated—but grateful—breath.