Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Topic of the Day: A Year Ago Today

A year ago today was a Wednesday, which had become something of a special day for Drew and me. With both kids finally in school full time (Jackson was in third grade and Joanie had joined him at his school six months earlier as a full-time pre-k student), I had my days free – well, free as in I wasn’t juggling childcare with whatever else I was working on – for the first time in eight years. Drew had begun shifting to self-employment/freelance work a few days a week, and we decided to carve out time on Wednesdays, while the kids were in school, to have some couple time that didn’t involve paying a baby-sitter 20 bucks an hour. And it was great! We had leisurely lunches, trips into Manhattan to walk around Central Park, and one cold January Wednesday we even used a gift certificate I’d given Drew for Christmas to a spa where we relaxed in an outdoor hot tub, drinking champagne, as snow fell.

On Wednesday, March 11 of last year, the vibe was decidedly less leisurely. We suspected it was the last day before everything would change – though how could we ever know how much would change and for how long our lives would be disrupted? – and so, despite a cloud of doom already looming overhead, we tried to rally and get out for what we thought might be our last lunch date together for a month or two (lol). We decided to go to Industry City, a collection of buildings and businesses along the waterfront in south Brooklyn that, together, make up a kind of creative and foodie hub.

I remember checking my phone as we waited for the subway, the news looking increasingly bad. “In 1918,” I recall saying to Drew as we took a seat on the D train, “the Spanish flu killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.” We tucked our hands into our sleeves when we opened the door to one of the buildings in Industry City and wondered if we should look for hand sanitizer before we headed home. We saw a woman wearing a black rhinestone-studded mask and mused over whether fashion masks were going to become a thing. We ate ramen, and nothing about our lunch was noteworthy except how increasingly anxious we felt by the minute, the heaviness of the situation seemingly seeping into our bodies so that when we finished eating and stood to head back to the subway, it felt as though we were moving in slow motion. I think we were mostly silent on the way home, and that night, after the kids were in bed, after a global pandemic was declared, after we debated whether or not to send the kids to school in the morning (we did, so that they could collect their things and say good-bye to their teachers for what we thought might be a few weeks), I cried. “It feels like this is the beginning of something really, really big,” I remember saying.

The days that followed that are kind of a blur now. One by one, cities went into lockdown, schools were closed, I downloaded something called “Zoom.” Here in NYC, things got really real, really fast in a way can only be described as “traumatic,” and I think it’s something a lot of us are still processing. Within two weeks, sirens filled the air nonstop, as in a war zone, and it lasted for weeks on end. On the last day of March, a teacher at my kids’ school was the first public school teacher in the city (maybe in the country) to die of Covid. We had friends who had all the Covid symptoms, and Drew and I began feeling Covid symptoms. But there were hardly any tests available, and the doctors we spoke to remotely simply told us to assume we had it, stay home, isolate from our kids (um, how?), and call if our symptoms got worse. It was a scary, super anxious time, and here we are a year later and it’s hard to even fathom everything we’ve all been through in these past 12 months.

Over dinner the other night, I told Drew and the kids how proud I was of us. We’ve had more isolated time together than I ever imagined we would in a year’s time – working and doing school full-time from home – and we still get along. There have been some really tense moments, but we didn’t kill each other, and I think we’re stronger as a family than we ever were before. Still, I can’t wait for things to get back to normal – or “normal” – with my kids safely back in school, and Drew and I able to, once again, carve out some time for just the two of us. I can’t wait to travel again and see movies and concerts and plays and go to museums and visit family and all of the stuff that goes beyond simply surviving day by day and reach thriving day by day.

What about you? What do you remember from a year ago today? How has your life changed since then, and what are you most looking forward to and we slowly crawl back to some semblance of normalcy? Is there anything you’ll miss from how life has been for you over the past 12 months?

22 comments… add one
  • veritek33 March 11, 2021, 11:28 am

    A year ago today I remember seeing Tom Hanks tested positive for Covid and that made it seem more real.

    Missouri in general didn’t make this seem real. I can’t even remember if Missouri had a single case by this time last year. But I was 9 days from my wedding and desperately hoping we could still have the day we planned. Two days later my grandparents were advised not to travel and five days later our wedding venue and the state shut down, leaving us with no option.

    It still doesn’t feel real a year later. I just remember drinking a lot of wine from a box and hoping things would turn around quickly. Which of course they didn’t.

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  • Katie March 11, 2021, 11:35 am

    I remember having a conversation with a coworker of wouldn’t it be great to have two weeks off? The closets we would clean! The clothes we would organize! The activities we would do with our kids! The following week we were sent home. I work for the state welfare system. We didn’t yet have the infrastructure to work from home. So instead the entire state was put on an A/B system. We worked in the office every other day for about a month. Applications for welfare were coming in by the THOUSANDS every day. Then they issued laptops for every state employee on March 31 and we haven’t been back since.
    Also ask me how many closets I’ve cleaned in the last 12 months. None. Because this year has been littered with trauma.
    I think back to that naive person who was excited for a potential 2 week vacation and I want to throttle her.

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  • Copa March 11, 2021, 11:39 am

    The two things I remember most from this time last year: how eerily quiet public transit became during rush hour as the week went on when it was normally standing room only and the giant clusterfuck that was the grocery store on Saturday morning.

    I am looking forward to traveling and socializing freely again. I dislike working from home full-time and also look forward to returning to the office, though I’m still unsure when that’ll be and I also hope it comes with a bit more flexibility.

    I constantly felt over-scheduled pre-COVID and initially the break from all things in-person/social felt like a bit of a relief to me. Obviously the isolation at this point is no longer fun, but I wouldn’t mind if I never go back to feeling like my life is always go-go-go.

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    • Copa March 11, 2021, 11:41 am

      Oh, and maybe this is a weird one, but: I’ve been with my boyfriend almost 24/7 this past year. I’m glad it’s easy to spend this much time with him, but I look forward to opportunities to miss him.

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  • ktfran March 11, 2021, 11:47 am

    Monday, March 16 marked Chicago’s official lockdown. The Friday before, we headed to my hometown for my niece’s birthday, having no idea that would be my last trip from for nearly a year. If it weren’t for my Grandma’s recent death, who died of a broken heart, it would have been much, much longer than a year. I had no idea that would be my last time seeing my Grandma in person, and even then I kept my distance from her because of the gravity of the situation.

    We came back from my niece’s birthday party on Sunday. Since we were coming home to a house with no food, we decided to eat one more meal out before lockdown. We walked the block to one of our favorite bars, Twisted Spoke. We chatted with the wait staff we’ve come to know really well. We tipped big, knowing that servers were completely screwed.

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  • Helen March 11, 2021, 11:54 am

    A year ago my husband was just coming down with Covid. We didn’t know anyone else who had it, so it was scary not knowing what’s going to happen. It was traumatic. I spent a week thinking I could die. I used to work in healthcare so I knew how bad it was to have an O2 reading of 83. I said goodbye to my husband and kids at the door of the hospital thinking that it might be the last time I’m able to hug them. My covid experience was dramatic & traumatic but I’ve known lots of people who had the opposite experience. After I recovered from covid I had to work on my other recovery since I relapsed during the shutdown. Last year was one struggle after another and I’m so glad it looks like it’s turning around for me. Extremely grateful my husband kept his job

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  • Miel March 11, 2021, 12:28 pm

    I remember last year, on the Monday I brought some hand cream to work because I was washing my hands so much they were starting to get very dry. Then on the Thursday we all decided it would be a good idea to start working from home, so I packed my laptop and a few external hard-drives full of data and went home, leaving the hand cream behind because I thought “in two weeks, we’ll be back in the office, but I’m sure we’ll still be washing our hands plenty!”

    And that poor fancy Yves Rocher hand cream just stayed all alone at my desk for a year until I dropped by my desk last week for the first time.

    Another ancient artifact that was sitting on my desk, a package that was apparently delivered to my desk on March 13th 2020. It was some ugly free swag water bottle from I don’t know which company. It was a upsetting shade of purple with like “science is female!” or whatever on it. That also sat on my desk for a year apparently. It was just so random.

    I don’t know, this last year doesn’t feel real. I spent it in a cocoon with my husband. We haven’t seen any friends, or family, or coworkers for 12 months. If we go out, we mostly get annoyed at strangers who don’t wear their mask correctly. Our hopes and dreams right now are focused on going out to eat at a nice restaurant instead of getting take out. Travelling to see our parents feels too wild to dream of yet. (We haven’t seen any of our family since before we were engaged, and we’ve been married for 10 months!) Still, we’re safe, we’re healthy, we’re happy and in love, that’s all that counts. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.

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    • Copa March 11, 2021, 12:42 pm

      I’m pretty sure I left a dirty mug at my desk. I’d often forget to wash my mug before leaving for the night and would deal with it first thing in the morning. I didn’t know when I was last leaving my office that I wouldn’t be back for over a year, so it’s anyone’s guess the state I left my office in.

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  • Bittergaymark March 11, 2021, 12:35 pm

    A year ago… Wednesday as you say… things were just starting to go haywire. But everything was still up in the air. Everybody in my world was still debating thing.

    I drove across two hundred miles of empty desert on two lane highways to the fittingly named Surprise, Arizona. It was to be a week of grim surprises… That night over hands of Mah Jongg, my parents and I began to debate in person the fate of our much ballyhooed April Caribbean cruise that was to mark their 50th wedding anniversary, Suddenly, none of us knew what to do about it… there was one cruise ship that the virus was ravaging… but it was all the way over in South East Asia somewhere. And it was only cruise ship at that point. One… the debate went round and round. None of us really had a side yet. So my mother finally suggested we table it for a day or so.

    Similarly, I had my first Zoom meeting that night with my Burning Man crew about what to do about the LA regional Burn Bequinox that I was to help start installing our art exhibit our art on the following Tuesday. We’d just finished with construction the previous weekend. Now, suddenly. Very suddenly it seemed to me there was a very real chance we should NOT go. The medical Doctor in the group suggested we all need to imply NOT go. But emails came later from the festival saying the festival was still looking to carry on. Another long debate followed. No decisions were made. But now I was REALLY rethinking the cruise that was still over a month away…. But I thought that Bequinox would go on and was in favor of still going. Hell, I’d just ordered a silly, $200 fuzzy fur coat 24 hours ago. But yeah, I went to bed working out how I might convince everybody we needed to scrap the cruise. My parents were both in their 70s…

    Thursday we all strangely drove to Sedona for the day. In the rain. While there and browsing through my favorite shop of $12,000 vintage Native American rugs, I received a series of curious phone calls from LA. Three very different friends all were confused by the utter lack of toilet paper. One was kinda in a panic. One was enraged. The final call was just really kinda freaking out. This last call bothered me the most as it was from my typically calmest and most rational friend…

    But things seemed VERY normal in Sedona. I mentioned these bizarre calls to my parents and we all chuckled about it. It seemed like LA was going wacko or something, but here we were all calmly drinking Margaritas as we gazed out at the majestic red rocks that were in literally every direction. “How are you with toilet paper back home?” I truthfully had no idea. “Let’s pick you some up tonight” my mom suggested. And then the guacamole arrived.

    On the drive home, texts from the Bequinox crew started coming through. The camp was pulling out. But the festival was still going forward. The reaction from the group was pretty split with most voting to bail. I abstained from the vote. But did bring up the cruise to my parents. My dad still wants to go. My mom was seeing things my way…

    I can’t remember when the news came through that the cruise industry as a whole would make the decision for us. I want to say it was during this drive back to Surprise. But that may be a false memory. Things get hazy…. The cruise slipped away first. The long awaited festival officially followed. And I slowly, slowly began to realize that my May trip to Spain suddenly wasn’t going to happen either.

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  • Kate March 11, 2021, 12:54 pm

    At that time, I was taking the T into the office about 3 days a week. I remember it getting weird at the office, like we had still been allowing visitors in if they hadn’t just come back from China or Europe lol. But I remember getting dressed that day (the 11th) and thinking this would be the last time for a while. And it was so empty in there, and we heard that someone on the 2nd floor had been exposed to Covid or something. It felt weird. And then we got an email the next day saying we’d be WFH for at least a month. And haven’t been back since. Thank god it was one of those no-assigned-seating office setups and I never left anything there, even in a locker. Just tired everything back and forth in my bag. I honestly miss it 🙁 The food, the nice environment, seeing people in person.

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  • anonymousse March 11, 2021, 1:15 pm

    I was visiting my niece in the Children’s hospital of Philadelphia. She was sick with a mysterious illness that ended up not being Covid. It was my first real adventure out into the world with a mask on, and my last for quite a long time.

    A few days later, I would get sick with chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing, lethargy. My husband was super careful and quarantined me into our bedroom.

    We have been through some shit this past year, although in the grand scheme of things we are very, very fortunate and I know that. My son had a surgery, my daughter cut her actual eyeball (they’re both totally 100% fine, but both episodes were very stressful) I had shingles and am just getting over it now. I am very, extremely bored but also hoping for even more boring times ahead. I’m very hopeful with the vaccine numbers recently and very hopeful we will be able to get vaccinated soon.

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    • anonymousse March 11, 2021, 1:17 pm

      I think I’m most excited about seeing other people again and traveling. I can’t wait to be awkward in person with my favorite people again.

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  • Vathena March 11, 2021, 1:34 pm

    I had already been nervous for a few weeks, and stocking up on things like beans and rice and canned goods – and I wasn’t the only one, judging by the store shelves. My husband and I had a date night on March 6 and attended our city’s St. Patrick’s parade on March 7, which in hindsight seems wildly irresponsible! But the feeling of dread closed in over the course of the next week. Schools closed for a month, initially (here we are a year later and just starting some in-person school again). Everyone got sent home from work and I was the only person allowed to return, on a limited basis in my capacity as an essential worker, for 3 months. We are currently working at 50% capacity so people can do their science – hard to do bench top basic science at home. It set a number of our lab staff back a full year in their careers. Two women who were planning to head to MD/PhD programs this fall are extending their appointments in our lab for an additional year instead, because they couldn’t take their MCATs last year. Our summer student has had his appointment canceled for 2 summers in a row now. It definitely derailed a lot of folks’ career development.

    The only thing I’ll miss from this time is being able to sleep in most days, and the lack of traffic. I love my husband and kiddo and we’ve done okay, but I miss having a reason to dress in something other than workout pants. I do dress in “real” clothes and put on makeup for the one day I go in to the lab, and it makes me feel human. Also, just…movement! I’m so sedentary now. Mostly I just miss the feeling of not being scared all the time. We are getting little glimpses of that, but it’s still going to take some time. I’m definitely grateful that the DC metro area never had a massive spike (knock wood) and our governor has handled things fairly well.

    Not speaking for myself here (lol I hope anyway) but I have wondered if there might be some increase in casual sex/extramarital affair activity over the next few years. So many people have been limited to very small circles of association or totally isolated. Maybe every rando is going to seem irresistibly fascinating and attractive!

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  • MaterialsGirl March 11, 2021, 3:15 pm

    My daughter and I had just driven up to northern Wisconsin to see my sister and spend the weekend. The kids went to the water park (cause, chlorine? figured it was fine). My husband texted that I should maybe load up on groceries and toilet paper up there since there were mad rushes on supplies in Chicago. Smart move.
    I kept obsessively checking the daycare homepage to see if they were still open, finally getting that “we will be closing” email mid-week. And then scrambling to find childcare so I could still get into the plant. It was nuts, everything was a high level of anxiety, morning routines were completely overturned, it was cold, rainy, depressing. The spring of my despair. Would the plant still be running? would I still have a job? Oh, how I missed casually sipping on coffee while riding the Metra Electric and listening to music.

    We had our last restaurant meal on a Wednesday at Kiki’s bistro. I remember our friend who was dining with us asking how much we tipped.. I said “thirty percent.. because who knows when they’ll get a paycheck again.” oh man. so prophetic

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  • Bittergaymark March 11, 2021, 4:28 pm

    The other bit of ominous news I remember now that I heard it on the radio was the Tom Hanks news broke exactly a year ago. That was strangely ominous to me at the time somehow as I once had a great casual conversation with him…

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  • Hazel March 11, 2021, 5:23 pm

    A year ago today my very sociable Mum who was very very recently bereaved went from massive support circle to just me and partner. She has coped so well but damn this has been hard for her.

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  • Mel March 11, 2021, 9:51 pm

    Wendy, as a longtime reader from before you even started this site (aka TF days), just wanted to say I always enjoy these longer form pieces of yours. I am hoping that as this whole covid mess straightens out you’ll have more time to write. Maybe a year from today, you’ll be announcing to us that you’re publishing a book of essays or a novel. I’ll definitely pre-order it!

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    • Dear Wendy March 12, 2021, 9:12 am

      That’s so sweet of you to say, thanks. I’m definitely looking forward to having more childfree time to write!

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  • d2 March 11, 2021, 11:41 pm

    As they say, “timing is everything”. I retired a year ago and was looking forward to disconnecting from the world, and rocking my introvertinerdiness for a while.

    The pandemic isolation had minimal impact on my life, and even provided a convenient excuse to withdraw for a while. With no nearby family, contact was usually video chat anyway. Distant friend communication continued as email and telephone. Local friend contact transitioned to telephone, but will eventually return to in-person. I am now recharged and ready for a post-career normalcy as the pandemic is abating. It was just dumb luck that it worked out that way.

    The pandemic heightened my sense of gratitude – for being healthy, for having a career that was my fun time and not a job, for the fortuitous timing of retirement, for being financially secure. The pandemic also heightened my awareness of and empathy for others – because it was devastating for many, and a struggle for most, especially the elderly and those with children.

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  • Alex March 15, 2021, 10:31 am

    A year ago I was at work watching the Johns Hopkins University website devoted to case counts. Our office of four was in panic, we manage all of the university housing and we were figuring out how to get our students moved out safely since no one knew what we were dealing with. My fiance came home a year ago today and told me that the league was cancelling all hockey games and he was effectively laid off. He was unemployed for most of 2020… going back for a hot second when the league toyed with the idea of playing in December, but got laid off again right before Christmas.

    I had bought a book prior to the pandemic for us to do some self-reflection and marriage counseling on our own… we’ve never opened it. The pandemic was probably way more helpful in getting us on the same page about finances, how we view government, and how we plan to be as parents and global citizens. I miss normal and I really hope we can have a somewhat normal looking wedding.

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  • Rangerchic March 15, 2021, 1:13 pm

    I remember talking to my bosses and trying to work out a WFH situation since I am immunocompromised and was worried about all the things I was hearing in the news. Then, the school (I work for a private liberal arts college) decided to shut down in person and send all the kids home and do everything online. I went to the store on the way home not remembering what I had at home. Thankfully we had plenty of toilet paper as there was none to be found for weeks.

    We were set to go on a vacation in May to Cayman with my three siblings and their spouses – an adults only trip! We were all so excited. I started talking with them about the fact that we might not be able to go, then the fact that I’m not sure I’m comfortable going, and then the fact that I wouldn’t go even if they did – it made me so sad. Then the Cayman islands shut down so it was cancelled anyway.

    I have really enjoyed working from home though when school resumes all in-person my job required me to be there. I’m thankful I do still have a job and that my husband didn’t loose his job either.

    But even when the state shut down for a short time I was so angry with all the people still going out…There was still so much traffic on the road near my house. I couldn’t figure out where they were all going (yes, some likely to work but seriously too much traffic just for everyone at all times of the day to be going to work!)

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  • Taylor April 4, 2021, 7:09 pm

    About a year ago, I sent my first letter to you asking for advice about cancelling a trip with my kiddo to FL (our first time going somewhere together). I ended up doing so, and boy, did things change. Looking forward to being out in the world again.

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