Happily I say good bye to 2020, picturing the year in the shape of an old wheezing man struggling to stand straight in his black tails and top hat. The last moments of his life are spent hooked up to a ventilator inside an overcrowded ICU, separated from family and friends. Waving at him through the safety glass I grieve. But I also feel a sense of relief. The year is behind me and we can all start over again with a clean slate.
2021 is a brand new baby I cradle in my arms—representing my hopes and dreams. She focuses her eyes to the light around her, so different from the dark womb, and listens as I recite my wish list, a list that includes: quick and fair distribution of the coronavirus vaccines to at least 75% of Americans, resumption to pre-pandemic levels of business and commerce, new jobs to put folks back into the workforce, and accessible and affordable healthcare for all.
This past year has made me painfully aware of just how old I am. Maybe not quite old enough to participate in the first round of vaccine shots, but old enough to be cautious of where I go and who I interact with, causing me to cancel travel plans and do the majority of work and social interactions virtually. I already knew I had more years behind me than in front of me, but 2020 has been a year when I’ve set out intentionally to accomplish as much as I could and that meant a dedicated commitment to my chosen art, writing.
In January 2020 I received my MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. For the first time in my life I donned a cap and gown ( having skipped high school and college graduation ceremonies) and walked across the stage with my fellow graduates to receive our degrees. Little did I know then, how fortunate I was to be able to be one of the last graduating classes at any institution in 2020 to participate in an in-person graduation ceremony. To look into the faces of my classmates as I delivered a few words about my educational journey and to embrace staff and faculty could never have been replaced by images on a screen.
Completing the project of renovating a 1923 house purchased 3 years earlier, had a deadline when we scheduled our daughter Alexandra’s wedding celebration for March 28, 2020. In order to get it ready for the planned festivities, we pushed forward to advance the sale our old house in 2019 and move into our new house in 2020. Finally, we were able to move-in in by the second week of March; but the world started closing down. Was the symbolic glass of our lives half empty or half full?
My husband Peter and I were both sad to call off the party. This was our only daughter—an occasion we’d been looking forward to, but we had to remind ourselves that everyone in our family was safe and healthy. We wanted to keep it that way. When so many people were sick and dying, ours was a small sacrifice. We had so much to be thankful for including our “new to us” home.
For over a month everything went on pause. Most of the businesses in Maryland closed, but because my husband’s business—an insurance agency—was considered essential, it could still operate behind closed doors. Safety protocol was put into place that included plexiglass barriers and mandatory masks. Staff meetings became virtual.
Waking up in a sweat, worrying about whether that slight cough or dry throat might me a sign of infection became a regular thing. My son Christopher sent me an elderberry syrup that we took faithfully until it ran out and then we switched to vitamins. Early on I remember reading that if you keep your throat always moist, the virus was less likely to take hold. All kinds of strange ideas were circulating and when we first entered a grocery store last spring we wore disposable gloves in addition to our N-95 masks. Now I’ve given up on the gloves, but immediately wipe down my hands with sanitizer and my hands are chapped from the number of times I wash them with soap and water during the day.
Everyone has their own protocol. One friend thinks it’s okay to dine outside in a restaurant with friends, another will socialize if they stay ten feet apart and bring their own food. We’ve just been happy to talk from afar with our masks on or visiting by video conference.
On whatever side of the political divide you stand, this has been a year for the history books. A year when the entire world has been devastated by a deadly virus for which there is no definitive cure and a year when the democratic traditions of the United States were challenged and came close to being dismantled.
My MFA graduate thesis was the first 150 pages of my novel tentatively titled “Diogo’s Garden.” I’d finished the entire 300 page second draft but knew it needed more work. Throughout 2020 I’ve continued working on it steadily, revising it multiple times. I’ve continued to take classes, workshop and take on other writing projects to gain perspective. Determined to put a few publishing credits on my vitae, I’ve submitted short stories, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction and my tenacity has been rewarded. In 2020 my creative work has appeared in print or digitally in the following publications: Change Seven, Lunch Ticket, Raconteur, and the love story anthology Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts. I also learned I’ll be appearing in the 2021 issues of Thin Air and The Dribble Drabble Literary Review.
My visits with Alexandra and her new husband Joshua who live in San Jose California have been totally virtual, while I’ve seen grandsons Caleb age five and Eli age two, who now live with dad Christopher and wife Laura in Gloucester Point, Virginia —from a safe distance. An unexpected surprise was the news from my eldest son Justin, that he and his wife Suci were expecting a baby to be born before the end of the year. They live in Jakarta and I was both excited for them and scared. Will they all stay safe from contracting the virus and are the medical facilities as good as in America?
That was my train of thought in the spring before I fully comprehended just how poorly the U.S. response to the virus was being handled. By the late fall, the United States was leading the world in cases and deaths.
Herman Bear Mojo Patrick was born on December 22nd 2020 . He is now safely home with his family, and while I would love to hold him in a close embrace, I have to satisfy myself with pictures. It is possible that we will be able to visit his older sister Adinda Mojo in the Netherlands where she’ll be a college freshman, before we make it all the way to Indonesia.
I’m trying to thinking positively about the hard work of our dedicated scientific community which has developed several effective vaccines in less than eight months. More are on their way. Until then I’ll continue to wear masks and socially distance. I’m waiting to hear the words spoken by the airplane pilot granting permission to unsnap your seatbelts, “It’s safe to move around the cabin.” I want to hear the “all clear” it’s safe to move around the world now!
2021 I welcome your arrival. Glad the year is new. Let’s make this new year a better one.