Back in March, I bought the rights to the hopsandhairballs.com domain – partially because it made me look more legitimate, but mostly because we were on the precipice of an undefined lockdown period and I needed a hobby. What better time to strike a match on your passion than during a pandemic, especially when your passion is writing and you’ve got all the feelings. I thought the two would pair well together, but I was wrong.
It turns out that sitting down to write this year was hard. I have dozens of half-started essays saved to my desktop, each serving as evidence that having a lot of pent-up feelings doesn’t always mean you should be pressing ‘publish.’ Any essay focusing on the positive parts of pandemic life shone just a little too bright for me. Anything acknowledging the hard parts of this year felt too heavy to give to anyone else. I concluded this wasn’t the year for the silver linings or the extra burdens and I left each essay unfinished, thinking one day I may open them again.
We’re just three days shy of leaving the physical 2020 behind us. I spent the weekend ripping down Christmas decorations – a half days’ worth of chores that usually feels enjoyably cathartic. It’s like putting away the tchotchkes of the holidays also feels a lot like starting fresh, each ornament representing something about that year you’re ready to put away and be done with. A new start. Only this year (like everything this year) it felt different. It felt like I was putting away a bunch of half-completed memories and unanswered questions. It felt like I wasn’t quite ready to put this year away, even though I am so ready for a clean slate.
Which makes sense, because who wants to walk away from something that isn’t finished? I mean, besides every husband who’s asked to clean the kitchen. But in most cases, I think it’s a pretty natural human inclination to look around and say, “This isn’t done yet. I still have some story to write.” It’s the reason we need closure after a bad breakup. It’s the reason Alexander Hamilton couldn’t just sit down and relax. And it’s the reason why I feel like this year is nothing but a million unfinished essays.
Memories that were started then halted. Trips that were planned and then cancelled and plans that went awry because of suspect sore throats or broken bones. My grandmother’s passing that I never properly mourned – COVID forcing me to leave that essay unfinished for now. Childhood milestones passed by and birthdays celebrated in car parades. Hundreds of stories started then halted. And sure, we did our best to keep things normal. Especially those of us who have kids. And we did a great job. You hear me, parents? You did a great fucking job holding it together for your kids this year.
But, if you’re like me – you found yourself crying in the bathroom every now and then. You watched your ceiling fan spin for way too long some nights, wondering how your shoulders were still supporting the weight of this new, weird world. You worried about if they’d remember any of this, and if they were falling behind in school. You worried about their health and the decisions you were making – all while single-handedly keeping the restaurant industry alive by ordering take-out more, even though your budget was much tighter now, and once the food actually arrived you were too worked up about the idea of COVID living on the goddamned take-out bag that you didn’t even enjoy the overpriced, cold Mexican food. No? Just me? Cool.
But the thing about a half-written essay is that it can eventually be finished. Or it can be deleted, or re-written, or printed out and ceremoniously burned. And at the risk of making this the silver lining story I vowed not to write, I’ll instead remind you that the author always gets to decide what happens. You can look back at this year and pick up a pen or you can close the book and walk away. Wherever your essays lie this December, they’re your stories and I hope you do with them what you will.
Me? I’ll plan on re-writing a few. Next summer, I’ll plan the greatest camping trip re-do my 4-year-old has ever seen; his broken arm left his essay unfinished. We will plan a bigger and better annual backyard Oktoberfest where I will unashamedly lick the faces of my friends to remind them how much I've missed them (you'll have to attend to see how that essay is actually re-written.) And when I'm ready, I’ll fly to Florida and hug my family and we’ll laugh and cry and grieve and drink champagne and tell stories about my Nonnie - I will finish that story. But there are plenty of essays that I refuse to keep writing - the year’s essays on pain, confrontation, angst, worry, resentment, and doubt will remain unfinished. 2021 holds no space for those stories.