"We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were." ~ Joan Didion
I've been thinking about this Joan Didion quote a lot lately. Particularly in regards to this past year. A year that many of us, I'm sure, would resoundingly say, we will likely never forget. A year that brought deafening silence to our streets. A year that left so much pain and devastation and loss in its wake. A year that, despite our best efforts to stay connected, left us feeling more and more alone by the day. Sometimes by the minute. A year seared into our memories — our lives turned upside down seemingly overnight. To forget it at this point, seems almost impossible. Unthinkable perhaps.
And yet, that's the thing about hard memories, isn't it? They're the first thing you try to block out. To run away from. To avoid. At this stage, I'm not sure where we'll net out when we all reflect back on the year 2020, especially as it becomes a more distant, bad nightmare in the years to come. As someone who is incredibly thankful for the fact she emerged relatively unscathed (for the most part) from the pandemic, with the health of her close friends and family in good standing, it's been a year that's made me vow to myself over and over again the same realization: "I can't ever forget how fortunate I am."
But the same creeping fear returns to whisper back, "You will forget." Maybe that's self-preservation talking. Perhaps it's just lazy convenience. Or maybe it's faulty nerve connections in our brains — age taking its toll as it inevitably does one way or another.
Whatever the reason, everything that follows past this point is a means of reminding myself (and perhaps some of you) for an idle Tuesday down the road, let's say in 2052. A recording of my chapter in New York City at the brink of the strangest year where I witnessed, first hand, the world almost instantly, stop spinning.
March of 2020 for me started off on a hectic note. Fashion week had concluded just a few weeks prior and I had two back to back work trips almost immediately afterward — the first to St. Lucia and the second was a press tour around California. It was a blur of flights, rental cars, taxis and Ubers, early call times and late night dinners, waiting in TSA lines, lugging around overly packed luggage and trying to document it all the while. I vividly remember feeling exhausted in a visceral way, vowing to myself, "I need to take a break from traveling for awhile" not realizing just how ironic that statement would feel over the coming weeks.
Of course, COVID was a very real news story at this point developing around the world, but the murmurings of it potentially locking down the United States didn't feel concrete enough to worry about. Surely, that wouldn't happen here. That couldn't happen here, could it? It wasn't until we were sitting at LAX on March 8, waiting for our final red eye flight home to JFK that it hit me just how deserted the airport was. No crowds. No long check in lines. TSA was a breeze. We sat in the lounge area for Delta, sipping coffee and reviewing headlines. Our flight was eerily empty. Even the crew carried themselves in a way that felt like they knew something we didn't. Something palpable felt looming in the air. I closed my eyes at takeoff and reminded myself, "You'll be home soon."
That week back in New York felt oddly calm at first, now that I think about it. I fell back into work, prepping for projects, editing photos for brand review, riding a packed subway around the city for meetings. Life was still beating along as it always does, as it always had. I was scheduled to host a brand event here in the city on March 12, a little soirée uptown on Madison Avenue. In a flurry of text messages, I was reminding my friends of the details for the event, letting them know how much I was looking forward to seeing them. We joked back and forth about picking up extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer, not truly seeing the tsunami wave that was about to hit us all.
On Wednesday March 11th a day before my event, the NBA announced their cancellation of the 2020 season until further notice. Around that time, NYC had over 700 confirmed cases of COVID, rising each day and schools were slated to close, with NYC restaurants, bars and businesses to follow soon after. I distinctly remember sitting in Fairfax, one of my favorite restaurants in the village where I often work, texting my manager, "We need to cancel tomorrow's event, right?"
Looking up and around at the restaurant I was working from, I started to wonder, "Should I even be here? Is this safe? How can I tell if I'm actually 6 feet from the patrons next to me?" If I'm being completely honest, had I known that would have been my last time in a restaurant for many, many months, I think I'd relish it a bit more. Perhaps order that indulgent burger on the menu as opposed to the salad. Maybe ask for that cocktail, instead of the green tea. I suppose a part of me still believed, as I'm sure we all did in those initial weeks, this will pass. Give it some time and things will be back to normal soon.
I sent out a mass text to everyone I had invited to my party, letting them know the event was canceled and that I wanted them all to stay safe and stay at home. The tone was very much "This is crazy but I'll see you soon."
I packed up my laptop, settled my bill with the waiter and walked home. It was an usually warm March day and I had a craving to sit out on my fire escape. So I did, blissfully unaware that same fire escape would largely become my window to the world for the better part of the next 365 days to follow. That night, my boyfriend and I placed an online grocery delivery order, somewhat encouraged by the idea of trying to cook more at home — a goal we typically failed at thanks to Seamless — and settled in for the night. Two homebodies not necessarily upset at the prospect of a now very clear social calendar.
Of course, the weeks, and subsequent months that followed were unlike anything this homebody anticipated. How could I? How could any of us? Those initial weeks in March and April were hardest for me. I'd wake up each day, tune in for Gov. Cuomo's daily Coronavirus briefings and try to make some sense of our new reality. The numbers were staggering. PPE was scarce. Hospital beds were limited. And here I was, living in the U.S. epicenter of it all. Miles away from my family. Scared to go outside. Or be near anyone. With work contracts indefinitely pushed back, some altogether canceled, I wasn't sure how my business would ultimately fare through this storm.
Outside, the city hibernated, streets and avenues where life usually bustled, now lay dormant, except for the constant echoing of an ambulance siren piercing the March sky. I know I'm not alone when I say it was a living nightmare. None of us knew what each day would bring, in big and small ways. And that anxiety was downright crippling at times.
To cope, I threw myself into creative outlets — photography, writing, editing — but when the weight of the world forces you into a bubble of your own making, it's only a matter of time before those outlets don't fuel you in the same way they used to. But then again, what option did we have? The stakes were too high. So we persisted on.
I'd like to pause here and remind my future self in 2052, that 2020 held a lot of promise, as well. Some silver linings that showed us our true strength, our connections, our resilience. Some unexpected outcomes of solidarity and commitment. Some big and small blessings and yes, some hard, long overdue reckonings that showed us just how broken and fractured our society really is. In a lot of ways, 2020 opened our eyes and hearts to insidious social injustices that had been persisting for far too long. I can't definitively say 2020 was the catalyst, but I do think it played a pivotal role in helping us truly see and recognize our own humanities and those of others.
I never want to forget that. Moreover, we can't forget that.
I titled this post "memories of your last normal day" for a reason — not so much for us to yearn for a time before this all happened, but more so as a reminder as to what's at stake if we forget about the 365 days that followed that last normal day. In order for us to return to some semblance of life as knew it, we have to honor the price we paid over the course of 2020. And my friends, that price was high. Extremely high.
"We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were."
Perhaps Didion is right. She often is. Perhaps to forget is just a part of human nature. And maybe that's the inevitable thing we have to fight here, with every ounce of our being. We have to remind ourselves of who and what we used to be, what we went through, what we overcame, whether we liked it or not, or we're predestined, doomed even, to wrestle with it at 4am maybe in the year 2052, when our mind goes wandering.
So in the spirit of remembering, here's a sampling of your last "normal day" memories that you shared with me on Instagram. May their recounting be a harbinger for brighter days ahead. For brighter days for us all.
- I went to the pub. We hung out all afternoon in the sun.
- I went to a department store that was closing that day to buy things for my daughter's 21st birthday in June! I never thought we'd still be in lockdown then three months later.
- I was in Cozumel, checking the news before snorkeling and realized we would return to a lockdown.
- We had a family game night.
- I ate tacos while overlooking the city with my best friend of 25 years. It was damn near perfect.
- I saw my five day old niece and then didn't see her for three months even though I only lived 5 miles away.
- Unfortunately, I can't remember.
- I went out with friends in the Mission (in San Francisco) thinking we'd see each other in two weeks.
- I went to dinner with a girlfriend at Hillstone (in NYC) because we joked it might be our last meal out.
- It was actually my birthday! I went out for a dinner at a crowded restaurant with family.
- Peeking through my curtains to see if there was a free seat at my favorite spot across the street.
- I remember standing on the train platform and thinking how gorgeous the weather was!
- I went out with a friend for some sushi at a Japanese food center in London and then for a glass of wine.
- Family style dinner with 8 girlfriends sharing dishes and drinks and laughs.
- My daily 200 mile commute for work, 100 miles each way.
- My husband and I used to go to the movies a lot, our last one was March 10th. We saw Emma.
- Celebrated my birthday and met strangers while out dancing at a crowded bar.
- A packed Trader Joe's with my mom, mask-less. Received an email recommending we work from home.
- I went on a date for the first time in two years -- we then virtually dated all quarantine.
- Happy hour with coworkers and a venue tour for my 12/21 wedding. I thought I was planning ahead.
- Spent hours wandering through the National Art Gallery in DC.
- I was at school. The last day with the kids.
- I remember my students being very excited that school was going to be canceled. How naive we were.
- I saw Yo-Yo Ma at Carnegie Hall.
Now tell me, what memories do you have of your last "normal" day?