A personal reflection on how humour got me through an awful, no good apocalypse
If you’re reading this, congratulations, you survived. Nobody told you on December 31st, 2019, but at midnight, you entered the 77th annual Hunger Games. The fact you’re here means the odds were ever in your favour.
As a writer, you’re always expected to have the right words to swell the heart, to lift the spirit, to titillate the mind or to tickle the funny bone. But 2020, the thief of so much else, repeatedly stole them from the mind before they were even fully formed.
If you had told me last year that there was going to be a super virus that scientists tried to warn the American president about but he ignored them, that these same scientists would race against time to find a vaccine as lives lost tallied into the millions, that the oil price would drop to negative figures while toilet paper and hand sanitizer became luxuries, that all of this was set against a backdrop of fires, explosions, riots, extreme weather events, elections, a plague of locusts (yes, this did actually happen) and every other unprecedented, unimaginable, incredible thing that happened in 2020, I would have asked you three questions: When was the movie coming out? Did it star Gerard Butler? Where could I buy tickets?
As I write this, I note that I’ve taken to changing T-shirts only when I have Zoom or Teams meetings. I also usually wake up 15 minutes before said meetings. I promptly return to bed when the day’s scheduled meetings are done. This way I successfully social distance, sanitise and avoid watching the news. I leave my house only to forage for food. I have distant memories of a time when I wore shoes and bras. Believe me, I wasn’t always like this. The only reason I haven’t gone completely feral and taken to trees yet is my social media feed.
Each of us survived this year in our own way as best we could. Mine was to take refuge in that often derided online community. Ultimately, it was the memes of the friends I couldn’t meet and those of near strangers that got me through.
The year is still new. I remember going to a pizzeria, sitting at a table without sanitising it or my hands and digging into food that wasn’t pre-packaged and had been cooked by some random unmasked stranger in the kitchen beyond. Wild times.
There were vague whisperings from the previous December about something going on in a place named Wuhan, but what really occupied the memes-phere that month was Megxit. Megan Markle, the commoner that married a prince, decided to divorce the British Royal Family.
But signs that this wasn’t going to be a run of the mill year kept cropping up and looking back, maybe we should have taken heed. Elsewhere, Australia was on fire. US president Donald Trump was potentially stirring World War III with Iran while facing an impeachment trial at home. And heartbreakingly, Kobe Bryant died along with his daughter in a helicopter crash.
That thing in Wuhan still seems far away. Apparently it’s some sort of new virus and a pretty big problem in China. The US has one confirmed death at this point. There have been 813 deaths worldwide. In a scene that could only be described as biblical, locusts descend on much of East Africa, stripping the land bare. Ireland has their national election. US president Donald Trump escapes impeachment. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was less than pleased at this as I recall in this status update.
Things are still relatively “normal”. I fly home from my job to attend Carnival celebrations (I’m from the Caribbean). I attend an open air concert with 30,000 other people, something that seems mindblowing in retrospect.
This was the month that all hell broke loose.
COVID 19 cases explode around the world, becoming national health emergencies in Europe, particularly in Italy, the UK, where PM Boris Johnson declares it a national emergency, and the US, where Donald Trump finally admits it might be something of a problem after denying that the disease was a threat for the last two months. He also suggests it can be killed by using ultra violet light or drinking disinfectant.
My own country declares its first case and goes into lockdown, as does much of the Caribbean. Borders are closed. Work goes virtual and for the first time I hear the line that will become the bane of my existence.
“Hello…hello. No… I can’t hear you. You’re on mute.”
The economic effects of severe lockdowns begin to be felt all over the world. Millions around the world lose their jobs (myself included). Deaths from COVID 19 being to mount. UK PM, Boris Johnson is hospitalised after contracting COVID 19. No one’s travelling. No one’s using their car. No one is using public transport. The price of oil hits negative figures for the first time…ever.
Elsewhere and everywhere, it seemed the world went crazy. People were hoarding toilet paper. Toilet paper for God’s sake. They were panic buying food they didn’t need. Lysol became an item sold on the black market.
By far, May was the worst month of this year for me as a Black woman watching what was going on in America. The quiet anger simmering among Black Americans when an unarmed Ahmaud Arbery was shot as he was jogging in February, and Breonna Taylor was killed in her own apartment by police in March, exploded into full on rioting and unrest across major US cities when George Floyd was killed by an officer who knelt on his neck for 8 minutes.
He wasn’t the only one who couldn’t breathe.
At the end of the year, I can still see this man’s face as he lay dying, calling for his mother and I’m saddened that at the end of 2020, I still need to convince people that my life, and the lives of people who look like me matter.
By June, things have begun to blur. The world is just a swirl of news about COVID 19, the impending American elections, bad economic conditions, rising COVID cases. It’s too much. I stop paying much attention to the news at this point. Too depressing.
Some light at the end of the tunnel. Oxford announces a vaccine they’re experimenting with seems positive. I officially hate Zoom meetings now.
Stored ammunition explodes in a storage facility in Beirut. I only remember this because I was on my way to the kitchen and the footage was playing on the TV. I do all meetings on mute and without video. I’ve become Schrodinger’s meeting attendee. I might be there. Or not.
September, October, November
These months meld together like watercolour on a canvas. Zoom meetings, bed, writing, more Zoom meetings. The American elections. The memes were strong with this one.
I cautiously release the breath I’ve only realised I’ve been holding since March. I do my Christmas shopping. A woman with two children pulls her cart up to mine at the grocery and tells me she has no money and asks me to buy her a ham or turkey for the season. I give her $40 and remember how lucky I am.
As the month winds down, I along with billions around the world are hoping 2021 is kinder and gentler to us, even though we know it’s going to take months for vaccines to reach us and possibly years for the economy to improve.
I went to sleep before midnight in 2019. I’m not going to do that again. I’m going to stay up…and make sure that this year leaves.
I’m also going to be hoping against hope that 2021, doesn’t look at 2020 and say, “Hold my beer.”