The Year That Could Have Been

It is New Year’s Eve 2019. You are waiting outside, ready to light the fuse on a line of fireworks with your family. You are ready to welcome 2020, a list of to-do’s already written out in pen and on your phone. You’ve already set an alarm to sound off at 6 am for your first jog of the new year. You’re ready to take on 2020, with full force and without any regrets. This year you are sure of this. The clock strikes midnight and just like that, 2019 becomes a thing of the past and a new year begins.

It is March 2020 and you are putting the last bits of your childhood into a box, ready to be shipped off. You are ready to start a new job and a new life in another state, far, far away. You look at your room, now empty and barren. Your bedsheets are neatly tucked in, pillows stacked on top of one another with your favorite blanket draped over them. The blanket you have decided to leave behind, the one you thought you’d never live without. But you’ve accepted that with this new start, you needed new beddings too. You know that’s not the only thing you’re leaving behind; family, friends, everything familiar will soon disappear in a matter of days. Despite this, you are happy to be moving forward. You are happy.

Summer is almost over and you start to incorporate jackets and sweaters into your outfits. You’ve assimilated into your new job and gone out for a few drinks with your co-workers. They’ve introduced you to the company traditions: Taco Tuesdays, the bar everyone visits on Friday, a running club that has a total of three members, including you. You’re falling in love with your new life away from your hometown. You’re slowly starting to call this new place home. But you haven’t forgotten about all the things you’ve left behind. You still call your parents at least once a month, to check in, to say hello. You and your friends discover a new video conference platform called Zoom and you use it to celebrate your birthday together, your first away from home. All of you get drunk on camera until finally, you pass out in bed. Those who are still awake take a screenshot and send it to the group chat the very next morning. You reply with a few emojis and tell them that you wish you were there in person. But deep down inside you know that away is where you needed to be.

It is December and you are wrapping up the last project of the year. After all the grueling meetings, sleepless nights, and cups of coffee, you are days away from the deadline. You realize that this is going to be the first time you spend Christmas away from home. And that this will be the first time you spend Christmas alone. The packages are already on their way to their respective homes, gift cards queued up and ready to be sent, a time picked to chat on Zoom, and weekly “I miss you all. I wish I could be there” texts already written. You look back to where you were last year and how so much has changed. You smile, because for once in a very long time, you’re happy. You are truly happy. It is December 2020 and things couldn’t be better.

//

Present day. You wake up at 1 in the afternoon. You look at the calendar and realize that October is nearing its end. All the days have blended together in a Frankstein-esque manner, so you no longer have a clue what day of the week you’re in. You hear the rest of your family moving about, some in the kitchen, others in a business meeting on the phone or over Zoom. You didn’t realize how long quarantine was going to last, but here you are—jobless, unable to move due to the pandemic. You roll over and wonder when it will end. You roll over and wonder of what could have been. Your family doesn’t know it, but you’ve decided to pursue photography again, an old passion you were ready to give up to focus on work. You look at the pictures you’ve taken so far, a collage of sunsets and scenery taken atop a mountain trail. Every profile shot is taken at a safe distance, the model wearing a mask and smiling with their eyes. You wanted to take photographs of life during a pandemic. However, your camera doesn’t capture what happens behind the scenes. The nights that you spend sleepless, wondering what this year could have been. The days listlessly spent browsing through every work opportunity you can find online. The inbox you spend hours refreshing, waiting for that one job to contact you back. There are also no pictures of you trying your hardest, to overcome everything that comes your way. Not even your family knows, despite spending the whole day together, albeit in separate rooms.

2020 may be a shit show and has not gone at all as planned, but you haven’t given up yet. You’re still trying to be happy. You look towards 2021 with hope. In 2021, you will be happy. But for now, you continue to try, even if the best that you can do is wake up and get out of bed. So don’t stop trying. Things will change. You will be happy.

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