It’s the last hour of 2020 now as I’m writing this, and it’d be far from an original comment to say this has been like no year I’ve experienced before. Early in the year, Viv and I kept remarking on how we felt like we were living through an episode of Years and Years. Not too long later, we stopped making that comment because it became too depressingly true! This year we’ve been through so much that felt surreal at first, but then – perhaps even stranger – they became the new normal.

There were those days in March where the supermarket was empty – no meat, no fresh vegetables, no canned vegetables, no pasta or rice or any kind of grains, just nothing. Then we had the purchase restrictions, which got food back on the shelves, although meat was still very “you get what you get” for a while, and they weren’t always phrased so clearly which could lead to some embarrassment – there was one time I got caught out having tried to buy two cans of tomatoes and two cans of beans, but actually the rule was only two cans of vegetables in total, so I had to leave one of each behind at the checkout. Whoops, haha. At least that particular phase of the pandemic is behind us now – even toilet paper is plentiful on the shelves!

There’ve been other surreal things, of course. When the borders started closing, that felt weird. When Australia’s internal borders, between the states, started closing – that was something I’d never dreamed could go on the way it has. I remember saying early in the pandemic that West Australia might be able to close its borders, cos there are only like two roads in and out of the state, and maybe the NT and South Australia could do it too… but the eastern states? No way. There are just too many border crossings, and border communities too tightly interlinked. Well… how wrong I proved to be! Victorians spent a good chunk of the second half of the year not allowed to go to any other state, and now with the recent outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne, borders are slamming closed again. Just today we had some mates video call us from Adelaide, asking (as they’ve been doing since they moved there last year) when we can come visit… and we’ve been like, well, when the border stays open long enough for us to plan a trip, we’re there! But it’s all just so unpredictable (WA, for example, is now retrospectively enforcing quarantine on travellers who’ve already arrived days ago), and I mean, this is for travel within the country. Viv keeps talking dreamily about the trip to Japan he wants us to do next, and honestly, I don’t think that’ll be happening for quite a while.

We can at least be grateful that we’d just come home from a trip when the pandemic really hit the news. Recently Viv was asking me what my highlight of 2020 was, and considering everything that’s happened since, my answer was easy – the first two weeks, which we spent mostly in Mexico (after spending New Years itself in Los Angeles). I’d never been there before, but I loved my time there – full of history, friendly people, spectacular sites, delicious food, and a super comprehensible dialect of Spanish for me, considering I don’t get a lot of speaking/listening practice out here in Australia. Vivian doesn’t speak any Spanish, but he also loved Mexico. He even wants to go back someday to see some parts we didn’t get to (like Guadalajara and Jalisco state generally), which I would also be thrilled to do… you know… in the distant future when travel is possible again. In the meantime, at least, I can hang on to the fond memories I already have of the country.

On a personal level, this has been a really tough year from me. Towards the end of last year, Viv and I had planned to get married, only for some of his relatives to instigate massive fights and harassment and stress us out to the point that Viv called it off. Obviously this rocked our relationship pretty hard, but we’ve pulled through… the ongoing saga this year, though, has been how to deal with the family. So that’s been a lot of stress. Then in May, my grandmother suffered a fall and was admitted to hospital, where we were warned we’d most likely lose her. Against the odds, she survived long enough to be discharged to a nursing home… where, thanks to Victoria’s second lockdown, we were never allowed to visit her before she passed away in September. I’ve written a bit about how hard that was. But that wasn’t all: in June, my mum suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, with her heart having stopped an estimated seven minutes before paramedics got it going again. She went to ICU, where two nights later we were summoned in the middle of the night because she her heart kept stopping repeatedly and the doctors didn’t rate their odds of being able to stabilise her. That heart-wrenching night – standing around her bedside at 2:30am with a cup of tea in a styrofoam cup – is definitely my “lowlight” of 2020. Amazingly though, she did pull through, and when I see how she is now – chatty, happy, as mentally sharp and alert as ever – it just fills me with relief. It’s true that her balance remains poor, and she needs a walker and a wheelchair to get around, but she’s just so much better than I ever dared imagine in those dark days of late June and July. We’re so fortunate to have her as well as she is.

It’s customary at this time of year to try to make some goals for the year to come, but at this point, I can’t even guess enough of what next year will look like to really make any goals. The main thing I can say, I guess, is that I’d like to make sure I’m spending my time and energy on the things that are really important to me: my loved ones, in particular, but also creative pursuits (which I’ve had so little energy for this year gone by). I guess this year has made me reflect a lot on human mortality, and the things we leave behind – cherished memories, and those concrete expressions of ourselves, the product of creative endeavour. Not that I’m expecting it’ll be my time to go any time soon, of course! …but I wouldn’t have expected it to be my mum’s time either, and there is a pandemic on, and well, you know, loved ones and creative pursuits are great things to devote time and energy to anyway.

Happy New Year to anyone reading this, and of course, let’s hope 2021 is a bit better than the year we’re leaving behind ✊