This was the worst year of my life.
It’s been said by many people, about 2020, now 2021. And for valid reasons. Many lost their jobs, some their loved ones. Others were stuck at home with their kids pulling their hair out from frustration. Frontline workers were stressed to their max. People heard of youth dying by suicide. I haven’t even mentioned the political chaos and the collective wariness that brought along, nor the growing awareness of the racism that is still very present, and the fear it brings.
This was the worst year of my life.
And yes, there are the personal “worsts”: the canceled weddings, the closing of businesses, the disconnection, the anger witnessed and received in clinics and grocery stores, the missing of family, the cutting off from friends due to differences, the breaking points in relationships.
It’s been a year since my engagement ended. The life I so carefully crafted, and with it, the dreams I held for the relationship, came to a sudden halt.
For months, not a day or night passed during which I didn’t cry, bawl, desperate tears. I wanted my life back, and I couldn’t see a path forward. Friends and family listened, let me cry, brought food, unpacked for me, or distracted me. I’ll be forever grateful for them. Some people in my life disappeared quietly, which, from experience, I knew would happen, but it wasn’t any less hurtful. Of course, the pandemic didn’t help. I couldn’t write anymore, and I put my thesis on hold.
I wanted my life back, and I couldn’t see a path forward.
I came to understand that I was grieving a loss. The loss of a person I loved, and the love I received. But I also grieved the life we had built and the future we had. The missing was a physical pain I felt in my chest and the veins in my arms. At times the hurt was so intense I started to understand why someone would want to actively stop the pain. I’ve started praying again, even though I didn’t believe, wishing I could.
So, it’s been a year. I live in survival mode or panic mode. I realize my deepest fears have become reality, and I’m still here. I’ve had to look inwards and ask myself the hard questions: What were my mistakes? What changes do I need to make?
It’s been a year, and I’m not crying anymore. Even though I feel rudderless, I have this somewhat unrealistic hope that good things are coming. I’ve been job hunting, which has been a trial in itself. I tell myself again and again: Something will stick.
my deepest fears have become reality, and I’m still here
On bad days, I reason I deserve all this. I think, why would good come my way, when others have it worse? - the arrogance! But for us humans, we keep on going, don’t we? It must be the survival instinct in us; to stand up, dust ourselves off, and keep on trudging along.
Zozobra is coming up in Santa Fe. During this festive ritual, the local community in Santa Fe writes down their worries and disappointments on a piece of paper which are added to a 50ft marionette known as Old Man Gloom built out of wood, wire, and cotton. In early September Old Man Gloom will be set on fire taking all the bad thoughts with him before the fall season starts.
we keep on going, don’t we?
Last year I watched the burning on TV while I heard the shouts from outside “burn!” I echoed the sentiment as the fireworks went off, not knowing where I would be in a year. My mom would have a stroke but recover. My niece would give birth to a little girl. My daughter’s friend would die by suicide. A friend would lose her husband. COVID would still rule our lives.
It’s been a year. “Burn!” I say.
Alexander’s passing read the subject line. Holding the warm coffee cup in both hands I stared at my computer screen as new emails popped one by one into my inbox. I set the mug on my desk and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. The email was from Alexander’s wife. Surely, she didn’t mean…it couldn’t be…had he been sick? For a few seconds, which seemed like minutes, I hesitated and then I clicked to open the email.
“Next time I’m in The Netherlands I’ll look you up” I had written Alexander. When I was visiting family in The Netherlands again he was on my mind. Driving off the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque making my way north I noticed the exit sign for the village he lived in now. I made an excuse - next time - I thought. After all there is always a next opportunity. “I’ll see you,” he’d replied, “until we meet again.” I imagined a broad smile playing on his thin lips, a glisten in his blue eyes as he typed up the words. Always so full of enthusiasm. It would be his last email to me.
My mom went to the funeral and talked to his wife. “We kind of knew,” she said with a certain calm in her voice “we were playing hide-and-seek with each other.” Alexander had been on the waiting list for heart surgery. They even considered getting an operation in Belgium. It was too late and Alexander died in his sleep at age 38. His body so grown that it almost touched the glass of the coffin. A portrait of a smiling Alexander with thick shining curls sat in front of the casket.
Until we meet again Alexander. You were my first love; the one I fell head over heels in love with over a Kenny Marks’ gospel concert. You were my first devastating heartbreak; three months of relentless crying with ABBA ‘The Winner Takes It All’ on repeat on my cassette player. Sometimes I think I see you in a crowd. I catch a glimpse of you in other people’s faces, in the wildflowers you knew by name, in DJs’ voices, a curl in a neck and the naïve enthusiasm of youth missionaries.
Pietje - say Peach-a!