All this year, perhaps unconsciously, we’ve all been writing the history of one of the darkest periods in American history.
Some of us do this deliberately, in a journal or diary or blog. But all of us write this history day in and day out in the form of emails, text messages, Instagram shots, Facebook posts, and countless other digital trails that we leave – our own personal versions of the history of 2020.
As the year ends, these histories offer us a window into the time coronavirus barged into our lives, cataloging everything from the mundane to the profound aspects of this new life.
Apparently, my first suggestion of the pandemic came on Feb. 27, in a letter that was one of many that I wrote in a journal to my wife Mary, who died April 1, 2019.
“I wonder if you know what is going on in this world right now,” I said vaguely and without context.
On March 19, I wrote to her about a nice dedication ceremony in her memory, continuing, “Then the world was blown to bits by the coronavirus, and it continues to explode in one long, terrifying, giant car crash.”
I also spoke of “having a knot of dread in our stomachs.”
According to the COVID calendar I kept beginning in March, on the 19th I was in semi-lockdown. “Booze delivery,” I noted. (I’m not stupid.) “Outside pickup at Rosemont.” (Really? That had already started?) and “gas” (for the car, I assume, or maybe it was dyspepsia.)
Actually, I have a suspicion that by the 19th COVID-19 may have already visited my home. On March 10, I noted in the calendar that I’d gone to the mall to pick up a new iPad at the Apple store. And that my grandson Teddy visited for a sleepover and vomited that night. Next day: “Took Ted home.”
Then I self-quarantined because I read that vomiting is an early sign of COVID-19.
He’s convinced it was the virus, but he hasn’t had an antivirus test. I know I’ve never been infected because they test for the antivirus when I donate blood.
In my overstuffed email box, I see that the early days of March were rampant with innocence, denial, and magical thinking. There were big restaurant lunches with friends, skiing, in-person meetings, travel reservations, coffees, family gatherings, and concerts.
The first sign of big trouble came in an email from Lufthansa, which had canceled my March 18 flight to Italy, where I was to join friends for a week in Lucca, which later became ground zero for the virus in that country.
On March 9 neighbors wrote to see if I wanted to join them for an opera. Two days later, on March 11, the day I drove my ailing grandson home, “social distancing” had become a thing and The Washington Post sent a “Your Guide to the Coronavirus” email.
On March 15, text messages tell me that my daughter Morgan and her kids were still skiing at Shawnee Peak. But that was when the fun ended as the mountain, along with others, closed due to the pandemic. “We are all crying on the way home,” Morgan texted.
Also on the 15th, I clipped a story from The New York Times to my Notes app that contemplated infection and death numbers under four scenarios, assuming the virus lasted a year. It concluded that between 160 million and 214 million people could be infected over the course of the pandemic, with as many as 200,000 to 1.7 million deaths.
(As of today, Dec. 17, there have been more than 301,000 deaths and nearly 16.5 million confirmed cases, with numbers rising drastically every day. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts that 502,000 Americans will die by April 1, 2021.)
On the 18th I complained in a text to Morgan, “I’m getting tired of all this. Tell me when it’s over.” Hah! The next day I texted that my first booze delivery, the same one I noted on my COVID calendar, had arrived.
There would be plenty more in the ensuing months.
As we pull our feet out of the sticky, black muck that was 2020 and step into 2021, let’s hope we land on solid ground.
The histories we write every day will tell that story.
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.