On March 10, 2020, I attended what would be my last indoor public gathering in a long time, a US Air Guitar competition at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. I was ambivalent about going. We were still holding out hope that the coronavirus situation would be contained, but that hope was feeling more and more naive. “I love you,” I told my friends, “but I’m not touching you.” That seemed responsible. Masks weren’t a thing yet. We had all been washing our hands like mad for weeks.
That was the last day I went into the office.
The World Health Organization declared the pandemic the next day, and the president addressed the nation the day after that. But it wasn’t like flipping a switch. That Friday—the, uh, 13th—taking a bus from New York to Philadelphia felt merely like a not great idea, rather than a terrible one, even as my ears amplified anything on that bus that sounded remotely like a cough. Would I have done it if Leah and I weren’t in a race against the COVID shutdown clock to buy a house? And what would have happened if we hadn’t found exactly the right house in the nick of time?
On the contrary, what would have happened if we bought a house under normal circumstances? A higher interest rate, certainly. More temptation to spend disposable income on things like dining out, entertainment, and travel, rather than investing it in our home. Money isn’t everything, and the lockdown has undoubtedly taken a nontrivial emotional toll, but the fact is, beyond the luck of our continued health and that of most of our loved ones, we are in some ways better off than we would have been if the pandemic had never happened. As ever, I’m trying not to let my guilt overwhelm my gratitude.
I mean, as fucked up as it sounds, I have a weird kind of nostalgia for those first couple of months. I was reconnecting with friends from virtually every era of my life on a regular rotation of Zoom calls. I was eating better and cheaper. I was making music and sharing it with friends. The nostalgia glosses over the fresh dread, anxiety, and paranoia, of course, but that doesn’t mean the good stuff wasn’t good, and I was able to make some respectable lemonade out of COVID’s deadly lemons.
Moving into the new house and beginning to make it our own has been its own kind of lemonade, to be sure, but by the time that started we were already deep into George Floyd, multiple climate catastrophes, and the ugliest election in my lifetime. Dread, anxiety, and paranoia are harder to gloss over when they’re tempered with rage. It’s only now, with the virus receding, vaccinations increasing, and a sane person in the White House, that I’m finally starting to breathe again. But the fact remains that I’m arguably in better shape now than I would have been if the last year had not been a disaster.
I promise you this, though: If the only gains Leah and I make over the next 365 days are the ability to welcome our family and friends into our new home, that’ll be plenty good enough for us.