I have been dwelling on what to write for months and months (and months and months). And even now, I fear it’s all going to come out disjointed and a hot mess, as usual. So buckle up and get ready some stream of consciousness spaghetti art, because I’m exhausted from penning this all up in my brain.

In the Before Times, right at the end, the last good, normal things I remember happening include the Harry Potter game night I hosted for some friends from work, my weekly mom night out with Erin, and getting excited with Laura about The Quiet Place 2 coming out soon and getting to see it with her. I remember preschool drop-offs with my son, and hearing about recess fun my daughter got to have with her friends.

I know it wasn’t so immediate, but my memory plays it like it was overnight. Over the course of the first few days of my kids’ and husband’s spring break, the distant coronavirus problem that was only affecting countries elsewhere was all of a sudden in our cities. Pandemic, quarantine, Covid-19, testing, sanitizer, toilet paper shortage- all of it went DEFCON 1 overnight. At work, there was a panic that one of our newer employees was infected, so our company immediately pushed hard to make us remote-capable. As soon as I got the all-clear to work from home, and as soon as AJ got the notification that spring break was being extended, we packed bags and hit the road.

You see, having struggled these past few years with anxiety and depression at varying levels, this kind of global crisis has always been one of those “what-if” scenarios in the back of my brain, and I always had my plan of what we’d do. We’d gtfo of town. We’d head to my parents’ farm. We’d ride it out by learning to farm the land and I’d magically become a candlemaker, gardener, and seamstress. We’d fend off the zombies with a local militia of my parents’ aging farmer friends. AJ would learn to hunt, and my kids would learn to do all of the above. We would survive the apocalypse.

No one told me the apocalypse just keeps going.

Also, instead of zombies, it’s mindless anti-maskers (???) who never learned that they should care about other people beyond themselves. Instead of zombies, it’s the horror of realizing the pernicious undercurrent of racism never left any part of our nation, and no amount of rational discussion seems to spread light on just how twisted and deep the biases and prejudices have become. Change is hard and scary, and we have become a nation of cowards. I am terrified for November.

We went to the farm. I did not magically become a country girl. I set up in a rehabbed shed to do my telework. AJ and Mair struggled through a haphazard end of the school year over zoom meetings. My brother and his family joined us for a time- 13 of us in the house at one point. Total chaos. My mom bought baby chicks. Jack developed a farmers tan. Mairin became the country girl I could never be. AJ found joy in the quiet. I developed stronger anxiety and a higher therapy bill. We stayed for 4 months.

After June, it was apparent the apocalypse was not going to be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am event. No, it is here to stay. At least, for as long as it takes for the American public to get its collective shit together and accept that yes, science is a thing! And lo! Science works!

We had to figure out a new normal, along with the rest of you. I ordered like 1700 masks. My kids know more about molecular biology at 7 and 5 than I did at 20. There is no such thing as meandering aimlessly through stores anymore. The summer has been especially hard because, well, it’s a sauna outside, and everywhere we used to go to cool off is closed now, or no longer safe. So we stay inside a lot. The kids go on challenge walks with AJ. I save a lot of 2020 memes on my phone to share with my therapist.

And I sit here, typing these words in the home we still live in, that we’re still able to pay rent on, because we still have both our jobs, and we still have plenty of food to eat. In fact, thanks to not having to pay for childcare or gas to drive to work, we’re saving so much and paying down a lot on debt. We’re definitely the lucky ones, and I am absolutely doing my best not to take it for granted.

In the beginning, when we were at the farm and everything was chaos, I was in survival mode. It was the epitome of the “everything is fine” fire dog meme. I laughed so much with friends (online/via text of course) in those weeks, because if I wasn’t laughing, I’d have to stop and think. But then we came home, and after a few weeks, the survival mode dissipated, and now I’m vacillating between different stages of grief. We’ve lost what was Before. We can never go back. And the day that really hit, it hit like bricks to the chest.

It’s in the split second realization that I’m smiling at a service person at a store, and they can’t see it because of the mask. It’s in the wide-eyed look on everyone’s faces in the stores as we try to shop and pretend at some sort of normalcy but in reality, we’re all stuck together in the bizarre. It’s in the hitch of my breath when I see the picture of Grandma Sharla and remember in that moment that she’s not here anymore and thank God she missed all of this. It’s in the tentative voice of the little girl at the playground who approaches Mair, asking if she can be her best friend- they’ve never met before and this little girl clearly is missing contact with other children her age. It’s in the resilience my children have taught me instead of the other way around. It’s in the little splurges I get for myself or for the family because #selfcare is a commodity these days, and I refuse to live what’s left without the little joys we can find.

I set this post aside for a few days, and then last night, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, and I just-

I’m so tired.

Y’all, I am just so, so tired. The implications and impact this will have on the election and the future of this democratic republic are debilitating, legion. May her memory be a revolution.

We’re supposed to hold onto hope. Not give up. That’s something that’s come fairly easily to me for most of my life. Despair had never really been a part of my landscape. But this truly godforsaken year turns over something new and awful each day and I wake up bracing myself for whatever’s next.

And yet. And yet there is still good. Good to see and good to do. And good to be. A lot of days, I am barely making it. I can barely do more than the minimum required to ensure this little family of mine functions (and even then, AJ is carrying a lot of that too). Hope hasn’t been part of my vocabulary for awhile, but maybe it should be. Maybe it is in the ways I choose to find joy. In laughing. In surrounding myself with words that matter. Words that speak truth. Like these:

“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.” – Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer

Forward. With defiance. Any way I can. That’s where I’m at right now.