2020: A Year on Ice

Snowy field with mountains of Boulder CO

In eighth-grade biology, we experimented with the effects of cold water on a goldfish. My lab partner and I called our goldfish Fabio, for his rippling blonde fins. (If you’re not a child of the 90s, here’s the scoop on Fabio).

Fabio flitted in circles around his beaker, energized by the warm water. Our teacher promised we weren’t hurting him, so we dubiously lowered his beaker into a tub of ice. Within minutes, the life had gone out of Fabio’s locks. He slowed to a hover and his breathing rate reduced dramatically.

For a while, I wasn’t even sure that he was breathing at all. Fish are cold-blooded, so their metabolism slows as the surrounding temperature decreases. Fabio was in survival mode, conserving energy until the water warmed up again. He was barely holding on, but he was holding on.

woman lies on her stomach and cat sits on her butt
Some of us are holding on better than others.

A Community Ice Bath

That was 2020: we were all doing our thing when, without warning, our beakers were plunged into a collective ice bath. I thought the waiting would be temporary, like a blast of cold water in the shower. Intense, but bearable.

In March, Jared and I booked a trip to Alaska for August. “Surely this will all have passed by then,” we thought. “We’ll be able to travel.”

You know what happened—by August, it was worse. We cancelled that trip. A spare mask now dangled from the rearview mirror of our car. Phrases I’d almost never used before became a regular part of my vocabulary. Social distancing. Quarantine. Lockdown. Self-isolate.

Ever the rule-follower, I spent way too much time over the summer doing mental gymnastics about which activities were okay vs not okay, as if that dichotomy actually existed. Eventually I settled on a convoluted hierarchy of risks I was willing to take, like going to the grocery store, physical therapy, and hikes.

There Are No Rules

At the beginning, I thought I’d do well in isolation. It’s what introverts thrive on, right? I’d write like crazy, catch up with people on FaceTime, lay down some plans for the future, and get ready to spread my wings when the time came.

small painting of a palm tree on a tabletop easel
Not going to quit my day job just yet.

I didn’t account for the emotional sledgehammer of watching so many people reject science, insist that this country doesn’t have a problem with race, embrace conspiracy theories, vote for a narcissistic white supremacist, again, and refuse to protect their neighbors by doing something as simple as wearing a mask.

In the United States, some of us are hanging out in our beakers, baking bread and knitting, and some of us are swimming around the pond shouting come on in, the water’s fine!

So I haven’t been writing, thinking deep thoughts, or becoming a better version of myself. My days consist of work, knitting, baking, and documenting our foster cats on Instagram. I know how lucky I am, to be employed, working from home, healthy, and I don’t want to jeopardize any of it. My expectations are low—just get to the other side of this.

knitting gone wrong
Low expectations also extend to my knitting projects.

After a year of this, the edges of my personality have worn dull. Emotional highs and lows are few and far between; most of the time I hover somewhere in the middle. It’s part of the waiting game—I’ve turned inwards, hibernating mentally and physically until it’s safe to come out of the cave.

Warmer Water Ahead

I avoid thinking about how long this will last. It’s easier to go into Fabio mode and float, holding on to the knowledge that it will eventually end. I can’t fantasize about when this is over, because the current reality is too all-consuming. I’d rather the post-pandemic era just sneak up with a confetti cannon and yell SURPRISE! whenever it gets here.

When that happens, I’ll air out these cobwebs in my brain. Go squeeze my new nephew. Pack a bag for somewhere warm, maybe even put on something besides the sweater-and-leggings combo I’ve been sporting almost exclusively for the last year. Sit down and write again. Cautiously, slowly, make plans to see people in person again.

We’re not there yet, so I’m not exactly pulling my jeans out of the closet or pricing flights. But we have a new administration in power, people I know are getting vaccinated, and I have hope.

socially distant baby meeting
I’m coming for you baby Finn.

Towards the end of that biology class, we lifted Fabio out of his ice bath and placed his beaker into a bowl of warm water. The fish didn’t respond. We huddled in front of the beaker, panicked. Had we killed him?

After a few minutes, his fins fluttered as his sides expanded and contracted. His tail twitched to life, golden fins waving, and he started to swim.

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