A year into the pandemic, everything has changed, and yet nothing has
Dear Aly from a year ago,
You’re standing in the Rideau Street Loblaws. You’ve never seen so many people in one grocery store.
You’re calling your mom in the United States. She can’t hear you over the hubbub, the panic, the metal carts clinking into each other. She asks if you want to come home. You don’t know — it’s too noisy, too chaotic, too much.
You’re chucking things into your cart. Cookies, grapes, brownie mix, batteries, soup. Boxes and boxes of pasta. Frozen things. Non-perishable things.
Not toilet paper. Not hand sanitizer. Not wipes.
Those are long gone.
To this version of Aly: I know.
You’re scared. You’re wondering if you should fly home — for only a few months, right? Surely this will blow over by summer, by autumn, by 2021 — or if you should weather whatever this is in the crumbling walls of your Centretown shoebox.
You check out of Loblaws with $200 worth of groceries. It’s not enough. It’s too much.
You don’t know.
You wonder how long it’ll take for the bananas to go bad, how long it’ll take to muster the energy to bake a loaf of sourdough, to check out Tiger King after seeing its memes all over Twitter.
To my year-ago self: I cannot possibly warn you of what’s to come.
Your Starbucks addiction will get a welcome pause until approximately May — the first Pink Drink to break your fast will taste like normalcy but also loss but also terribly sugar sweet — and you’ll learn to find solace in the prepared grease of an Egg McMuffin from the McDonald’s on Bronson.
You’ll take walks.
You’ll log kilometre after kilometre, shivering in the early spring chill but not caring, just reveling in the shift of being anywhere other than your apartment.
You’ll buy a Nintendo Switch. You’ll let it get dusty.
You’ll finish Tiger King, then Cheer, then Love Is Blind. Cheer is actually super good, and I can report that, yes, a year later, you’ll re-watch it: you’ll romanticize those early days of pandemic.
You’ll miss it.
The University of Ottawa will close, and you’ll cry, and you’ll make sure your daily walks pass by your beloved theatre building. You’ll write love letters to the third-floor student lounge. A year later you’ll still remember how it smells, like perfume and paper and years of naps and homework and rehearsal.
You’ll interview for a Fulcrum job on a whim. You’ll get it. You’ll love it.
To my year-ago self: everyone will be feeling the loss of work, of art, of socialization.
You’re not alone.
Your interpersonal relationships will fracture, but so will everyone’s. The entire world is feeling that same overwhelming dread you feel creeping into your bones, the dread that’s leaching into your writing no matter how hard you try. You’ll forget how to write about things outside the context of the pandemic. You’ll try — you’re a trained theatre critic, you know better than to get wrapped up in the sentimentality of calamity — but eventually, COVID-19 will take over, and you won’t be able to ignore it.
Taylor Swift will release folklore, then evermore, then Fearless. These will be high points of not only your year, but in truth, your early twenties. Savour these albums. Scream them in car rides with your roommates.
Your EIC will roast you for it: let him. Roast him back for his own eclectic tastes.
To my year-ago self, stranded in the Rideau Loblaws, wondering how on earth you’ll get all these groceries home: things are going to be okay.
It’s cheesy. I know.
But a year from now, you won’t mind a bit of cheese: it’ll get you through the long, long days of socially distant living and learning. You’re going to miss theatre and live performance with all your heart, but you’re also going to find success in the ashes of the decimated performance industry. You’ll pivot to the possibilities of digital media.
You’ll wince at having just used the word “pivot,” the free space in COVID-journalism bingo.
You’ll learn how to make images like the one you’re using as the header for this article.
A year into the pandemic, you’ll have enough face masks to coordinate them to your outfit. Some will be fleecy, warm enough for your still-daily walks through downtown Ottawa. Some will be cotton, light enough for a sanitized workout in Montpetit.
You will change.
But you’ll learn a lot about yourself, and journalism, and, yes, theatre. You’ll make new friends. You’ll advocate for improved safety and accountability in local theatres and local festivals — because even in a pandemic, some things won’t ever change.
There’s a wild ride ahead. But you’re going to get through it.
A year from now, you’ll be in the same Loblaws, mask-clad and drafting this Fulcrum piece in your head.
All my love from the frozen food aisle of Rideau Street,