On Dec. 3, 2019, I turned 29 with that bittersweet feeling of this is it, this is my last year of my 20s. Ever since I turned 26, I had been dreading hitting 30. Blame it on the cultural narrative around women, I guess, which I hope is shifting.
I was trying to get myself to slowly embrace leaving my 20s in my 29th birthday diary entry. I wrote to myself, “I’m still young, intelligent, kind, beautiful, and a good person. (That doesn’t change next year when I turn 30.) I am exactly who I want to be, and I’m proud of that.” She wasn’t wrong about that, but she was wrong about the year she’d have.
After spending most of my 28th year being heartbroken and a shell of myself after my first serious (but toxic!) relationship ended, I thought 29 was going to be the year where I fully enjoyed and did everything.
I was going to go on vacation to Paris! I had the money now, and wanted to go before I turned 30. I was going to have all the parties with my friends. I was going to go to industry events. I was going to dress up. I was going to explore New York City, build my friendships, work as hard as I could in my job, and feel young, grateful, and free, surrounded by so many great friends doing the same. It was going to be a better year than 2019, for sure.
Then in March, three months in, everything changed, as everyone knows. But even that December, when I saw the word “coronavirus” in news coverage, I had no idea how bad it would get in the U.S.—particularly in New York. Ultimately, all those plans I had for myself would have to be put on hold.
I spent most of my 29th year like everyone else did: quarantining at home. Before COVID-19, my studio apartment was the place I spent the least amount of time because I was always going out. Now it was the safest place in a world drastically altered.
I still had Central Park, where I jogged in and went on daily walks. And I wasn’t completely alone: I went on a first date with an amazing guy the day after my 29th birthday, and he decided to quarantine with me. He was and is the best company I could ask for if made to choose just one person to see every day for over a year. But no one, in an ideal world, should have to do that and give up seeing all their other friends and family.
In 2019, heartbreak distorted who I was, the way it does so many people. I lost the ability to feel unadulterated joy, to not have every emotion tainted by heartache. After half a year being displaced, I felt like I gained myself back on my 29th birthday, only to have other pieces of myself taken in March.
The fact is, turning 29 and then 30 didn’t make me feel old. I went to bed on Dec. 2, 2020 and woke up on Dec. 3 looking and feeling like the same person. My friends and I look back and say we were babies at 25 (and were treated as such by society at large) because we barely knew anything. Five years can do a lot, but they do not make you ancient, no matter what Buzzfeed’s articles tell you.
But a pandemic really takes away your sense of youth. It robs you of the ability to travel freely; the ability to see friends and not fear you may give each other a potentially deadly disease; the ability to see your parents easily (2020 was the first Christmas I spent without them); the feeling you have a clear work-life divide because you work in a office and live in a different place; the ability to go outside and breathe the air freely without wearing a mask. All the little privileges you didn’t realize you could lose so fast are simultaneously gone.
I go on walks now, knowing I am still young, and that turning 30 hasn’t changed that. But I also feel like, scattered around the city, are the pieces of myself I lost in 2020, the pieces of me that made me feel like a full, somewhat self-actualized person.
Down on Houston Street, there’s the part of me dressed up, sprinting in Rothy’s flats or heels to an event from work. Then I’d saunter over to dinner with a friend after at one of our favorite restaurants downtown like Epistrophy or Il Corallo. Maybe we’d get ice cream at Morgenstern’s or Milk & Cream after.
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Across the Brooklyn Bridge is me in Prospect Park with a friend in the summer, walking to the Smorgasburg food stands there. Some days when I went to Brooklyn, I’d go home the ridiculously long way, walking across the bridge back to Manhattan and then uptown until I finally hit the Upper West Side hours later.
Down south in Maryland, where I’m from, there’s the part of me that goes home to see her parents every Christmas. In her childhood home, she’d hug her dad and mom without being scared that might kill them, play with her sister’s adorable Maltese, and then go to D.C.’s Zoo Lights with her friend since middle school. While in town, she’d catch up with several other childhood friends, just like old times.
All those pieces of me are out there, waiting to be retrieved. In the coming months, I’ll get vaccinated like everyone else and get them back. I loved my life before COVID-19 and wasn’t ready to leave it. But the woman returning now won’t be quite the same. Because for all I lost, I still gained something: a better understanding of mental health, a rejection of the notion that any number defines what you can or can’t do, and an appreciation of stillness I didn’t have when I was always on the move.
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