The truly funny thing about 2020 is that it’s not the worst year I’ve had, not even close.
It’s obviously unbelievably terrible in general and my mental health is not, per se, great. But a combination of luck and privilege has spared me the worst of this year: no one in my immediate family has died of coronavirus, and I’ve been able to collect unemployment payments and find freelance work when my job went away. I’m doing a lot better than a lot of people. Plus, I’m a 29-year-old living in a city I love with a Zoloft prescription, a therapist, and two functional hands, so that’s a big improvement over my life a few years ago.
When I was a useless fetus just one year out of college, I developed carpal tunnel in both hands. It was initially misdiagnosed as something that would go away on its own if I just used computers less. This was a big ask, as it was the year 2014. Computers were pretty common back then. For instance, I was working as a social media manager and doing freelance marketing work that involved graphic design and writing. Nothing I did could be accomplished without a laptop.
To make matters more pressing, my main job was becoming wildly untenable anyway. The octogenarian owner of the company hoped to sell it, so he barged in from wherever he’d been hiding previously to make some improvements to the place. One such measure, directed at me, was sending multiple emails a day to our mailing list. Everyone loves getting emails, he kept insisting. This is by far the funniest anecdote of my time with this man, whose management style also included personal questions about my family, casually homophobic remarks, casually sexist remarks, and layoffs that impacted everyone who made the company function.
What was I supposed to do? How could I get a new job when my hands weren’t working? I was fresh out of college with a public relations degree but a ban from computers. So when one of my friends posted a job opportunity to her Facebook, I inquired immediately. It was a seemingly boring admin job that involved answering phones, making copies, and things like that. It would certainly involve much less computer work than social media management. Though I had some reservations about the boss in our interview, I ignored them and took the job. I didn’t see any other choice.
So that’s how I pivoted from a company run by one terrible man to another. This boss was actively abusive, occasionally yelling at me until I cried over mistakes that he caused. Would you like a perfect example of this work environment? I’d love to share one! My boss and coworker were expected at an important meeting early one morning — they’d need to drive to a nearby city, at least a half hour drive, and arrive by 9:30am. The entire office had been planning for this presentation for months. The coworker who would be attending this meeting with my boss came in at 8:00. Our boss, always late, often scatterbrained, was not there. 8:30 came. 9:00. He wasn’t answering his phone. Finally, he picked up around 9:15. He was at Chick-Fil-A, he told my coworker cheerfully, getting biscuits. Did anyone want any? Yes, he was coming, he was on his way. I was not on this phone call. My coworker was handling all calls to wrangle our boss that morning.
Nevertheless, when our boss tore into the parking lot at 9:40, driving like a maniac, I was the one who got yelled at. I stood there with the stacks of files for the meeting, but what my boss snarled was “Where’s my briefcase? I just told you to get my briefcase!” He had not, because we hadn’t spoken at all that morning, but I ran full-speed back into the building, upstairs to his office, and raced back down with the briefcase. He yanked it from my hands and snapped, “Great! We’re gonna be late now, THANKS TO YOU!!”
I didn’t even get a biscuit.
So that was my 2015, working for two different toxic shitheads, and at some point the lease was up for the apartment that me and my boyfriend and our dog shared. Unsure if I would be needing surgeries for the hand problem that was not getting better with less computer use, I decided to move back to Raleigh to live with my mom to save money. He moved back to his hometown, too, so now we were in a long-distance relationship, trying to decide if we had a future together. It was grim. I had no friends in Raleigh — many of my college friends had left the state, and I was now isolated from the ones who remained. I hated my job and wasn’t excited about doing anything with my degree anyway. I finally accepted that what I wanted to do was work in theatre in New York City, an insane dream for anyone, any time, but especially for someone with no hands and no theatre degree in North Carolina. Though application deadlines were rapidly approaching, I threw myself into researching grad schools and applying to the ones where I thought I might have a shot.
And at one point during all this chaos, I got invited to a Yule Ball!
My friends Camille and Mary invited me and I said yes, both because I’m always down for an excuse to wear costumes and because I desperately needed some fun and positivity in my life. Geeksboro was a coffee shop in Greensboro, NC, that threw nerdy events like this one, their annual Yule Ball. This one was Prisoner of Azkaban-themed, and J.K. Rowling had not yet outed herself as a giant transphobe, so the whole thing sounded like fun.
It was fun! I got to put together a costume and see my friends and meet a new friend, Jerrika. The main floor had Butterbeers and shepherd’s pie and puddings and games and a performance by Harry and the Potters. The basement was dark and candlelit with a set for photography and a corner dedicated to “Occlumency” (tarot card or palm readings.)
I certainly did not want to opt for a palm reading — fuck my dumb hands, I didn’t want to hear what they had to say — but Camille and Mary were excited about the idea of a tarot card reading. I was sort of uneasy about it. I don’t want to believe in that stuff, but I simply can’t help it. It’s like how I don’t intellectually accept the zodiac as a thing that can control your life, but also I’m such an Aries. And the part of me that does kind of believe in it was afraid of what it would say, because my future certainly looked bleak at that point.
Camille went first. The reader pulled her cards and not a single one would have related to me. Mary went next and it was the same thing. Both of my friends’ readings were pretty accurate for them, but my brain reasoned that the tarot card reader would say something vague that couldn’t really apply to me when I sat down.
She laid out my cards and looked horrified. She exhaled. “These are…. very intense,” she said.
This was my reading: You’ve just left a period of your life where you were surrounded by close friends. Your strength is that you still have a strong support system of people who love you. But you’re in the middle of the hardest period of your life. And your path is: wait it out. There’s nothing you can do but stay stuck till it’s over. There’s something very good on the other side, and it will be wonderful. You might try to make your situation better now, but you’ll just make it worse. It’s going to be very, very tough but all you can do is deal with it until it’s over.
That wasn’t great!
It was accurate, though. The tarot card reader was right. 2016 proved even worse than 2015, beginning with me working at that terrible job and living with my mom and deteriorating with each month until the autumn. I thought that my path out was grad school applications, but once I got accepted to a grad school, I realized it was all wrong for me. I’d spent months sending in headshots and applications, traveling and auditioning, and it had all been a waste of time and money. I quit my job to rest my hands completely on the advice of my doctor, but my hands never got better, so then I was depressed, living with my mother, in pain, and unemployed for no reason. I got a second opinion on my hands and it turns out I needed surgeries, so I had surgeries. The same day my doctor said that I was fully recovered, I moved to New York City. I had no job, no plan, and barely working hands, but it seemed like my time of hanging in there and suffering was over.
The card with my fortune on it was the Sun. That was the bright, beautiful future waiting for me on the other side of the bad time. New York City has been the sun for me ever since. I’ve worked on my mental health, found jobs and friends, and taken acting classes and singing lessons.
I don’t know when the world will get better. The world is even worse now than in was in 2016, when it was already pretty bad. I don’t want to conflate my own life with all of humanity at large, but I keep thinking about that tarot card reading, how it gave me the specter of something better to cling to while trapped in the midst of the worst. I can’t help but hope that there’s a sun on the other side of this for us all.