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Dear 2021

by Alexa Baczak 2 months ago in advice

I have no resolution

Dinner on December 31st, 2020

Dear 2021,

I have no resolution to give you, and that is because a year ago. I had no resolution for 2020. I assure you it is for a different reason this time.

At 12:01 AM on January 1st, 2020, the emergency room doctor checked in on me. I had been in the bubble-wrapped silence of the ER since 7 PM, December 31st, 2019, and would be waiting for another two hours. My insurance was being difficult.

When he asked how I was, I didn't take my eyes off the clock. Instead, I smiled weakly and said, "Despite my best efforts, I made it to 2020."

My bird, Leo, and me on December 26th, 2019. Disclaimer: he's been a feather plucker since before I had him. He's very happy and healthy.

I could write out all the details that led me to that moment, but all you need to know is I tried to escape after months of abuse. None of my friends or family knew how bad it was until right before Christmas when I was desperate. But no one, not even I, knew how close to the edge I was. Not until midnight 2020.

My mom waited for me to be brought out until 2 AM. She couldn't see me because I was on a suicide watch. The five minutes we had when I was finally transferred would be the last time I saw her for seven months.

The day I'm writing this is January 6th, 2021. Exactly a year ago, to the hour, I was discharged from the hospital. My friend had made arrangements with her parents to take me in. So all I needed to do was get into the apartments, get my birds, and everything I could shove into a few bins.

I won't get into specifics of the situation. It would take an entire book and paying overtime to my therapist.

My job had medical leave available, so I had the entirety of January off. But most of that was dealing with legal issues trying to get the rest of my things back. I had all my needs. However, I left ashes and clay pawprints from pets who passed away. My college diploma. My rubber duck collection. All my books. My furniture.

I debated just letting it all go because I was terrified to go back.

But luckily, I had a friend who is a lawyer in Florida and hooked me up with one in my state. He took it all on pro bono. At this point in the story, I wanted blood. I wanted to take my abusers' asses and wipe a courtroom with them. My mental health was totally good enough to handle a lawsuit, I thought.

Not many lawyers try to talk clients OUT of suing, but he did where my family and friends couldn't. It wasn't the logistics I was thinking of. It was justice. He pointed out they would have lawyers too. Lawyers who would try to find every piece of information they could on me. They'd grill me and traumatize me more. Even if I did win, I'd suffer more. Some costs can't be paid back. Especially time.

This was the first hard lesson of 2020. How to show myself and them the mercy they didn't show me. I had already started having nightmares about the apartment. I didn't need more. I didn't let go because I wanted to be the better person. I let go because not letting go would have made me a worse one.

Ziggy on January 7th, 2020

In February, my lawyer was finally able to negotiate to get everything left in the apartment.

My college ex, Craig, and I became good friends years after we broke up six years ago, and he, my dad, and my brother all went into the apartment while I helped put things in the truck.

I hadn't seen Craig since we graduated, and I didn't know how much I missed his hugs until that day. We caught up during lunch.

When COVID hit, I was starting to look for apartments, and I ended up staying with my friend's parents for almost 11 months.

That was the second hard lesson I learned in 2020. Patience.

Over the course of 2020, I slept in a twin bunk bed and became a member of the family I lived with. The foyer had high ceilings, so the birds stayed in my room. Which was fine. Leo and Ziggy had plenty of flying room.

I'll never be able to pay back what the family did for me. They saved my life and asked for nothing in return. Every morning, my friend's mom would wake up and grind fresh coffee beans. It became a routine because I woke up as early as she did. We'd both sit in the kitchen, and sometimes we'd chat. Sometimes we would play games on our phones while in each other's company. Pre-pandemic, she had beaten all Candy Crush levels and often had to wait for them to make more levels. When the pandemic hit in March, Candy Crush added many more levels. She was thrilled. I'm not sure if she's run out of levels again yet. I should ask!

Game Night. Sometime in January 2020

I decided to start working from home a day before my office officially closed, and it ended up being a good fit for me. For a few months, I had a temporary workspace in the living room until I got a desk to put in the room I was living in.

When Animal Crossing came out, I bought a Switch for my mom. They were all sold out, but I managed to find a reasonably priced used one. Actually, I bought a few Switches for my closest friend and brother. The pandemic forced me to come to terms with how terrible with money I was, but at this time, I hadn't seen my mom since I was in the ER. Animal Crossing ended up being the only way we were able to hang out.

Message #1

Message #2

My brother and I finally went to surprise my mom in July. My brother picked me up, and we drove an hour before we went inside, hid beside her bed, and jumped out when she got home.

July 2020. My mom and Lula.

When I started writing a (still unfinished) short horror science-fiction story, I realized I didn't know much about spaceships, so I reached out to Craig again. He's an engineer and an incredible thinker. And we were the type of platonic friends who said "I love you" at the end of our conversations.

"I'm going to have a bunch of stupid questions, and I hope you're ready for them," I said. Truly, I thought I was bothering him, but it became clear he enjoyed helping me brainstorm writing ideas. He messaged me about it regularly, even offering ways characters could react to different design choices--all without mansplaining or taking over the story.

I started to save for a down payment on a condo, deciding that landlords just weren't something I wanted to deal with again. Making a fairly decent income, I thought it would be easier, but it ended up involving months of raising my credit and coming to terms with my impulsive spending. Unfortunately, I never got there.

In early August, things in the family home were getting tight, and I needed to figure out another living situation. I didn't need to think for long. Craig offered the birds and me a room at his place.

When Craig sent the offer, I was talking to my mom on the phone, and she yelled, "Take it!"

"Okay," I said to him, "But one condition. I'm paying you rent." I'm so grateful, but after nine months of living with a friend's parents, I wanted to contribute to where I lived. I didn't feel like an adult.

So that was how, in August 2020, I made plans to be my ex's roommate.

We started talking every day after that. Before this, we were good friends. When I came out as a lesbian in 2019, he fiercely supported me. Our breakup a million years ago was because, at the time, we were stubborn, depressed, and stressed. Until the last two months, we were happy. We meowed at each other if we had nothing to say. I was very much in love with him and vice versa, and he was a bit of an asterisk where being a lesbian was concerned. You see, 2021, I wouldn't admit that.

Talking every day, we remembered how in sync we were. And my feelings quickly grew confusing. My girlfriend, Rachel, had moved away a little over a year earlier with her primary partner, who is amazing, and I'm close friends with her.

Rachel and I in 2020. She's the cuter one.

Something I don't think is talked about enough in the queer community is change. Coming out as a lesbian in 2019 was a powerful moment for me, and I was open about it. Suddenly, I had confusing feelings that made me feel like I was lying the whole time.

And believe me. They were powerful. I felt it in my chest every time I thought about him. Like a tidal wave. In early September, I finally had to admit I had the feels bad. The first person I told was Rachel.

She was instantly supportive and asked me more about him. Queer theory is a regular topic on our vid chats, and we talked about fluidity. How labels are important because we fought so damn hard for them. The freedom to define oneself as queer in a world that wants to crush queerness is freedom worth fighting for. They're affirming and loud. But forcing oneself to fit into a label defined by someone else? That's not freedom. We change over time, but that doesn't mean we can be changed. Change in this instance is an active verb. You will change, but no one can change you.

My labels don't matter to this letter, which is the first reason I have no resolution. Do any particular labels call out to me? Yes, and they may define me for the rest of my life, but they may not. I'm learning to be okay with that.

When Craig and I texted, "I love you," at the end of the day, it slowly grew to mean more than it did in February. Our conversations turned more intimate and heartfelt. And to test the waters, I told Craig our relationship was an asterisk. He reacted similarly to Rachel, and for the next month, he never pushed me or pressured me to think or define myself as anything. In fact, he affirmed my queerness every chance he had.

So then came October. We decided to hang out one day and go to his place. When I spoke about how stressed, symptomatic, and sleepless I had been, Craig said, "This is totally altruistic, but we could snuggle and get those serotonin levels up."

"Altruistic, huh?" I typed. "Bet you're suffering from that suggestion."

"Any benefit for me is purely coincidental."

Let me rewind to almost nine years ago, on Craig and my second date. This was the night I knew I felt safe with him, and on the car ride home from the movie theater, I planned to kiss him on the cheek when we parted ways. My heart pounded.

At a reasonable hour in 2013, Craig walked me to my dorm's backdoor, and when we hugged, I kissed his cheek.

"You missed," he said.

2021, I know you're groaning.

In October 2020, we snuggled on the couch, which was a purely altruistic offer by Craig. He lightly kissed my hair, and I looked up at him and said:

"You missed."

He didn't miss the second time.

I'm finishing this on January 7th, 2021. A year ago, I woke up after the most traumatic series of events in my life, and today, I'm sitting on the couch in a comfy robe writing while Craig works in the office across the hallway. We're visiting my mom this weekend after quarantining.

Craig and I in November 2020 going to a drive-thru testing center when we were presumed positive.

We put a second desk in his office because we like each other's presence, even in silence. We've started meowing at each other again, and it has become a form of communication in itself. If we don't have the words to express we are happy? Meow. Exhausted and want to express how tired we are? Meow. Annoyed with the world, and we just cannot right now? Meow.

I video chat with Rachel every week, and she and Craig adore each other. "You laugh so much when you talk to her, and it makes me so happy," he says after Rachel and I hang up. When he brings home another partner to meet me one day, I already have a game night planned.

The birds and cat can't be in the same room because Lucky is a spicy Calico, but the birds are happy. Ziggy lets Craig pet her, which, if you know Ziggy, you know how rare that is.

On New Year's Eve, when my anniversary trauma symptoms were acting up, Craig made steak, potatoes, and garlic bread for dinner. And appletinis (my favorite drink). He kissed me at midnight after a hurried attempt to find the channel the ball dropped on. We ended up kissing with the cable menu as a background. We're making plans to get things out of the storage unit.

My adopted daughter, Lucky, on Christmas morning. Fun Fact: She's obsessed with muffins, and we can't eat baked goods around her.

Things are still crap, 2021. But for me, at least, it is better crap. I'm happy and scared. I'm confident and feel helpless to change anything. I made mistakes. So many mistakes. But 2020 was the year I learned how to hold two conflicting emotions in me. I learned how to question the ground I was standing on. How to accept change. How to cope with the dread. How to cope with the cloud of indifference I feel to the atrocious death toll of COVID. How to see outside of my own trauma vacuum.

That's why I have no resolution, 2021. Because the last time I made a resolution on New Year's Eve, I nearly died. It's so much more than that, though. I don't want to focus on my weaknesses anymore and fall into a spiral of self-hate. I don't want to define the success of 364 days based on a vague goal.

Optimism isn't about ignoring the present. It's about believing in the future, even when it is difficult. Things are grim, and I won't say "it'll get better" because, for many, many people, it won't. But I wanted to write this letter because there's a girl a year ago who thought it wouldn't get better. And thought she was weak and couldn't stand on her own. And for all I know, someone similar may be reading this right now.

A year later, she'll be a full-time writer living with a love of her life, her birds, and a cat. She still has trauma symptoms, and she still gets scared. She still says things she doesn't mean sometimes. Her spending habit still isn't conquered, but she's gotten better. She'll lose friends because she messed up, and she'll lose friends because she learned how to set boundaries. She'll lose friends, and it won't always be fair. There will be times she wants to give up, but she doesn't.

I don't know the girl from January 1st, 2020 anymore. And I won't know me from today anymore a year from now. That was the last and more important lesson of 2020: Nothing is unchangeable.

That doesn't mean everyone can just up and change their life for the better. The only reason I can write full-time is I have enough money and time to mess up. What I mean by "nothing is unchangeable" is that no matter how dark and scary the world is, there's still hope.

I have no resolution, 2021, because you don't exist. Neither did 2020. I'm not going to make a resolution to an imaginary boundary any more than I'm going to make a promise to stay a label someone else defined. Giving power to New Year's Eve is letting New Year's Eve 2020 keep its traumatic grip around my neck.

The riots on January 6th, 2021 don't define the rest of the year. We do. We define it. Not in fighting, but in how we live every day. When we demand the right to be ourselves, to exist, to love, to hurt, to cry, to be angry, we define every day. We define every day by the mistakes we make and by the people we love. We define every day by the bedtime stories we read to kids at night.

We define every day by being totally and helplessly human. As long as we have that, there is hope. In a capitalistic world hellbent on creating profits no matter the cost, be human. Write a love note on a napkin. In the three seconds of spare time you have between two jobs, dance to a song. Make terrible art. Keep a pretty rock. Play Candy Crush for a few minutes in the morning. Write poems that don't rhyme. Do weird things for no reason. I highly recommend meowing.

As long as we keep what makes us human, even if in the smallest of ways, there is hope.

So 2021, I have one thing to say to you: Meow.

Alexa

advice
Alexa Baczak
Alexa Baczak
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