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A Year of Treading Water

Updated: Sep 10

By Emmy Serviss


Falling Back

Eighteen months ago, I had a loving boyfriend, a full-time job, two sweet cats, enough money in the bank to allow me to travel, and regular stage time in the Boston comedy scene.


Today, I have two sweet cats.


I won’t sit here and pretend that my pandemic experience has been the worst imaginable. All things considered, I was lucky. I was able to collect unemployment for a year, I had a roof over my head, I could still pay my bills and (even though they were only accessible over Zoom) I had an incredible support system of friends and family. Most importantly, I didn’t get Covid.


But looking back to where I was (and WHO I was) 18 months ago, it’s absolutely ludicrous to think about how much has changed. I don’t even remember the person I was back then. It feels like both only yesterday, and a lifetime ago.


Back in April 2020. I had no idea how my world was about to change.
Back in April 2020. I had no idea how my world was about to change

Spring 2020

I vaguely remember in March that there was some talk of a new virus going around. It seemed like something maybe to be concerned about, but then my friend invited me to go on an impromptu Disney World trip for her 30th birthday. And since I wasn’t that concerned, I jumped at the opportunity.


Turns out that the most magical place on Earth is actually anywhere before March 19, 2020.
Turns out that the most magical place on Earth is actually anywhere before March 19, 2020

A couple weeks later, my (now ex) boyfriend and I had plans to spend a long weekend in the Dominican Republic. By this time, we had gone from maybe being concerned to definitely being concerned. But were we concerned enough to cancel the trip? I hemmed and hawed for the better part of a week. My family thought we were being reckless. My ex argued that they were overreacting. Ultimately, we went on the trip.


I was masking up in airports before mask mandates were a thing
I was masking up in airports before mask mandates were a thing

I was extremely skittish while we were traveling, but once we landed I was so happy we decided to go. The resort was amazing, the DR was gorgeous and it was the most romantic vacation I’d ever been on. I’ve never been a big fan of the beach, but the beaches of Punta Cana changed my mind. The sand was soft, the water was crystal blue and I swam next to colorful fish that darted around my legs. Floating on my back where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, I felt utterly at peace.


The last moment of pure joy.
The last moment of pure joy

To this day, I’m thankful that I got to experience that trip before the world shut down. But yes we were definitely reckless and in hindsight, definitely shouldn’t have gone on the trip.


We landed back in the U.S. just in time for the country to go into lockdown. After spending a week in separate quarantines, we decided that I would temporarily move in with him so we could spend the rest of the time together. After all, it was only going to be a couple weeks, maybe a month tops, right? (Hahahahahahahahahaha!)


A week later, I was laid off.


Overnight, I had gone from all of my time being filled up with a full-time day job and nightly comedy rehearsals, to having 24 hours to fill, 7 days a week. I was suddenly faced with time. So much time. You ever say a word repeatedly and then that word loses all meaning?


Time.

Time. Time. Time. Time.

Time. Time. Time. Time. Time. Time. Time. Time.

TimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTimeTime.


By the end of April, time had lost all meaning to me. It was like being back at the ocean. Stretching as far as the eye could see, with unfathomable depths. Some days I could watch the waves crash peacefully on the shore. Other days I felt like I was drowning.


Summer 2020

I tried to find new hobbies to fill my suddenly endless supply of time.


First was baking. (and before you ask, no I did not make a sourdough starter) I skipped over the obligatory bread week and went straight for cupcakes and cookies. I spent $40 on fancy sprinkles that were aptly named “Fancy Sprinkles.” I tried new flavor combinations and then tried to sell my cookies to friends and family. (A few of them were kind enough to humor me)


The fanciest of sprinkles for the okayest of cupcakes.
The fanciest of sprinkles for the okayest of cupcakes

Then my ex requested that I stop baking so often, because he was enjoying my new hobby a little too much. He was a little reluctant to gain the Pandemic 15. I was kind enough to gain his 15 along with my own.


Next I tried to resurrect the art of letter writing. And by letter writing, I mean scribbling an attempted cheerful greeting on a card and then slapping on a bunch of whimsical stickers. Sometimes I’d throw in a fistful of glitter. I think I helped keep the U. S. Post Office in business for most of 2020, with the number of stamps I bought and packages I sent across the country.


I don't care that I'm almost 40, I love my stickers.
I don't care that I'm almost 40, I love my stickers

Even though most of the people I sent letters and packages to didn’t reciprocate, it didn’t matter. Writing a silly card to a friend in San Antonio bought me a few minutes of peace, creativity and escape. And (hopefully) it brought a smile to their face when they received it. If I got something from them in the mail, that was just a bonus. (It is worth noting, though, my mom always sent me a card in return.)


Other hobbies included coloring (crayons, markers, colored pencils all got a turn), painting, starting a Twitch channel, signing up for an online Spanish class (this always got pushed off to ‘tomorrow’) and joining an online game group.


Something something brushstrokes something something use of color.
Something something brushstrokes something something use of color

That online game group, The Spooky Doines, turned out to be one of the biggest support systems I would have during the next 18 months. Strangers became friends. Casual acquaintances became good friends. Good friends became invaluable. During a time when nothing was guaranteed, I could still rely on my friends to be there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The world might be on fire, but we were there to distract and support each other as needed. I thought that maybe the worst of the pandemic was over. (HILARIOUS)


My very silly friends could always make me smile.
My very silly friends could always make me smile

As we crept towards further into quarantine, that support was going to be needed more than ever.


Fall 2020

I’m an affectionate person. I love hugging, holding hands, snuggling, high fiving and being generally goofy. My ex was not affectionate. He wasn’t one to offer hugs unprompted, or snuggle up to me on the couch, or give me a quick kiss on his way to the kitchen. He would hug me if requested. But I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t so much a hug as it was just his arms briefly applying pressure to my shoulders and back.


At this point, it had been about six months since I’d had a real proper hug. The kind of hug where you can feel someone’s energy as they squeeze you tight, and you can’t help but smile. I felt as though I was starving for physical affection. I honestly don’t know what is worse: only being able to see friends and family over Zoom or being able to see friends and family in person but not being allowed to touch.


I was starting to lose my mind.


Social distancing visits are better than nothing.
Social distanced visits are better than nothing.

Winter 2020

I naively thought that the holiday season would magically fix everything. (At least that’s what movies have taught me!) But sadly, reality doesn’t subscribe to the Hallmark Channel. My family is in New York and Mississippi, so we couldn’t travel to see them for Thanksgiving. My ex’s family is in western Massachusetts, but his stepmother is immunocompromised and his grandparents are in their 80s, so we couldn’t see them either.


I tried my best to be thankful for our health and was determined to distract myself from the impending pit of despair growing in my stomach. So I cooked a Thanksgiving feast for two from scratch. He barely noticed.


It's not Thanksgiving if you don't put a bird on it.
It's not Thanksgiving if you don't put a bird on it

I doubled down in December and planned a special Christmas Eve dinner plus a Christmas morning breakfast. He complained that I was making too many heavy meals. It was around this time that I realized I had graduated from ‘eating my feelings’ to ‘cooking my emotions.’


Christmas calories don't count.
Christmas calories don't count

With a severe lack of human connection, I was trying desperately to connect with the one person I had been quarantined with for the last nine months. And somehow, after all this time and all my efforts, he still didn’t see me.


You know when little kids start jumping around yelling, “Hey! Look at me! Did you see that?! Watch me! Did you see me?!” Only to get the halfhearted response of, “That’s nice, sweetie.”


It felt like that.


I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have my friends or family, I didn’t have performing, and now my relationship felt like it was slipping away. I felt like I was slipping away. I had spent the last five years in Boston building a life I was proud of, and then it was gone.


I was drowning in the ocean and no one saw me.


I was clinging to my relationship like a life preserver, and I didn’t realize that we were leaking air.


2021

We dragged ourselves to the new year, determined that 2021 would be a new start. We went all out for Valentine’s Day, with a fancy takeout dinner and a romantic Paint Nite at home.


A romantic couples Paint Nite.
Two halves + one whole=romance. Or something.

Everything seemed fine.

It wasn’t.


The breaking point was appropriately, a fight over a Covid test.


My ex had been working from home for the better part of the last year, but he went to the office once a week for a staff meeting. And he had mentioned in passing that his boss wasn’t always great about masking up in the office. So when my ex told me that his boss had tested positive for Covid, I immediately panicked.


“Are you going to get a Covid test?”

“Nah.”


Needless to say, this was not the response I was expecting and we ended up arguing in the car to the point where (for the first and only time in two years) he yelled at me, “EMMY. STOP.”


I found his cavalier attitude to be irresponsible. He thought I was overreacting. It was the Dominican Republic all over again. Only now, it was a year later and I wasn’t hemming and hawing anymore.


He refused to get a Covid test, so I got one.

I tested negative.


Naturally, he took this as confirmation that I had been worrying needlessly. For me, it was the eye-opener that I needed. Was I worrying? Yes. Was it needless? Absolutely not. I would rather overreact and have a negative Covid test than play Russian Roulette with my health and the health of those around me. And he couldn’t be bothered to consider my well-being.


He couldn’t be bothered to consider me.


A week later, I was moving back into my apartment. We didn’t call it a breakup at first. We were “taking some time” apart. That didn’t last long. I changed my Facebook status back to ‘Single’ and ordered a ridiculously large ice cream sundae to be delivered to my doorstep.


I let go of the life preserver.

And I remembered that I could swim.


Letting myself drift with the current.
Letting myself drift with the current

Looking Forward

It was a bumpy start, but I’ve slowly been putting my life back together. I started piecing together some part-time jobs and stopped collecting unemployment. Winter melted away and I invited friends over to sit on my porch for a chat and a homemade cookie.


Back at my apartment and back to baking.
Back at my apartment and back to baking

In May I was finally vaccinated. I celebrated with 24 hours of side effects and pastrami from Katz’s Deli. (Thanks, Goldbelly!) Two weeks later, I took a train to NYC to see my parents. I hadn’t seen them in almost two years, and I hadn’t hugged anyone other than my ex in 14 months.


Needless to say, there were tears.


My first real hug in over a year.
My first real hug in over a year

I met up with some friends for dinner and we were all giddily awkward at how to navigate the new Covid era social cues.


“Can I hug you?”

“Do you know how to scan this QR code?”

“Should I put my mask back on while we order?”


I was scared, unsure, a little insecure with my pandemic pounds (damn my baking!) but I felt giddy. I felt like me again. I felt seen. All those months I thought that my ex was the life preserver keeping my head above water. But in retrospect, he was an anchor pulling me down.


I was keeping my own head above water.


As we begin another fall, the future isn’t clear. Many people are vaccinated, but many still aren’t. Masks are encouraged, but not always mandated. There’s caution, but is it enough?


All we can do is channel our inner Dory.


Just keep swimming.

I am alone and I am still whole.
I am alone and I am still whole


Photograph by Caitlin Arcand
Photograph by Caitlin Arcand

Emmy Serviss is a Boston-based writer, actor and video editor. Once it is safe to return to live theater, you can find her performing with ComedySportz Boston and the sketch group SUZZY. When not on the stage, Emmy enjoys indulging in her new pandemic hobbies, laughing way too loudly and counting the days until Halloween.

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