A blip. That’s what 2021 was. A 365 day week in which almost absolutely nothing happened. If I were to have mysteriously gone into a coma on January 1st 2021 and awakened on January 1st 2022, totally physically and mentally inert for the whole year, I would be in the exact same spot as I currently am. Nothing has changed. Only two notable things transpired this year and they were both very sad. The rest was mostly mental turmoil as I withered away from loneliness. Cool, OK, let’s get right into it.
“There’s an owl in the park,” my sister told me. I leapt from my chair. I’d never seen an owl in the wild before, so this would be something brand new for me. I’d have an interesting anecdote about January 1st, 2021. More importantly, I’d have something of note to write down in my journal.
Minutes before that moment I’d been poring over journals from long ago and noticed that there quite a few gaps. Days where I felt nothing noteworthy had happened. I was determined then to avoid that at all costs; I wanted an eventful year and planned to do something new every day. Even if it was something infinitesimally different like trying a new food or watching an episode of a TV show I’d never seen, it would count.
Seeing an owl in real life? That would definitely count. I bolted to the park with my camera, only to find the owl had taken off. I was disappointed, but also newly motivated. I now had an item on a bucket list. And a bucket list. I would photograph an owl by year’s end. As for a noteworthy event for January 1st: I watched four episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond in a row. It was a new experience and also something I would not like to repeat again.
A new area to explore would definitely give me something to write about. On January 2nd I took a detour in the old part of town and went through a fantastically eerie tunnel. A solid contender for a regular visit, I noted. Returning to the Town Park, I found both a drunk loudly ranting as he stumbled across the baseball diamond and a group of hoodlums trying to break into my car. I then decided that this route would no longer be a contender for regular visits.
On January 3rd I tried a new area of an amalgamated series of trails I’ve called the Soccer Trail, due to its proximity to two soccer fields. I hadn’t been to this place about 5 times before, and each time something mildly unpleasant had happened, which led me to dislike it strictly because of “bad vibes”. Upon giving it another chance, I both developed a toothache and took a wrong turn that forced me to walk down a muddy street full of painful memories to get back to my car. Like I said, this place is just bad vibes central.
The toothache led me right back to the dentist; luckily this time around it was a simple root canal rather than another major infection. However from then on I was stuck going to the dentist for maintenance in perpetuity.
On January 24th I saw a place on the map that looked like a promising new route nearby: the Bond Lake trail. I made a plan to check it out the following week before making a snap decision to head over right away. One of those spontaneous YOLO moments I hoped would lead to some magic coincidence or sign from the universe. After a struggle with a tiny parking lot, an annoyingly busy opening section, treacherously hilly terrain, and an inconvenient dash across a busy Bayview Avenue, I ended up in a very, very long corridor of trees by myself for about a 15 minute walk. Then some more haphazard exploration to get to a proper trail, and to finish it off a walk up a dingy Yonge Street back to my car. I checked my GPS to find the easiest route home and noticed some recognizable street names nearby – I was pretty close to Lake Wilcox, a childhood destination I hadn’t been to in about 20 years. I set a course to head over and get a picture of the sunset over the frozen lake, but my GPS led me down the wrong streets and I gave up and went home. And so the most memorable moment of that day ended up being the regret of not seeing the sunset.
My last remaining grandfather died a week later. Another grandparent who never got to see me achieve anything that would have made him proud and another wave of regrets about my life.
I wrestled a lot thinking about how (and if) I’d write about the following situation, not just in terms of being tact but the core facts at the centre of it all.
I last saw Sierra in late August of 2020 and some of my last words to her were “We’re still where we left off, right?” She reassured me we were, and though I only heard from her through text a handful of times between that day and February 14th, 2021 I assumed that we were…whatever we were. Not a relationship. Not even dating really. But I was romantically devoted to her as I had been for the whole of 2020, a devotion that had been reaffirmed by that meeting in August after she’d gotten out of prison.
I went for a walk to the Soccer Trail that afternoon. At 2:59pm I took my phone out to take a picture of a tree in the forest someone had decorated with pink ornaments for the occasion, and in a move of idiotic curiosity I opened Instagram right then and there. The gut punch hit me in public, and I remember staggering past strangers thinking that they all knew exactly what had just happened.
One of my least favourite things in life is opening social media to see a girl I’m interested in posting a selfie with her romantic interest who is not me, second only to the dreaded hand wearing an engagement ring.
Can I say that I was cheated on? I’m not sure.
But not only did I lose a potential romantic partner that day, I lost a friend of over 10 years.
Not only had the past year and a half of waiting been invalidated, but the whole past decade had been effectively wiped away. Sierra had been my last connection to the nostalgia of the 10s, and that thread was cut instantly in that moment. All the magic and deeper meaning of life, the memories, the pining and the history were obliterated, leaving me with nothing. She deleted me off all social media soon after, and like every single other close friend I’ve lost over the past few years, I will likely never hear from her again.
Moving on would also be tough, as of course all the girls I’d assumed were single simultaneously revealed that they hadn’t stayed socially distant during the lockdown, and were all coupled up as well.
There really would be no recovery from this. All those delusions of me being worthy of affection were gone. If I, a talented, employed, charismatic guy couldn’t make it work with someone who knew me better than almost anyone else on the planet, there was absolutely no hope for me. Nobody secretly liked me, and it was increasingly obvious that no one really ever had.
I took a walk down a frozen river the following day and looking up at the grey sky, wanted nothing more than the ice to crack and swallow me whole. The ice remained unbroken for the entire stretch of the river to spite me.
The following morning I saw an owl in the yard.
I realized in order to move on I had to work on a new project that had been percolating in my mind. My last small fragment of hope. One last carefully researched Hail Mary that I thought might bring me the fulfillment I’ve always wanted.
I took a week at the end of February off, developing a content idea that I knew would resonate with audiences. Popular pieces of music revered by the internet, performed in quick snippets in the style of multiple artists? It was exactly the right formula of #relevant and #relatable that appealed to the most primal parts of the millennial brain. I was going to “hit them right in the childhood feels”. It was crassly manipulative, and miles away from the random parodies I’d trafficked in for years, and I knew it would work. I dusted off all the instruments I hadn’t played for ages and started to record.
And it worked. Some videos performed better than others, but it was indisputably a hit idea that brought in tens of thousands of views both on my own and The Edge’s social media. It became a “thing”, recognized by the company as a valuable series. I became a digital ambassador for the station, given free reign and allowed to run amok with any video ideas I might have. I no longer needed to adapt them for on-air talent, I could just star in them as an official member of the public-facing team. I even got to star in a nationwide spot, appearing in 18 different markets.
On April 5th I took a walk west, down a trail I’d rarely visited before. In fact the last time I’d been there had been that very depressing day following my birthday in 2020 when everyone had forgotten about me. At the end of this trail there was a sign that indicated the trail continued indirectly a few hundred metres south. I’d always wondered what the other side looked like, but figured it was too far and too unwieldy to get to by foot. That day I decided to go there and found the Manor by the Lake.
An absolutely massive trail system with scenic vistas unlike anything else in the area, the Manor by the Lake would end up becoming my go-to destination for the remainder of the year. Springtime brought the wildlife back, including many birds I’d never seen in the area before. Suddenly the owl from earlier in the year became just the first of many birds on my bucket list. Nuthatches, cedar waxwings, great blue herons – the list grew very large as bird photography unexpectedly became a hobby of mine.
After over a year away from my old job on the board at the AM station, I got called in for a few weekend shifts towards the end of April. That alone would have been a nice enough diversion, but due to a random coincidence I was tasked with doing the weather reports. It wasn’t the newscast I’d always wanted to do, but it was still a really awesome experience.
I also found out that the gig I’d passed over to get my current job had been discontinued, and for the first time in a really, really long time I realized I’d actually made a good call in my life. Me. I always make the bad call, the wrong decision, the poor choice that led to many regrets. This affirmed that I’d made a smart move. If I’d taken the newscaster gig I’d have only done it for a few months before being transferred to a content producer gig in Hamilton. No regrets here.
I looked forward to my birthday this year. I’d spent three months making videos people actually liked, I’d gained some modicum of credibility as a content creator, and I figured this bump in popularity would undoubtedly get me what I wanted: an opportunity to reconnect with people. My Hail Mary had just one goal – a text message that read “hey, it’s been awhile. sorry for disappearing off the face of the earth. how have you been? we should meet up.”
It didn’t matter who sent it. There’s scores of people who cruelly excised me from their lives and I would happily welcome a message from any of them. I made sure to make it very clear on all social media that it was my birthday, yelling from the rooftops that I was very much in need of human contact.
May 20 2021, 12:00am. No messages.
May 21 2021, 12:00am. No messages.
My last bit of hope was extinguished. I indisputably did not matter to anyone. I was just some clown who occasionally popped up in their feeds, good for a small laugh before being scrolled up for the next piece of content.
Technically I could end this write-up here. After this point I became a non-entity to all but one single friend. I existed only as a coworker to my fellow radio employees, and was not a factor to anyone else outside of my family. It felt like my life’s journey had finished and I was just biding time until my body gave up on me. I was a lump of clay with no interests, no emotions, no future plans, no hope. There was no point, no meaning to my life any longer. The world had proved that in a very definitive way, and continued to do so. I was living life like a Sim, totally on autopilot. All I did 24/7 was reply to emails with the same generic responses and fulfill video requests.
My most exciting journal entries were about driving to Metro in the evening to buy eggs. That would garner a day a rating of 2/5. If I went for a long walk I’d get as high as 3/5. A 4/5 was now unattainable.
Time became a blur, and more than once I forgot what month it was. The weird weather in 2021 didn’t help. Heat waves in May, snow in June, cold snaps in July, and relentless heavy wind – this may have been the windiest year on record – all made life feel like a void.
I had a bad dream around this time. Not a nightmare filled with terrifying shadow creatures, or a vision of awful events that could happen in real life. It was simply a dream in which I was watching TV and it was New Year’s Eve, and I’d done nothing the whole year. I woke up in tears.
I had a brief respite from the nonstop dentist visits in the summer, after which I went to Shopper’s Drug Mart and spent nearly $100 on a haul of dental supplies to ensure I’d never have tooth issues again. I even began to follow that Herculean challenge handed down to humans by the Greek god Dentistus: floss every day.
You’d think a sad millennial like myself would be all about the binge watching, but I’ve never been that kind of guy. Mostly because I’ve been too busy, but also because I don’t like wasting time. Prior to this year, I’ve only watched two full shows in the past 10 years – Parks and Rec and Better Call Saul. I finally gave in and added a third to that list: The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Weekends were spent searching for new walking destinations in the region to diversify my repertoire. A lot of these were hampered however by the emergence of a caterpillar infestation in the province.
I was in a rush one day before a walk, and before heading out I hesitated. Should I go and grab my camera? No, I decided – I probably wouldn’t see any new birds that day.
As I walked in the heat of the sun that afternoon a giant shadow passed over me, with several more following. Majestic turkey vultures had descended from their usual high altitude flights and landed on a decrepit home near the woods. I was beside myself with frustration. Again, I’d made a bad call.
Turkey vultures became my white whale and I a desperate Captain Ahab, scanning the skies constantly in search of a vulture circling. I’d see many over the summer, but none would land on a perch again.
“You and those vultures,” my sister commented one day. “Why are you so obsessed with them?”
“It’s not about the vultures. It’s about fixing my mistake. If I had just gone back and grabbed my camera that day I would have that picture now and could have moved on. I need to get a picture to fix the past and stop living in regret.”
But summer ended and the vultures flew south, leaving me with my regret.
With fall came a return to my old cycle of car problems and tooth problems. As soon as I got the brakes fixed, my upper left molar started hurting. As soon as it stopped hurting, my suspension broke. As soon as I got new shocks, my upper right molar started hurting. And this was after I’d gone to inhuman lengths to take care of my dental health. The dentist was perplexed as well. My teeth seemed fine, and the problem was unresolved.
Sometimes when I’m feeling especially pessimistic I imagine what misfortunes await me in the future. I spend way too much time in front of a computer screen, so my eyesight will likely suffer. My bones will probably get very tired of always sitting around all the time.
But it’s never the obvious things that happen. It’s always something totally out of the blue, like a strange lump on my xiphoid process, which is not a Michael Crichton novel but rather the lower part of the sternum below the ribcage. That lump was lonely, so a few others popped up around my ribcage. “But don’t worry,” the doctor said “they’re benign.” And it’s not clear whether they’re related to the ever-worsening chest pains I’ve been dealing with for 12 years now.
So now the cycle went in three stages: heart problems, tooth problems, car problems. I was in constant pain, and so was my wallet.
Life threw one crumb of success in my direction towards the end of the year: a YouTube video of mine managed to get slightly more than the single digit views I’m used to. Didn’t translate to long term success, but the small bump was appreciated.
Christmas was good this year. For the first time in 7 years I was not wasting away thinking about or waiting for a text from a girl who didn’t love me in return. I also unplugged myself from social media for days at a time, opting to spend 100% of my time with my family and thoroughly appreciating every facet of Christmas. These were moments I wanted to preserve in amber forever, and at least two of the days were certified 4/5s (the constant pain did put a little bit of a damper on my spirits). I wasn’t even upset that I only got one Christmas text, and it was once again sent accidentally by a kind stranger.
I tried to slow every day down as much as I could, living each one as if it were my last. This backfired slightly, and soon I was living that gag from the Simpsons where Homer sobs while acting as if he is living his final days. Appreciation turned to a desperate need to avoid the return to normalcy.
I spent New Year’s Eve in a state of dread. I now knew that it’s entirely possible to go over a year without correspondence from almost everyone. Life had proved to me that I can try my absolute hardest and nothing will ever change. I had 365 days of proof. As I watched the revellers in Times Square cheer I could only think:
I will never get to go on a vacation. I will never get to go on a date. I will never be in a relationship. I will never get a text or message from a girl ever again. I will probably never even see a movie, go to a concert or eat in a restaurant ever again based on the way this pandemic is going. I may never even experience a pain-free day ever again.
With every passing year bad things become statistically more likely, and although the world has stopped, time hadn’t as much as I wanted it to.
The absolute best I could hope for is an uneventful year just like 2021.