I am grieving the openness with which I once moved through the world. As I navigate the first few months of my 26th year around the sun, I am reminded daily that the world at large is a harsh place to be as a young woman coming into her own.
Last April I quit what felt like a dream job at first but slowing revealed itself to be somewhat of a nightmare. I won’t go into all the reasons I walked away but ultimately I realized that there was nothing I could do to fix the toxic dynamic with a supervisor who had all sorts of blindspots about their own abilities and politics. My exhaustion with the toxic dynamic finally led me towards quitting. Initially my frustration was only with my former supervisor, but as I slowly unraveled all my feelings around leaving, I realized that there was a bit of rage towards the management of the organization who knew how multiple women of color felt working under that individual and yet did not do anything to protect me from a similar fate.
Before the pandemic hit, I was laying in bed with my best friend in the first few days of 2020 sharing with her how I felt my life would only go from good to better. I was in a good place personally, professionally, relationally. I lived in a city I loved, was making enough money to spend New Years on a warm beach town in West Africa, was healthy, felt like my social and financial capital was rising, my family was good, my friend circle felt solid. I was almost certain my dream school in my other favorite city would accept me as their doctoral candidate in Legal anthropology – on track to have two doctorate degrees before I turned 30. Even though I was romantically unpartnered, I still had a lot of hope and very little disillusionment about finding my person.
The other shoe had not dropped all of 2019 so I felt like I could stop waiting for it to drop.
Just a few months after I stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop and settled into the goodness of my life, we were hit with a pandemic. My dream school rejected me. My good job became even more toxic and hopeless, forcing me out. Everything that was a sure thing was no longer a sure thing. I moved back to my family home temporarily hoping I could wait out the pandemic and very quickly salvage a life that was falling apart, only for more things to crumble. And the crumble culminated in the loss of my last living grandparent.
While still grieving the loss of a grandparent, I watched my friend circle slowly shift in ways I could not have anticipated – my best friend asked for space, another close friend switched up on me in a way that felt like a painful rejection. My relationship with my father shifted from a once close and intimate relationship to one where we merely acknowledged each other, through no fault of my own. A few romantic prospects that gave me reasons to smile in the midst of a really difficult year ended up leaving my heart more bruised than it was before those encounters.
The process of trying to find a new job in the middle of a pandemic was so brutal and dehumanizing that to preserve whatever shreds of professional confidence I had left, I chose to try my hand at entrepreneurship again. Something I had not been too successful at in 2016 and promised myself not to do again any time in the short term.
For the first time since I emigrated at 13, I had the opportunity to celebrate a birthday back on the continent. Between school and work, having a birthday in early November makes for such awkward travel time so I have always celebrated my birthday in the U.S. It felt so memorable that 13 years after I left West Africa, I would have the opportunity to celebrate my 26th birthday on the continent. I was excited to do something special while observing covid protocol. Instead I spent my entire birthday week so sick I thought I was dying. Turns out a combination of salmonella, malaria, and liver inflammation was my birthday present from the universe.
Surviving 2020 felt like a full time job! One that has left me too exhausted for much else. And now faced with a blank slate of a year, it feels very daunting to feel hopeful for something beautiful. My therapist says facing the ruins will help me rebuild again and I trust her. But rebuilding feels like such hard work when there are no guarantees. Maybe one day I’ll look back and realize that in 2021 goodness visited me and stayed.