When the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, 2020, it sent the United States plunging into the unknown. It was clear that this event would be unlike anything most Americans had ever seen in their lifetimes — and many people started, or continued, keeping journals to capture what that was like.
To track the unprecedentedness of the past year — from Zoom weddings to racial justice protests to vaccine rollouts — we asked 12 women to share their diaries with us. Each submitted a single day’s entry, and we pieced them together month by month.
Below, you’ll experience the past year through the diaries of these women — a graduating college senior, a Democrat living in a red state, a daughter who lost her father to the virus. Together, their entries capture the harrowing, hopeful, unforgettable moments of life in a pandemic.
Who: Selena Vidya
Her story: Vidya is a podcast host, an actor/producer and entrepreneur in Los Angeles who has used the months of the pandemic to reflect, introspect and explore new ways that she can express herself.
March 15, 2020
Quarantine Day 3.
Well this is getting interesting now. L.A. is closing all schools, clubs, restaurants and bars. It’s strange to think this is happening. Our one objective is to keep ourselves healthy and virus-free, in peak health. Same with our families. One day I’ll look back and read this and it’ll be an interesting moment in time. I’m looking at this as an opportunity to indulge my introverted side and go into a creative hole.
Who: Susana Bejar, 35
Her story: Bejar practices internal medicine in New York City, which was the epicenter of the United States coronavirus outbreak in the spring.
Today was the first time I cried during the pandemic. I had taken care of my sweet patient all week so I had gotten to know him. When I saw him this morning, I knew he was dying.
I was trying to unkink his morphine drip and I said out loud “I just don’t want him to suffer” and suddenly I just couldn’t hold back the tears.
Later when I pronounced him dead, I cried over his body because there was nobody else to do so. His wife died 2 weeks ago also from the coronavirus so his goal had been to be discharged so he could plan her funeral.
I called his family to FaceTime him before he died but the family didn’t want to because it had been so difficult for them to see the patient’s wife before she died.
Later in the day, when activity on the unit had slowed, I sat in the nurse’s station with his nurse, the charge nurse, and other nurses who had taken care of him, and we talked about him, and the pandemic, and we were together.
Who: Jackie O’Brien, 22
Her story: A senior at Boston University when the pandemic hit, O’Brien was sent home to Burlington, Vt., while on spring break.
May 10, 2020
It’s funny, I’ve been dreaming of this week since my freshman year — senior week. BU goes all out, I imagined how my crazy tuition and sleepless nights would be worth it. Booze cruise on the Boston Harbor, party at a Casinos Club. I was so excited for the things we’d do. But being stuck at home because of the pandemic, I don’t miss or long for the fancy things. I just want to be stuffed in a sweaty bar with everyone I’d come across my four years.
The nostalgia was starting to hit before spring break. We’d get excited and reconnect with girls we stopped being friends with years ago. The bathroom at Tavern on the Square on a Thursday were a love fest. It was exciting and heartwarming melancholy, because we all knew this could be one of the last times we saw each other.
But turns out we had less time than we thought. I miss my best friends and my girlfriend so much. But when I start to think about the randos, acquaintances, ex-friends and friends’ exes, I feel like I’ve experienced a loss.
I know I’ll see my people as soon as I can, but the people who aren’t my people? I could very well never see them again. I mean chances are I’ll never see a lot of them again.
My parents keep yelling at me for being so depressed. They say I won’t care about not having a graduation in a few years … they really don’t get it. I’m not mourning losing my chance to walk a stage and get a piece of paper. I’m mourning my chance to say goodbye.
Who: C. Nicole Mason, 44
Her story: Mason is the president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She lives in Washington and is a single mom to 11-year-old twins. Supporting them emotionally and academically while working more than full-time has been challenging and stressful.
June 2, 2020
… Everything is in divine and perfect order.
I am a sad for a few reasons today —
I am sad because of what is happening across the country, the violence that is being perpetrated against Black people in America. I feel helpless, and vulnerable — unprotected.
We have no protection. There is no one coming to save us.
Racism is an illness — you cannot see the humanity of others. The memes and the jokes about the killing of George Floyd makes my heart ache and just makes me think of how depraved some people are.
I am grateful that my brother, nephews, father and son have not been harmed. I am grateful that I am unharmed and well.
This country is sick. Our leadership is sick.
Things are not well.
Thank you, God, for my healing.
I know that it is within our power to change this — this is not a God issue, it is [not] up to a magic hand to resolve.
Who: Cristi Moody, 36
Her story: Moody, a writer and artist, decided to leave New York City in June with her husband to live out of a camper van. She wrote this entry from a farm in Harborside, Maine.
July 2, 2020
After our first night sleeping behind the barn, I am awakened by a choir of hens fussing. Our white cargo van, where my husband and I have been living since we left our New York apartment to escape the pandemic, is parked next to a weathered shingle-sided barn with a chicken coop on the other side. The morning is cool; the sky gray with mist that shrouds the evergreens.
Three weeks ago, we gave up our Harlem apartment because we couldn’t afford the rent after work dried up. We put our stuff in storage and fled NYC for the shelter of our van in the woods. We self-isolated in our 72-square-foot, off-grid “home” in the forests of Upstate New York before driving here to coastal Maine to volunteer on an organic farm. Being outdoors felt like we could breathe deeply again.
After breakfast, we help the farm crew pull weeds in an overgrown squash field as the sun burns through the mist, revealing a bright summer sky. We share stories with the staff as we mercilessly tear plants from the black, earthen loam. It feels amazing to be with new people after so many months of being alone. Most of the workers are women and, like us, first-time farmers displaced by the pandemic: a United flight attendant, an event coordinator, two students and an out-of-work chef. We talk about the lockdown, our heart-wrenching decision to move into the van. Choosing to leave NYC feels so final.
For us, the farm is a haven from the coronavirus storm. Here we feel like we are in a separate world: wholesome and free from the pandemic fears. There is no cell service or WiFi, no TVs, and I find myself, gratefully, forgetting what is happening in the world outside.
I am incredibly thankful to be out of the city and here in this verdant paradise. But we need to find a permanent place to hunker down and ride out this pandemic. After this we have nowhere to go, and traveling doesn’t feel safe. Gyms (where we shower) are closed, and National Forests (where we usually camp) are shut down. But, for now, we are grateful for the refuge of the farm while we decide what’s next.
Who: Victoria, 37
Her story: Victoria, a government employee who has asked to be identified by only her first name because of her role, gave birth July 29, 2020. She had been stationed abroad at the start of the pandemic but gave birth in Washington.
Aug. 1, 2020
What a day July 29 was, when I gave birth. After several hours at the hospital, I requested an epidural. The nurse inserted a catheter once the epidural kicked in, and then my doctor performed another cervical check, and said that I was about 1 centimeter dilated.
I tried to eat a little bit of Jell-O and applesauce. I rested for a bit, and then Dr. B came by to check up on me. She did another cervical check, and I was still less than 2 centimeters dilated. I started feeling a lot of pain in my pelvis on the righthand side at about 2 or 3 a.m. I vomited into a barf bag, and L, my husband, woke up. I decided to ask for the anesthesiologist to come and provide additional pain relief, which he did.
Shortly thereafter, Dr. B returned again to check my cervix, and I almost couldn’t believe it but I was now dilated to 8 cm! Around 5 a.m., she returned again, checked me and told me that I was now at 10 cm and could start pushing!!!
At that point, it was close to 5:30 a.m., and she set up some hand hold bars for me to use. I started to get the hang of it during the third or fourth cycle of pushing. It wasn’t too bad at the beginning. L gave me ice chips to chew on after each round of pushing, and he had prepared a wash cloth to be dunked in ice cold water with sweet orange oil. This helped with the heat I was feeling and the essential oil helped to energize and comfort me. He also held my left leg up during pushing, and held my hand.
When S’s head started coming out of the pelvis, I became violently ill again and vomited profusely into a barf bag. I was panting and sweating and starting to feel exhausted and like I couldn’t go on. L became rather pale and had to sit down for a bit to regain his composure — the nurse said he would have to leave if he fainted. At this point, I was using a push bar with a sheet knotted onto it to help with pushing. The pain became sharp again and I received another bout of epidural medication from the anesthesiologist, which helped me power through the last 30-40 minutes of pushing.
The nurse at one point said that the baby’s heart rate was getting high, and that there could possibly be an infection brewing. She said I really needed to try hard to push S out so the doctor wouldn’t order an emergency C section. I did not want that either. I continued pushing with all my remaining strength and my baby’s head started crowning! There were several more bouts of pushing until S’s head popped out and Dr. B helped pull her out. She placed her on my chest, and I was immediately overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude and just awe that she came from inside of me.
L and I both cried and I just looked up at him in wonder and amazement at what we had made.
Who: Liza Fisher, 37
Her story: A flight attendant and yoga instructor, Fisher, who lives in Houston, tested positive for coronavirus infection July 2. She was admitted to a hospital for symptoms July 30, then released to a rehabilitation center. She has fought for months with “long-haul” covid-19 symptoms, including migraines, speech impairment, chronic fatigue, dizziness and more. She has had three emergency room visits, two hospitalizations and two inpatient rehab stays.
Sept. 12, 2020
Really frustrated. At the age of 36, a year is pivotal. I want children. I want marriage. I don’t want to rush into thinking about packing up my entire independent life and moving into my high school bedroom for a minimum of a year and have a doctor telling me it may be a year before I can walk or have some semblance of a normal life again. Can I just have 24 hours to process please. And I really won’t get that. Everywhere you turn people need answers from you. I couldn’t even get five minutes in my room down to cry before a doctor comes in to ask about it and gives an opinion and tries to come up with a plan.
It can be frustrating hearing things from different people, medical providers, all the time about plans, but I need to relax. Why do they not tell you things in real time? Dr. L can be frustrating. I don’t think he tells me things before hearing all the information. The unknown is a scary and beautifully inviting place at this point.
Who: Nina Mata, 39
Her story: Mata is a children’s book illustrator. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, daughter and cat. She lost her father, Catalino Mata, to the coronavirus in April.
Oct. 16, 2020
Getting colder out there. 65 degrees in the fall is always so much colder than 65 degrees in spring. Saw a skull-like cloud formation when I looked up at the sky today. So ominous, shaded by the orange and purple hues of dusk. So many thoughts running through my head. Is this a sign? Is this a message from dad? Am I next?
I’m always scared lately. Scared to have our pod over for Halloween. Scared to touch a grocery cart and scared that the person behind me in line isn’t practicing social distancing. I’m scared I’ll get covid and I won’t survive it. I feel like death lurks in the dark corners of the parking lots and the buildings I pass, just waiting for the right moment to introduce itself.
But then again it could just be grief.
I’ve lived with grief for six months now and it’s still such a mysterious presence in my post-dad world. Last night at Grief Group Counseling we had to write letters to Grief.
We took turns reading and Andy’s letter touched me the most, especially the part where he wrote: “… and though you have decided to be a permanent part of my household, there will come a time where you will not take up all this space in my life and eclipse everything.”
It reassured me that my grief will not always be this overwhelming and though it may never leave me, we will be able to cohabitate. I read somewhere that grief is a remnant of unconditional love, so why would I ever want grief to completely go when it’s a reminder of how much love I have for my father.
Hmm. Who knew a loss would gain you so much growth.
Who: Kael Wilfrey, 44
Her story: Wilfrey, who worked as a logistics coordinator in the trucking industry, was in an accident in 2016 that left her disabled — including making it difficult to express herself verbally, something she says has contributed to feeling frustrated and isolated politically as a Democrat in her small, right-leaning town of West Blocton, Ala.
Nov. 1, 2020
I seriously miss the days when everyone I talked to was not a right wing whack job. The closer it gets to the election the worse it gets.
I’ve always been a lonely blue dot in the middle of an intensely red state, even before I knew what that meant.
Since Trump, it was bad enough. But I was still finding my way after my vehicle accident, and didn’t really notice, but since the pandemic, people are actually scaring me. And it’s not irrational anxiety, which is a present from the head injury and the PTSD, it’s the rational fear of people who are endangering my life because Fox News told them that the Democrats created covid. It makes me want to never leave the house.
I already wanted to not leave the house, before the pandemic. Introvert here, right? And I retreat to lick my wounds, but I have to live. I can’t stay in my little house in the Alabama woods and never see anyone until the pandemic goes away. But my telephone is the only place I hear sanity about this virus. My friends living elsewhere don’t believe me, but it really is this bad. The guys fixing my flat today were genuinely talking about how we’ll never hear about covid again after the election, because it’s only a ploy to elect Biden.
After the accident, before the pandemic, it was hard enough to go to the store, to speak clearly and coherently and be understood and not turn red and run away. Those fears I make myself. But this is real fear. Legitimate fear. Half of them don’t bother with masks, and a quarter of the rest wear gaiters. They crowd you, and they mock your precautions, and they dismiss the idea that covid is anything but some kind of political manipulation, and I don’t know what to do.
This can’t be me. I was never afraid of people before the accident, before covid. Now I should be, every time I need milk. I don’t know what I’m going to do, especially if Trump is reelected and things just keep going on like this. (Hopefully) live with it, I guess.
Who: Sandra Lindsay, 52
Her story: An intensive care unit director at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, Lindsay became the first person in the United States to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Dec. 14, 2020
Relief finally arrived today. The world watched as I received the first dose of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine outside of the clinical trial. As the needle pierced my skin and into my deltoid muscle, lost hope returned. I could see the light in the tunnel, although dim, and the weight on my shoulders got lighter. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that I was the first person in the state and perhaps the first in the United States, I could not help but appreciate how lucky I was to receive my first jab.
For a long time, I’d known I was going to take the covid-19 vaccine as soon as it was deemed safe. My friends, colleagues, leaders and family knew of my intentions. Although I’ve never been one to camp out for Black Friday deals or new releases, I was determined to wait patiently on a line to get vaccinated against this deadly virus.
As a leader, I pride myself on serving and caring for my staff. When covid-19 first appeared at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, it was like an ambush overnight. The crude and crushing reality of the coronavirus was upon us. I usually have an answer or know where to find one; this time I didn’t. I spent countless hours trying to come up with strategies to make what we were being served palatable. At that point, all titles and credentials were out the window. Suits and six-inch heels were replaced with scrubs and clogs as I got into the trenches to support staff and do whatever it took to save lives. Every day I placed my profession, role, responsibilities and character first. I looked in the mirror before each shift as if for the last time, not knowing if I would return home safely. Like health-care workers everywhere, I courageously pushed on in faith that relief would come soon.
There’s another element to this pandemic that hit close to home. The Black community was disproportionately affected by covid-19. I saw too many people, particularly minorities, suffer and die. I saw myself in every one of them. I was scared for myself and my mother, who lost her sister to the virus.
I know that taking the vaccine and demonstrating to the world my trust in science will not be enough to erase the stains of the past, but I hope it will spark the beginning/continuation of many healthy debates, education opportunities, inclusion, health care reforms among minority communities and offer a way forward to rebuilding trust among my community.
Who: Lindsey Sitz, 33
Her story: Sitz is a video journalist at The Washington Post. She was inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, when a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the building.
Jan. 6, 2021
From inside the Rayburn Senate building — the day rioters stormed the Capitol.
Driving into D.C. today I knew something would happen. We all knew.
My job today was to run camera for our live show on the hill: haul in gear, set up lights, and film our on-air reporter, Rhonda, as she delivers her spot-on analysis.
Our show started at noon — around 1:10, a mob scaled walls, broke windows, and used chemical irritants to break into the Capitol.
We heard “Shots fired” over an officer’s walkie talkie. We were told to find shelter.
We barricaded ourselves in a room in the basement. We are safe.
Who: Katherine Hunt, 36
Her story: Hunt, a freelance writer, got married to her partner, Melanie Howell, on Feb. 13 in New York City.
Feb. 14, 2021
Last night I became Melanie’s family. I haven’t had an immediate family (not legally anyway) since middle school. And now I am a wife! I am still floating. We wanted a traditional wedding, a big wedding. Even though the church was empty and our guests were tiles on a monitor, I felt less alone than I ever have. I had no idea such an overflow of love and support could transcend distance, disease, and global unrest to reach us in New York.
I am so grateful we didn’t get the wedding we planned. When it became evident just one month ago that it was unsafe to have guests attend in person, I was sure our wedding day would be kind of sad. But it really wasn’t! Because it was all on Zoom, it was inclusive in ways we never could have foreseen. Melanie’s aunt, who we didn’t know was missing family events for years because of a spinal disease, was there. Anne got deployed last minute and still got to be in the virtual processional. Our pregnant bridesfolks were home safe. Grandpap is pushing 101 years old and there he was, safely at his granddaughter’s wedding, during a plague!
During our two years of engagement, a few people asked if I was nervous about marriage. I was never nervous about the marriage. I am so very sure of Melanie. That miracle of a human. The wedding, however — I wasn’t sure that any version of it would be afforded to us. Every few months since covid hit New York, we thought we would know soon if it would be safe to gather. As we got closer and closer to February 13, we still didn’t know. In September, it started to look like the worst of it was over. We reached out to a florist and made a wedding website. And then cases spiked again, the first variants appeared, and Melanie’s hospital started canceling surgeries. We replanned the whole thing in a month.
I cannot believe we pulled it off in a plague, in the aggression of this political climate, in all this global grief and loss and isolation. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, so many queer couples quietly wed. (Do cis straight people know this? I have no idea.) We texted urgently, privately among our queer friends — are we going to lose our right to family? It happened before. Voters repealed our rights in California the same year Barack Obama was elected. I was there. Only the couples that were already married retained their legal status.
A world-renowned tenor sang “Simple Gifts” at the ceremony. He’s a member of the church and lent us his voice for only a hundred bucks. He wore a bow tie. A vase of purple flowers sat on his mantle behind him. Streamed live from his home, the audio stuttered and skipped a bit. Somehow, that felt just right. It made the lyrics feel even truer:
'Tis a gift to be simple
'Tis a gift to be free
Our wedding was not the elaborate blowout we dreamed of. It was middle ground. It was simple. I felt free.