I remember it like it was yesterday.
Friday the 13th, 2020. As chairperson of the local primary school’s PTA, I was running the committee’s AGM and annual quiz night, and had been at the school for hours getting ready. I had twenty quiz packs ready, music and snacks and even – I laugh to think of it now – 300 glass vials with scented cotton inside for a ‘guess the smell’ round.
At six pm, I was standing in a deserted school hall, with doubt starting to creep down my spine. The virus – that virus, Coronavirus, there are patients with it in St Tommy’s, haven’t you heard? – was in the UK and spreading rapidly. Should I have cancelled the AGM? Was it wise to have a quiz night with up to 100 people in a school hall? Should I have let my husband leave for Amsterdam that morning? (He had almost cancelled, and I had been the one to tell him to go, knowing he might not have the chance again soon).
When another committee member arrived, I nearly wept with relief. I was being ridiculous, I decided. There was no way a virus would stop a harmless school event. My husband would be fine. The AGM would go on as planned. But one look at my friend’s face while we discussed ‘the situation’, as we so delicately referred to it, and all my doubts came creeping back.
“They’re going to close the schools,” she said with a shrug, like it was already a done deal and didn’t really matter anyway.
“Maybe I should cancel,” I replied fearfully, gesturing around me, but my friend only shrugged again.
“People are already on their way. It’s too late.”
We then did what most of Britain – if not the world – did that week. We opened up our wine, and started to drink.
The quiz night went on as planned, and we had over 100 people, in the end. All hugging, laughing, drinking and sharing food. Afterwards we spilled into the local pub, ordering more wine and getting slightly tipsy. I hugged my friends goodbye at around 11pm, before walking home and tiptoeing into my house to pay my babysitter.
I remember that night vividly because it was what I consider to be the last ‘normal’ night of my pre-Covid life. The Sharon on that night – smiling, merry, only slightly tinged with worry – had no idea that my husband would return home with Covid and have to spend nearly six weeks in and out of bed, completely wiped out, his eyes bloodshot and red, coughing horribly. The Sharon of that night couldn’t conceive of a world where the schools would close and I would have to spend the best part of the next year homeschooling my children. The Sharon of that night would have laughed at the thought of only seeing my family once over the next twelve months. The Sharon of that night had no idea of what was to come.
I’ve been lucky this last year, in many ways. We haven’t been financially affected by the pandemic. We have a large garden in which the children can play. I could afford to pay the black market prices flour, cocoa powder and yeast went for at the height of lockdown v.1. But more importantly, my husband, sister and mother all recovered from their Covid infections, while I either didn’t catch it, was asymptomatic, or had a mild infection (I still don’t know). So many other people haven’t been as lucky and they all have my sympathy and virtual hugs.
But wow. What a year. Just after we woke this morning, still lying in bed, my husband gave me a cuddle. “It’s been a year since I was in Amsterdam,” he whispered. “It’s been a year since all this began.”
I nodded, but I’ve long since stopped counting in things like ‘time since’. I’ve learnt now the best way to go forwards is to count in ‘days until’. I’m shielding, so I know I have twenty-one days until I can leave my house again, maybe do my own shopping at the local supermarket. I know that I might – just might – see my family at May half-term, and that it’s eighty days until then. In a way, the Covid19 pandemic has made me reset how I look at life. There are some good things to take away from all this, and one thing that has been reinforced is just how much I prioritise my family, and time spent with them.
My children are – for the time being, at least – back in school, so work-wise I’ve picked up where I left off. I’m working simultaneously on two holiday romances, both interlinked and set in the same town. I’m occasionally working on a gift story for a friend. And I’ve finally – finally! – started another contemporary romance, one that’s set during Covid19.
It’s been a year, but there is so much to look forward to.