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Stories from a Lost Year

2020 was a hard, hard year. Here are the stories of people who lived through it.

Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Life in 2020 has been dominated by big stories. The Covid-19 pandemic. Protests against multiple centuries of systemic racism and injustice. An impeachment. A presidential election. Murder hornets.

But beneath every one of these big stories is a long list of smaller personal ones. Everyone’s experience of 2020 has been different, and everyone’s story has something worth hearing. I went looking for those stories, in hopes of understanding the events of this year from the ground level.

What I found was remarkable. I talked to a woman who nursed an injured baby pig back to health. I talked to a sex worker who very quickly had to figure out how to make his business Covid-19-safe. I discussed opening up a marriage — at a time when nobody can see anybody in person — with someone who did just that. I talked to a woman who fell in love with her mailman, and a postal carrier who grew distressed at how little her rural community seemed to be taking Covid-19 seriously.

I’ll be sharing 14 of those stories over the next few weeks. I think they all underline the fact that no matter how dramatic or mundane your year was, it was that much more fascinating or difficult or compelling because of the times in which it took place.

This year is almost over, and another will follow. I’m so glad we all got through it together.

The Lost Year

We’ve lost so much in 2020. But we’ve found some things, too.

Amanda Northrop/Vox

A woman, an injured baby pig, and a series of revelations

“It’s easier to believe everything is holy lying under the stars with friends and a pig sleeping in the crook of your arm.”

An illustration of a white baby pig inside a yellow circle, against a black background. Amanda Northrop/Vox

Non-monogamy, Zoom sex, and the agonizing wait to kiss your partner

“As soon as I started taking non-monogamy seriously, it was like any other coming out.”

An illustration of a hand holding a smartphone against a background filled with hearts. Amanda Northrop/Vox

A dad, his son, and the bittersweet realization of life’s true priorities

“In America, we say everything we do is for our child, but we spend a lot of time working and accumulating money and stuff that we don’t need.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

Coming out — over the phone, to your mom, and across a language barrier

“I can’t do any of my old standup comedy. And I don’t want to do it. I literally am starting over from scratch.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

Marriage, kids, two jobs, maskless customers, and #BlackLivesMatter in the rural South

“The first couple weeks, I sucked at life. I sucked at everything.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

A sudden crisis, online sex work, and a better understanding of privilege

“Online sex work has amplified the loneliness for some customers. I’m talking to them because they’re paying.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

A new dress, a new self-acceptance, and a sudden onset of the soul

“That day, for the first time, I saw myself. And I knew I was trans. Holy shit.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

Falling for your mailman in lockdown (but not getting the happy ending you wanted)

“I asked him, ‘How’s everything going? How can we help?’ And I accidentally told him that I loved him.”

A drawing of a delivery person carrying a clipboard and a box. Amanda Northrop/Vox

Chronic pain, an unusual love story, and reassurance via pickle

“There are certain ways — and maybe it’s not cool to say this — in which quarantine has been helpful.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

A new baby who didn’t know your face for days because you were always wearing a mask

“I love just looking at his face when he sees there are other people in the world!”

A drawing of a woman cradling a baby in her arms. Amanda Northrop/Vox

Making your workplace Covid-safe — when you’re an escort

“I haven’t contracted Covid yet. I’ve been lucky, because my bubble is probably huge.”

Amanda Northrop/Vox

A year in the life of a mail carrier. (The year is 2020.)

“It feels like I’ve never stopped playing Russian roulette because I never stopped working.”

Illustration by Amanda Northrop/Vox

Exercise in quarantine, keeping a small business alive, and the unusual intimacy of Zoom

“It’s been a lifeline. I don’t have very big classes but when we meet up [over Zoom], we check in with each other. We see how we’re doing.”

Illustration by Amanda Northrop/Vox

A quiet year, alone in one’s head

“Your to-do list, some days, it has just the one thing on it: Stay alive. And if you can do that, it’s a successful day.”

A drawing of a person wrapped in a blanket and siting on a couch. Amanda Northrop/Vox

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