What was the best thing that happened to you this year?
We asked our readers this question fully realizing that it was a loaded one in this plague year that feels both never-ending and like it never started.
The bar was low. The responses, however, were a delight. So many of you had kids this year. Imagine the stories you’ll tell them about that.
We are all, of course, still capable of recognizing joy in the cracks and crevices where it slips in. Here are some personal examples from your lives, and ours.
I learned to ride a bike, at 41
I grew up in West Tampa, near Hillsborough and Himes avenues. The cars were fast, and it wasn’t kid friendly outside.
That’s how I explain never learning to ride a bicycle, but really, it’s sort of like he says in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It just never happened when I was young, and then I got older, and because it hadn’t happened yet, it really didn’t happen.
I have a memory of being at a friend’s house in high school and riding her little sister’s bike with training wheels on it. I bent them because I was too heavy. That was pretty much where it ended, though for the past few years I had dreams where I’d be riding a bike. I could feel it.
In March, I ended up at home spending a lot of time outside with my three daughters. In April I said, “It’s time.”
I started out on my 8-year-old’s tiny bike. I’d ride, and fall, and kind of shamefully come home with my skinned knees. I eventually moved up to my 14-year-old’s bike. I hit a curb on Euclid Avenue and flew into my neighbor’s yard. Some kids who saw seemed like they might help, but one was like, “Oh my god, I think that’s an adult,” and they took off.
In May, I took my first bike ride with my husband and daughters.
I never thought that as an adult there would be an experience, that I should have had as a child, that would feel so euphoric.
— Laura Curts, Tampa, as told to Christopher Spata
In my most stressful year, I somehow kicked my worst stress habit
I remember the first time I ever did the deed.
I was 6 or 7, sitting in my piano teacher’s house waiting for her to finish lessons with another student, and I realized that I’d forgotten to cut my nails. My teacher was a stickler about that — for good reason. The clicking sound when long nails hit the keys doesn’t exactly jive with a Beethoven sonata.
I frantically started biting, brushing the clippings under her couch. (I’m so sorry, Mrs. Austin.) Since then, whenever I feel even slightly stressed, the biting begins.
When the pandemic first started, my friend and colleague Megan Reeves got really into at-home manicures. She offered to do my nails, but they were a jagged mess.
She showed me how to file and buff them. The swiping of the nail file and buffer became its own form of meditation, as fulfilling as whatever twisted chemical reaction was happening in my brain when I would bite.
Now, I’m proud to say I have healthy, normal-looking nails, and in a pandemic where touching your face is ill-advised, it feels like a double victory. Now if only I could quit ripping my cuticles until they bleed ... a battle for 2021, perhaps.
— Kathryn Varn, Times staff writer
I got a big surprise via Ancestry.com
I took an Ancestry.com DNA test.
In February, a stranger contacted me to say, “Hi, you and I share more DNA than I do with my grandfather. What’s the story there?”
Growing up in Florida an only child, I always wanted a sibling. It turns out I had a sister in Maine.
I spent the lockdown getting to know her through emails and phone calls and video chats.
It was a total shock, but I talked to my mom, and we pieced it together.
Sure, there was a touch of anxiety. But honestly, I came to embrace it rather quickly. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 30s. You don’t really expect a lot of life-changing, first-time moments. It was exciting at the beginning. Now I’m ecstatic.
She took a COVID test, and ended up flying down to Florida. It was instant love.
She’s 10 years younger, but we were surprised to discover that we’re both aspiring children’s book authors. We both have kids and spend a lot of time writing.
I can’t wait to see her again, and now I have a reason to go to Maine.
— Candace Rios, Tampa, as told to Christopher Spata
A divorce to celebrate
People think it’s embarrassing or something. It’s not. It’s empowering.
Everyone makes mistakes when they’re young and they’re finally out of the house and they feel like, “I can do whatever I want.” Some people ruin their credit or get buried in student loans. For me, it was getting married at 21 to a dude I knew for like a month.
He was a f--king stranger! Of course it was a mistake! But even after five years of being separated, I couldn’t stop feeling pissed off about it, because I was still legally married.
Not anymore. I got the final paperwork last week, and even after five years, there is a noticeable difference in how I feel. It was like a knot around my stomach finally loosened. I can be myself again. Having my maiden name back rocks.
I can finally close that chapter. I made my mistake. Now it’s done. And my boyfriend has been very patient.
When you cross the biggest, lingering to-do item in your life for years off of your list, it’s like you can finally deal with everything else.
— Madison Herder, Clearwater, as told to Christopher Spata
A house to work from home in
My partner’s Zillow habit began benignly, passing the hours in a fantasy of yards and porches and grimeless, gleaming kitchens. You might describe our apartment as “lived-in,” which is to say we’d cohabited with mice not once but four times.
I was still in “maybe one day” mode when we started seeing houses. After half a year of quarantine, it was clear we’d all outgrown the apartment. My depression-inducing desk-to-couch commute measured less than an arm’s length. But something about a house felt so impossible and final — locked in a fairy tale tower guarded by the demons of paperwork and jargon.
Then people we knew did it. We watched some videos. My partner believed in the dream. And it started to seem not only possible, but right, to carve out a home with the person I love, mid-apocalypse.
The upshot of our virus anxiety: No social lives to spend money on. We found a small house with a back deck and a front porch and a drooping lime tree. We wrote an earnest letter — apparently, this matters! We said bye to mice and mold and hung a rainbow flag. Most nights we sit on the same Ikea couch, sink into the same blur of reality TV, but in a space that’s ours, a tiny parcel of the universe that bears both of our names.
— Claire McNeill, Times staff writer