Saying hello to 2021, and goodbye to the weirdest year ever
As she prepared to spend New Year’s Eve with her parents and brother, and — perhaps more important in this uncommonly pro-Crimson Tide family — New Year’s Day with the televised sights of the Alabama-Notre Dame national championship semifinal football game, Cameron Foley reflected on the final lingering fumes of 2020.
“If that’s the most life can throw at me in a year and I can come out the other side,” Foley said, “I can do a lot.”
It’s a common sentiment following nearly 10 months of pandemic, economic implosion, massive street protests, wildfires, smoke, power outages and the most contentious presidential election in modern U.S. history. But Foley, 20, has more reason to breathe a sigh of relief than the average Sonoma County citizen. She tested positive for the coronavirus in June, soon after completing her sophomore year at the University of Alabama.
Foley’s age made her a good candidate for a swift recovery. Her asthma did not. More than half a year later, she still experiences pain and tightness in her chest. And her original diagnosis, she said, came at a time when she was weathering some serious personal issues, which she chose not to discuss.
“Everything kind of hit a perfect storm for me,” Foley said. “When I got COVID, I just knew it was the cherry on top.”
Then her younger brother, Jack, was infected. He had joined her in Tuscaloosa, as a freshman. In contrast to many universities, Alabama put students in dorms and held many classes in person. Jack Foley wound up recovering much more quickly than his sister, escaping the long-haul conditions that have dogged Cameron – and perhaps the mental challenge, too.
“I think it’s inflicted a deep sense of paranoia, really,” Cameron Foley said. “I know so many people who got it, who had zero symptoms or barely any symptoms. Me, having this feeling of fighting an uphill battle, it makes me fear I’m susceptible to more things in life than others.”
Foley doesn’t live within a fantasy. She has known all along that Jan. 1 wouldn’t look much different than Dec. 31. But you can understand her eagerness to flip the calendar to a number that doesn’t read “2020.”
She is not alone. All over our flame-blackened, debt-ridden, socially distanced terrain, people are hoping for something better.
Ray Martignoli sure is. The 89-year-old and his wife, Rose Marie, both live at Arbol Residences, a continuing care retirement community on Fountaingrove Parkway. But Ray is in an Assisted Living apartment. Rose Marie, who has Alzheimer’s dementia, is in Memory Care. Because of the perils of COVID-19, the couple spends no more than 30 minutes a day together. In February, they will celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary.
“I would like to spend that evening with her,” Ray Martignoli said. “It will be very traumatic for me if I can’t, but I probably can’t. You live with it.”
Short of someone who experienced a loss of life in 2020, it’s hard to imagine anyone more impacted by the virus than Martignoli. He misses the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras parties he used to organize at Arbol, and the luau the community put on there. Mostly, though, he misses spending the other 23½ hours a day with Rose Marie, a separation made harder by knowing he could soothe her with the touch of a hand or photos of the great-grandchildren.
But Martignoli is managing to draw positives from this cursed year, proving to himself that, even at 89, it’s possible to experience personal growth. During his career working in prisons, he could never understand why inmates signed up to work for pennies per hour.
“Now I understand,” Martignoli said. “They want to get out of their cells and do something productive. One thing I’ve learned is to try to wear the other person’s shoes for a while. Try to understand why people are doing what they’re doing.”
Empathy was a common theme in conversations looking back on 2020 and ahead to what the new year might bring.
Cody Brown said 2020 showed him that no matter how much you lose, you can always find someone who has less. He cited a report on global hunger he just saw, perhaps UNICEF’s assessment that COVID-19 could push another 142 million children into poverty by the end of this year in developing nations.
“I think to myself, ‘I have a girlfriend, I have a family, I have a house where right now I can pay rent. I can get food from a gas station or store,’” Brown said. “Wow. Everybody who lives in this country has a privilege that so many people in the world don’t, because we can see a full meal. It humbles me.”
That’s quite an expression of altruism when you consider everything 2020 threw at Brown. The owner of The Dirty tavern and co-owner of Crooks Coffee in downtown Santa Rosa, he began the year on a roll. Then came the first in a series of state and county stay-at-home orders on March 18. The coffee shop has done all right, Brown said. But the pandemic has been a disaster for the bar.