Abbey Ley
6 min readMar 13, 2021

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March 12th, 2020

One year ago today I took a city bus from my apartment, bare faced, into downtown Austin. It was surreal to see the driver wearing a mask that day, before masks became the norm, a sign of consideration for those around us. I was thrilled to pick up a check from Third Rail Creative, a wonderful agency I’d been freelancing with remotely for a few weeks. We had planned for me to pop into the office and say hello to some of team, meet the designer I had filled in for while he was on paternity leave. But as news circulated quickly about Covid-19, the office ended up deserted that day. They left my check in the lobby in an envelope with my name on it pinned to the mailbox. My first contactless pick-up. I walked down Congress Avenue, taking in the warm, sunny day. Gratitude for this reward for my hard work was balanced by the stark, eerie realization of our changing world.

The World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic a full year ago. The word “UNPRECEDENTED” has been spoken and written 997,254,907 billion times more than ever before (an estimated but likely figure). I would look up the number of cases in the US, NYC, TX, worldwide… refreshing the pages several times daily. I spent more time consuming news and social media than ever before. I felt addicted to it though I know it isn’t healthy to be consistently, tensely glued to the internet. I never imagined the number of Covid related deaths would grow to a horrifying 2.6 MILLION worldwide in a year’s time (an alarmingly accurate stat, BBC). This amount of media consumption filled my body with a new kind of anxiety.

That check I picked up enabled me to purchase the first car I’ve owned since 2014. I hadn’t planned on buying a car for a while, as I didn’t necessarily need it. Having moved from Brooklyn, I was used to public transit and I LOVE walking and biking. Being self-employed with inconsistent income, I’m quite cautious of larger purchases, but all of a sudden it really seemed like a smart idea to have personal transportation. A guy I’d met on Tinder earlier in the year had mentioned he was selling his Mazda3 for $3000. We stayed friends after our couple dates, and he kindly let me make a few payments, handing over the keys and title after the first one. This car allowed me to start volunteering on the farm next to a brewery I had visited a couple weeks prior to meet some new baby goats. I found solace and sanity amongst the sunshine, soil and juniper in Texas Hill Country, especially for an overworked, nature-starved New York ‘expat.’ I made unexpected new friends and realized my enjoyment of axe swinging and trail work.

Megatron, a baby goat grazes, drenched in late afternoon sunlight
Megatron grazing at Jester King Brewery in Dripping Springs, Texas

Having the car also gave me the freedom to carefully meet up with friends for distanced rollerskating and kayaking. Joyful moments and opportunities to keep active and away from the news during these disturbing, difficult times. It also enabled me to drive up to Dallas several times to help my mom when she could barely walk due to a major blood clot, and again to visit her when she was hospitalized for a month with a slew of additional complications. It enabled me to vote for a new president at long last, and to drop off donations to Austin Mutual Aid to help feed some fellow humans in need.

The next time I found myself on Congress Avenue was in early June, definitely masked. I marched with thousands of members of my community, chanting Black Lives Matter!! and demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Ramos… the list unfortunately goes on for far too long. Still very much pandemic-paranoid, I couldn’t not take action while innocent people continue to be murdered because they’re Black. I didn’t see ONE person out of the thousands without a mask. Gathered in a crowd for the first time in a long time, I felt safe. Newfound fears of over-militarized police lining the Texas Capitol building with shields, holding guns arose. Some with their hands ON triggers. Terrifying and very intimidating. Tears streamed slowly down my cheeks as I faced them, knowing that any fear I was feeling was nowhere near the level of fear that people of color are feeling.

Black Austin Rally & March For Black Lives Texas State Capitol — June 7, 2020
Black Austin Rally & March For Black Lives
Texas State Capitol — June 7, 2020
Police at the Texas State Capitol during the Black Austin Rally & March For Black Lives
June 7, 2020

Last March was … different than I pictured my first March living in Austin. I was absolutely not running around the city hopping from one SXSW showcase to the next. How insignificant that thought now seems. Reality has drastically shifted; great perspective gained. Actions taken to help others and donating to help wherever I can. The collective trauma of this past year is immeasurable. Today I felt disgusted but not surprised to read the headline, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sues Austin to stop it from imposing a local mask order. The idiocracy and blatant disregard for science and the wellbeing of others has been exposed to an extreme degree in so many ways. It’s difficult to believe this is reality. Astoundingly selfish behavior has been on full display. It’s a truly terrifying time to be alive. A full year later and here we are, minus 2.6 million… and counting. Vaccines have finally rolled out slowly. The end of this pandemic still feels far from over. None of us will ever be the same.

Today I still feel a stark contrast of gratitude and eerie surrealism, though massively heavier and darker than last March. I’ve never been one to fear the great unknown but I’d be lying if I said I‘m unafraid for the future of our world. Spring is inevitably here once again. New green blades of grass are popping up through the tough dead grass and beautiful flowers are unfurling around Austin, a few weeks post UNPRECEDENTED freeze. Emails are still ending with an ominous, “Stay safe.”

In March of 2019 I was returning from exploring Australia after a few gloriously healing weeks in Bali, stopping on O’ahu on my way back to New York. (Nah, I’m not rich, I have student loan debt! I worked my ass off and emptied my bank account to make the trip a reality. WORTH IT). The joy and light from those travels mixed with deep loss, as I returned home mourning a dear friend who’d passed away suddenly. She didn’t have to experience the horrors of this pandemic… I sometimes think.
I found myself drinking a lot more alcohol than I had in months. The same was true this time last year (damn you, delicious mezcal cocktails). But it did me no good and I’ve since sworn off the sauce almost entirely now.

I wonder where I’ll find myself in March 2022, a pondering lined with hope, gratitude and love. It is quite strange to feel more emotionally stable today than I have during most of my life. Talk to a therapist, hug your pets, meditate and exercise, y’all. I highly recommend an hour long bathtub soak lit by a candle. And write it all out if that’s your thing, too.

I’ll continue to find solace in nature, art, writing, family, community and I wish the same for you.

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Abbey Ley

Hello! I'm an art director, motion designer and writer living in Brooklyn, NY.