It Doesn't Feel Like It's Been a Year

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So I was soft-hedging off my man because I knew that the ball-hander would be coming off the screen looking to pass, not shoot. I’d played with him—and most of the rest of the people on the court that evening at LA Fitness—enough to know his tendencies. Whether he liked to turn to his right or his left shoulder when posting (his right); if he’d leave his feet on upfakes (no); and if he’d occasionally spray a gallon of AXE on his chest before he’d play (unfortunately).


I guessed right. He passed the ball, and my hand was there, ready to deflect it. But I was so right, actually, that it screwed up his rhythm, and he threw an errant pocket pass that jammed the thumb on my right hand—the same thumb I’d jammed three days earlier. It hurt like a motherfucker. I yelped.

Considering the lateness of the run—-I’d already been there for two hours, and this game had that “last run of the night” feel to it—-I just decided to call it a day, and I went home. I forget exactly which day in March it was, but it was at the beginning of the point when people started taking the coronavirus more seriously here, in America. I even had some ambivalence about going to the gym that day, but my need to hoop outweighed that anxiety.

After going to the sideline to grab the Gap diaper bag I’ve repurposed as a gym bag, and then walking to the locker room, I knew this relatively minor injury might keep me off the court for a week, and I joked to myself that it would suck if a jammed thumb was my last hoop moment of 2020. A year later, I’m far enough removed from the brutal prescience of that thought to finally laugh.

I have this game I play with myself sometimes where I try to think of a person or a thing that I haven’t thought about in years. A shot I made in pick-up game at Mellon Park in 2001. An annoying coworker of a woman I dated in 2007. A scene from a movie I forgot I’d seen. It’s a fun (well, fun for me) way of testing my memory and my ability to recall shit that’s been tucked away because it’s inessential. I’ve been playing an altered version of this game recently, where I try to think of people I haven’t seen and things I haven’t done in a year. And what’s surprising me is that it never feels like it’s been a year. It just doesn’t feel like it’s been (at least) 12 months since I sat and worked at the bar-adjacent long table at the Ace Hotel, or dapped a nigga up after a game-winner at LA Fitness, or got bacon and eggs at the Bar Symon in the Pittsburgh airport before an early flight, or saw my cousin and her kids.

The pandemic has done a thing to my brain where time has been compressed into a shoebox, perhaps because there have been fewer new memories—we barely even have distinguishable days and weekends—so the memories made right before the compression began are still fresh because they haven’t been packed away yet to make room. Maybe, in order to cope, my brain is treating this like it would a bad day, or a nightmare. Or maybe those memories stay so fresh because I yearn to feel and snuggle with and taste them again.

I don’t know. I just know that my thumb is better now.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



It has been a year alone on this couch. I need to touch another person.

Also, burn this couch