It is December 31st, the last day of 2020 – a year that has been supersaturated with so much shit and grief that it’s almost bordered the absurd. I have been to a Zoom wedding and a Zoom baby shower and a Zoom funeral, experiencing the spectrum of human existence in halting pixilation. I try to remember what it feels like to hug my mother, as she sits eight feet away from me in the frigid cold of my backyard, shouting that I should have a merry Christmas. (I did not, but it wasn’t for want of trying.)
I wonder what the universe will try to squeeze in at the end of this miserable year, if a massive fault line will be discovered right under my home, or a portal to hell found in my toilet. I am glued to my phone, to endless headlines of awful, and I read them aloud to my husband like the newsreel of some parallel universe where everything has gone to shit.
In the midst of all of this, one story has floated up to the top, a bit of inconsequential flotsam in a sea of miserable news, something for me to cling to in this storm of a year.
“Have you seen the Hilaria Baldwin story?” I ask him. I might, as these words escape my lips, be frothing at the mouth. My eyes are wide, and I’m feeling a sort of giddy frenzy at this, the crumbling of a curated social media facade. My husband, to his credit, does not look at my wild expression and dismiss me as a madwoman. He does not whisper “My love, you are shouting,” as he sometimes does because I often am. Instead, he looks at me with the patience that you would expect from someone who has made a relationship work for twenty years, where you pretend very much to care about the things your partner cares about, even if it’s only as long as it will take for them to explain that thing to you.
“Who is she?” he asks. This question is a gift.
Most people know by now, thanks to the osmosis of social media, but my husband did not, so I describe her as though I am unmasking a Shakespearean villain. I tell him how she is from Boston, how she put on a fake Spanish accent and professed to be from Mallorca. I describe the time she pretended to forget the English word for cucumber on television. How she gave her children Spanish names. She was a social media influencer/yoga instructor whose prided herself on authenticity, I say. I liken it to Marcus Brutus’ betrayal of Caesar.
My husband does not ask (for he is an obliging soul who has to cohabitate a space with his wife during a pandemic), but so many others have: why on earth do we care? Why am I, a reasonably intelligent person who didn’t even know that Alec Baldwin was remarried, so obsessed with this story when there are so many bigger things to worry about?
And perhaps that’s where the appeal lies – in the absurdity, the absolute madcap set-up, the fact that it has nothing to do with death or illness or pandemics. In a world that has become a dystopian apocalypse film, this storyline is a sit-com plot gone awry. When did Alec find out? Did she tell him at some point? Did she keep up the accent all the time? Like, all the time? What about her family? Was anyone, at any point, like, “Hey, Hillary, you know we’re from Massachusetts, right?”
Was there an evening where she was double-booked as both Hilaria and Hillary, and she had to scamper from one event to the other?
I NEED TO KNOW.
I mean, look: it’s been a rough goddamn year. So many of us are barely holding it together. But as we change from our day pajamas to our night pajamas, brushing crumbs from our breasts as we silently judges ourselves for being shadows of who we once were, we can find comfort in this: we never spent a decade of our life creating an elaborate, culturally-appropriating alter-ego which then became our undoing.
I am wearing pajamas. It is after noon. Hilaria Baldwin’s story is fading from the headlines, as stories do – I once again find myself reading about Americans starving and dying and the government failing to pass stimulus packages. But in this year of awfulness, watching her story play out like a pop culture Greek tragedy has been a welcome distraction. One I want to hold on to for just a little while longer.