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I wasn’t ready. Nobody was really; it came as a shock to all of us. It was just a random Wednesday. The world had been quietly murmuring about what COVID-19 would mean, what it could mean for all of us, but in my own isolated world nobody expected a pandemic. Nobody expected a disease that would alter the world as we knew it, would shut down lives and erect a brick wall that would stand in direct opposition to our plans, making them come to an abrupt stop, to a sudden end. WHO declared the newest strand of Corona Virus as an pandemic that fateful Wednesday, and the very next day my world shifted.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way, isn’t supposed to end this way. That Thursday I was at work, baking as I always do. In between running back and forth from the fridge, grabbing eggs, butter, heavy cream, and blueberries, to the counter where I mix, whisk, form and shape the various pastries that I make, my fellow employees would come in and out of the kitchen discussing the latest COVID news. “Did you hear” Tanner said, “Tech has made the call, school has been canceled. Isn’t this wild?!” It was official, Texas Tech had followed in the footsteps of thousands of other universities across the country. It was over, in classroom classes were done; from now until kingdom come, or so it feels. Classes would be taught virtually for the remainder of the semester. My heart dropped; tears began to puddle in my eyes. While I’m not a student at Texas Tech, I am a student at Lubbock Christian University, and with LCU only being a short drive down the road, I felt the inevitability of what had just happened. With Tech being done, LCU would follow suit, it had to didn’t it? Wouldn’t it be irresponsible if we didn’t? Maybe not; maybe because we are so small we could continue, maybe we didn’t have to shut the whole campus down? These were the thoughts that pulsed through my brain, and while some of my questions were laced with hope, I knew deep down that it was over. My time at LCU was finished. In an instant sadness and disappointment overwhelmed me; my body shrank as my shoulders succumbed to the weight I felt within my chest. Tanner, my friend and coworker looked at me, “wait, are you sad?? He chuckled, “I would be elated for school to be canceled” with a glance I said, “yes, I am desperately sad.”
I am a senior. This was my last semester to be on campus as an LCU student. I instantaneously thought of all of the lasts that wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t walk into the Writing Center to work that one last shift; couldn’t sit and listen to one last lecture from Dr. Fehr; couldn’t gather for that one last club meeting, that one last banquet; couldn’t give those senior speeches that are way too overdramatic but beautiful; couldn’t present my senior research in front of my professors and students whom I love; couldn’t walk the stage with my class that anticipated May morning. I couldn’t give those last hugs and thank you’s to the people who had journeyed with me over the past four years. I was counting on these things to help close a chapter I wasn’t quite sure I was ready to conclude. Those lasts would be it; they would be the conclusion that would launch me into the next chapter of my life. As I stood there in the kitchen, with an apron wrapped around my waist and flour on my face, I felt as if the pen had been ripped right out of my hand. I didn’t get to write the ending, not anymore. The universe had already decided, the chapter was over, the last paragraph would have to suffice.
LCU didn’t make the call that day. They decided to give the pandemic a little more time. They were going to give it Spring break and see if it would be possible for life to go on as normal. It wasn’t, and it isn’t. It wasn’t long before the dreaded email reached my mailbox; I knew it was coming. I knew it from that one brief second standing with sticky hands in the coffee shop kitchen. But I still wasn’t ready. With each new conformation of the end I didn’t want, my heart ached more and more. Grief, mourning began to settle in, sitting in the place where my hopes used to dwell. I mean, that is what mourning is, isn’t it? The pain of losing what was and what could have been. The hardest thing about grief isn’t remembering what was, but the pain of knowing that those memories are just that, memories. The hardest part of grief is letting go of what you envisioned your present and your future would look like, that’s when mourning begins. It feels silly to be deeply moved and affected by a senior year cut short, that the grief that comes with such a loss would be enough to move me to spilling many, many tears. But it did, it does. It was an email from Jana Anderson that first broke me down. As my boss in the Writing Center, she was sending all of us writing consultants an email about what was ahead due to the nation’s and state’s mandated rules on social distancing. She was real with us; she told us how she had been struggling, how it was ok to be upset and disappointed. She explained how she had been feeling the weight of all of it. I began to cry as I sat there in my living room. On a sunny Spring day, tears began to flow as I allowed myself to be consumed by my sadness. My eyes burned as tears rolled down my face. Why? I asked myself. Why does this hurt so bad? Why does the thought of me never stepping into the library as a student, or walking back into the Writing Center, bring me to tears?
While the answers didn’t come to me right away, slowly I began to understand why such an abrupt end was cutting me so deeply. LCU wasn’t, isn’t, just a school I attended. LCU is my home. When things got hard and heavy in my life, when I was experiencing the loss of hopes and dreams, LCU was always there. It was my safe place of refuge when life seemed to be crumbling, slipping right through my fingers. All it took was a walk down the mall, or an extended stay in the library to slow down my anxious mind and remind me that everything was going to be ok. When my foundation was cracking, LCU was my constant. I wasn’t just losing the rest of the school year, I was losing a friend, a dear friend that had done more for me than they could ever know. Hardship was something I was able to escape by being on campus, by sitting at the fountain and listening to the sound of the water hitting the rocks, by walking into the CDC and letting the cherubim wings cover me. LCU wasn’t supposed to be touched by the world, not in this way. My safe place was shaken. When grief comes from the place you’ve always fled to so that you can grieve, where do you go? I knew that the day was coming, the day I would have to leave LCU, but I didn’t know it would happen so quickly; I didn’t know that it would be now. So, I cry. I cry and I mourn the loss of a season, the loss of a friend.
I have to force myself to get up in the morning and to go to bed at night. I have to keep my sleep schedule because I fear what lays in the depths of the darkness of the early morning hours. The alarm sounds and I wake up in a sweat; knowing I just left a terrible nightmare about what is outside my door. I look over to see my cat, Carlos, cuddled up beside me and he raises his subtle orange head to give out a small meow that seems to be saying, “Good morning. It is going to be okay.” I thank him by sitting up, scratching his head, and replying, “Good morning, my little lion cub.” He stretches out to display his three foot length, front paws to back. A quick scroll through Twitter ensues until I have seen around ten tweets about the virus and decide I cannot stomach it any longer. As I switch my lamp on, I also prop myself up on my left arm because it is time to take medication. A pill for depression and a pill for an underactive thyroid. A sip of water. Time to get up.
Routines have seemed to turn into robotic systems these days. I do not have to get up at a certain time or go to bed at a decent hour. I do not have to prepare the coffee maker for the next morning. I do not have to shower, get dressed, or talk to people, but these are the things that are keeping me sane. So, I get out of bed and turn on the coffee pot that I prepared the night prior. It is cold in the mornings now because I always forget to turn the air conditioner off before I go to bed. Once the coffee is finished making, I pour it into my favorite coffee mug – creamed colored, large, misshapen, with “#Hashtag” written on the front. I assume my position on the couch, cover myself with a blanket my mom crocheted for me when I was in high school, and turn on the tv. Carlos jumps up on my lap and lays down as I surf through YouTube to find something… anything… that will take my mind off of all the people dying.
None of my friends are awake at this point. They have roommates. They have an ability to breathe in another person’s presence. I live alone. My mental stability rests on the shoulders of routine and no isolation. That is ironic because although I am an introvert, there is a difference in “alone time” and isolation. One is chosen, the other is forced. Oftentimes, the force is my own brain pumping the wrong chemicals into my body because of ridges dug by past traumas. This time, the force is a virus outside of anyone’s control. It is interesting how a pandemic cannot only infect physical bodies all around the world, but also the souls. There seems to be a rift across the world- a macabre sense of togetherness and connectedness while also breaking us all.
A loud noise coming from the video I am watching snaps me back into reality. I hit rewind, press play, and focus in. My coffee is lukewarm now, but I drink it anyway. As soon as it is finished, I feel the need to take a nap, but I cannot. Classes have begun again, and I need to get back into a rhythm that no longer exists. It is an entirely new symphony, and no one has the sheet music. I grab my laptop in hopes of getting some assignments finished but a mountain of emails falls on me, taking at least an hour of my time for responses. Daily announcements, emails from professors detailing assignments and asking questions, notes from my boss on what tasks to complete, and other emails that seem to all be saying the same thing: we are not really sure what we are doing, and everyone is confused.
The university’s database, deemed Moodle, has morphed into the faces of my professors. Instruction of how classes will continue is confusing and make my head swirl. Everything is cloudy. Anger fuses together with the oxygen I am breathing. It is the type of anger that is born out of uncertainty and feeling cheated. How can I be so selfish? At least no one I know personally has the virus. Everyone I love is healthy thus far, but the feeling of it creeping behind me, ready to gobble us up at any moment, has my heart on its toes.
Assignment: read this section, post a response to it on the forum, then respond to two other students. Got it. As I open a book that does not seem to matter right now, I take a deep breath. This is as close to routine as I can get right now, and I have to keep going in order to remain sane. Each turn of the page sounds like an airplane flying overhead. Each tap-tap-tap of the keys sounds like a car’s blinker. Everything reminds me that I cannot leave my home right now. We are all stuck. Click, click, click, my response is posted. A ping from my email lets me know the assignment was uploaded successfully.
Some type of construction is being done outside of my window. The constant movement and banging would normally drive me insane, but now I find joy in the disturbance because it reminds me that life will continue. I peek through the blinds to see the workers just so I can see another human. Perhaps this is not the end after all. It only seems like it because no one has lived through something like this in centuries. A pandemic, a virus, a sickness, it was never supposed to travel this quickly. There is a knock on the door of my brain: anxiety. I feel like a child again. If my whole body is covered by the blanket, the monster under the bed cannot get me. The only way to avoid anxiety is similar, I grab my phone to set an alarm to wake me up from a nap, but then I remember that it no longer matters. So, I just sleep.
Natural body alarms cannot be turned off. I am awake an hour later but feel like I have morphed into the tan couch. Carlos is laying on the floor in the perfect position to be covered by a beam of sunlight. He has no idea what is going on and why I have not left the apartment in days. Oh, what a joy it would be to not know. A glance at my phone tells me that the case count in this town is nearing 100 and a few have died. It is only getting closer. I wish I did not have a cellphone for a moment, but then it vibrates: a snapchat from my boyfriend, a phone call from my grandmother, a text from my mom. I remember that I am not alone.
A groan from my stomach reminds me that it is mid-afternoon, and I still have not eaten. I turn the oven to 350. I cannot help but chuckle. I do not have a microwave because of how much radiation you get from it, but that is the least of my worries now. After I place parchment paper on a baking sheet, I grab the containers of rice and beans from my fridge. Into the oven goes the food that will be my sustenance for who knows how long. Re-assuming my position on the couch, I flip through YouTube once more and decide on a video to watch: another Shane Dawson video that I have watched hundreds of times. Meaningless minutes pass and the aroma of beans fills my nose: my meal is heated and ready to be consumed. My only meal of the day.
I try to think about the end of quarantine, but it seems impossible. I fear there is no end. We are all just trying to survive. My friends are hurting, and I cannot hug them. The days now are like monotonous adventures. You can only stay in one place, expected to still get work and assignments completed, but there is always an unknown which shows itself every couple of hours. I am still trying to figure out what this balance is… always wondering if it is even possible to find such a thing as balance. Suddenly, it is six o’clock: time to feed Carlos. His hungry meows are loud, he follows me to the pantry where I keep his food, and then we walk to his six-foot tall cat tower where I keep his bowl. He jumps up to the third level and begins to eat. At least he is satisfied.
My brain has melted into useless goo. I spend the rest of the night watching content that is supposed to make me feel better, but I just keep drifting off into anger, confusion, and exhaustion. Auto-play keeps videos rolling, one after another, for hours. Tomorrow will more or less be the same, but I have to force myself to get up in the morning and to go to bed at night. I have to keep my sleep schedule because I fear what lays in the depths of the darkness of the early morning hours.