Spring break is approaching, which marks one whole year since The New School closed its New York City campus in order to suppress the spread of COVID-19. Today, we’re taking a trip down memory lane back to March 2020. Where were you when the WHO officially declared the pandemic? Where was the last place you went before mask mandates were in place? Did you think we would be coming back to campus before the semester ended?
The weekend before spring break my friend from high school and I went to the Grand Bazaar on the Upper West Side. I remember promising myself to spend more time in this part of the city since I hadn’t really explored it yet. We sat down for lunch and I just so happened to have a bottle of hand sanitizer with me so we used it. It’s crazy to think how second nature that action has become after a year. Neither of us had plans for the rest of the day so we walked from 79th St. to the West Village. Looking back on those few hours of my life last Spring, I’m so grateful that I got to see so much of the city. The following Friday, I went home and didn’t return until it was time to move out of my apartment.
My birthday was on the same week when everything started to shut down. It was the first warm day of the year so my friends and I went to Washington Square Park to celebrate my 20th. It also happened to be the same day New York was officially the state with the highest amount of cases (about 500, those were the days right?). I remembered thinking, “What if someone in this park has the virus right now?” but quickly brushed it off. A few days later I was on my flight back home to Puerto Rico and in a plane completely full of people—there were only four of us wearing masks. A year ago the virus felt to me like something that was going to briefly affect the way we do things but everything would go back to normal within a few weeks. It’s incredibly funny to me the things I would text my friends, like, “Yeah this is gonna blow over and we’ll be back in New York in no time.” It’s been one year since I left for “spring break!” This time around, I really do hope I’ll be back in the city in no time…fingers crossed!
“Hellooooo!! I’m coming up to you this week!” I shouted at my boyfriend through our morning call. “Don’t. I’m coming back tonight—campus is closed for two weeks. I’ll see you soon!” he shouted back… As I ran down from the Lang building with joy that we would have an extra-long spring break together, I had no idea this vacation would turn into a staycation—without the ‘cation.’ Later that day I went on my first casting ever and found out I might be going to Milan in one week. The next couple days, I heard news the designer was canceling his show, school was going online for the remainder of the semester, and NYC had a curfew.
This time last year, I was deciding on whether or not to go through with my spring break plans to fly to Canada for a ski trip in Whistler with a friend. I made a last-minute YOLO decision to go for it, but the slopes closed down on the second day we were there because of rising COVID concerns, and as I was on my flight back home the next day, Canada shut down its borders! Great timing.
When COVID hit, I’d already spent three years in a reality pretty close to quarantine. I finished online high school and proceeded to spend a gap year working at the bookstore in a town where I knew no one. I hadn’t really left the state or even the house very often, but this time last year, things seemed to be looking up. I’d accepted my offer to go to The New School a few months prior, and my dad arranged a weekend trip to New York to go to the new student weekend. We toured all the dorms, took the subway for the first time, and wandered around while I envisioned my new life.
In the blink of an eye, my life went from feeling like it was bursting with possibility to getting smaller than my already tiny world. My dad, who was living in Houston, wound up moving back in with us in Wyoming, and I can count on one hand how many times I’ve been in a store since last March.
Ever the deep pessimist, I knew COVID would be bad after the first whispers of it in January or February, but I didn’t think I’d be living the exact same reality a year later.
If anything, the memorable last few days before the shutdown made me glad I was a little impulsive and that I said yes to opportunities far outside of my comfort zone. I’ll be saying yes far more often when it’s safe to venture into the world again because I’ve clung to those memories the most.
Franchette RJ Zamudio
This time last year, I was working in a Virtual Reality arcade where I just had a promotion and raise. I had started a petition for everyone to be required to wear gloves since I read of the COVID news and I live with my grandpa. It’s a very hands-on job where we assist people and put them in VR headsets. Anyway, I just remember some coworkers downplaying the then-coming virus and refusing to sign the petition, saying, “Unless you’re really old and sick it doesn’t really affect you.” A couple weeks later, we were told by our boss to file for unemployment.
Actually the weekend before was really perfect (albeit I was very naive). One of my roommates is a jazz major and we went to a student showcase in Bushwick and had a real nice time. I was photographing the show and met some really awesome students I wouldn’t have met otherwise.
That was the last show I went to and in a matter of days suddenly things began closing. I remember my Dad telling me he was coming a few days earlier and I was anticipating going to my internship later that week. I remember very vividly my mom sending me COVID statistics and found out two cases were at Chambers St. station, which is a subway I always took to my internship. That’s when it started hitting me. Needless to say they postponed their program. Then me and my roommate spent some time in Union Square Park and got lunch, and I’ve never seen 5th Ave. so empty ever.
One year ago, my classmates and I were unable to sit through classes, instead telling each other about where we were going for our senior projects and what we were going to do when we got to our respective destinations, ranging from Kenya to California to North Carolina to Australia to New York. It didn’t seem possible that anything could interfere with the trips that we had been meticulously planning since freshman year. My trip was going to consist of a week-long excursion to New York, as I knew that I was going to college there and wanted to familiarize myself with the city. Around midnight on Thursday night, I didn’t have to check my email to know that the school-sponsored trips departing the next morning were canceled, for the cries and yells and shouts of those in the hallway told me. My packed duffle bag and suitcase never went to New York. Friday morning, I went home. COVID had become real.
Everything started to change a year ago. In retrospect, the weeks building up to that felt like a confusing dream. Everything was “normal.” My best friend had just visited from Utah and we had an amazing time pretending to be tourists at Madame Tussauds, walking around “my” neighborhood and laughing until our sides hurt. I bought a dress that week for the Broadway show I was going to see, Plaza Suite, starring by Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband. It was about to be spring break and my roommate and I bought train tickets to be by the beach. I loved my classes and had every intention of continuing that marvelous love affair; improving in my acting class, studying and writing about rape culture in my first year writing class, writing op-eds in my first journalism class, and everything else: my incredible professors, making new friends, and having New York City as my campus.
My freshman year of college ended too soon. I remember when I stopped taking the subway, when I was too afraid to leave my dorm, and the misguided belief that this would all be over in a few weeks’ time. I remember the only thing I did to “prepare” was go to the Strand and buy as many books as I could carry because I figured if I was going to be stuck in my dorm, I’d at least feed my intellect. I remember all of the lasts: my last class, the last time I saw my therapist, the last time I ate in a restaurant, the last time I saw my friends, and the last time I lived without a mask. Yes, I’m grateful that I was safe and able to return home at that time, but a large part of me is angry for all of the things I should have experienced that I was missing and that the development of the person I was becoming stalled. I like to think that the person—the adventurous, healing, curious and strong—is still inside me, but she’s on hiatus until she can return to the place where she was learning to love herself.