A Year in the Pandemic

Yesterday, I got a Snapchat memory of my best friends and me dancing in a basement. A year ago, we drove to Georgia for spring break. We explored Atlanta, went hiking and visited cute coffee shops. It was my first road trip with friends that didn’t include a parent chaperone. When we visited the Coca-Cola factory, I didn’t mind being shoved into a small room for the before-the-tour spiel. I didn’t hesitate to try the various sodas from around the world as hundreds of other people did the same thing. We sat close enough to the other table at the coffee shop to hear the two women complaining about their husbands’ views on buying cars for their kids. Everything in the world felt like it was buzzing with excitement. After the trip, I would visit my boyfriend for a few days then finish up my spring break with my best friend in Alabama. It was a perfect week, and the last one I would have in a long time.

On our last night in Georgia, my friends and I sat on the couch. We started watching Love is Blind, but before the show began, we caught a glimpse of the news. The news anchors talked about the Coronavirus. It hadn’t spread far in the United States yet, but the concern was already arising worldwide. When I went to visit my boyfriend, he told me that Florida State University (FSU) discussed moving classes online for the remainder of the year. I thought FSU was taking the easy way out as usual. My optimistic mind refused to let me believe that things could fall apart so fast.

A few weeks later, the University of Florida released an email that classes would move online for two weeks. As soon as I read the email, I was skeptical that anyone would see a classroom again that year. I went home that week to celebrate my anniversary with my boyfriend. We spent the weekend at Walt Disney World before it closed for lockdown. My boyfriend and I debated staying to see the fireworks when we went to the Magic Kingdom. We got to the park at opening, and by sunset, we were exhausted, but we persevered. We got our ice cream and sat to watch the fireworks explode into the Orlando sky. I’m glad we took that opportunity. Since then, the only Disney fireworks I have seen have been on my television when my friends and I feel particularly nostalgic.

The entire country went into lockdown after my trip to Disney. My brother flew home from college, and he still hasn’t returned to New York. My family and I took up puzzles. The days started later. I would wake up in the morning, do one or two assignments then nap or watch TV all afternoon. My family’s big outing was to pick up ice from Chick-fil-A once restaurants resumed drive-thru options. I realized I was only walking a few hundred steps during the day, so I started running to move about again.

I am an introvert by nature, so I didn’t start to feel isolated until I was a month or two into quarantine. By then, I started missing my friends and missing the world. I missed waking up in the morning and getting dressed for the day. I missed doing my makeup and smiling at people when I passed them on the street. No one could see my smile behind my mask. Time passed slower and days became monotonous. The small circle of friends and family kept me sane when I no longer had schoolwork to fill my days. I didn’t work any shifts throughout quarantine because the mall was closed. It reopened a few months into the summer. I was still wary about being around people at that point, but my job offered me at least some sense of normalcy, even if everything was different.

August arrived slowly, but once it was there, time started moving fast. I moved into a new apartment with my best friends and came back to Gainesville, Florida. None of us had in-person classes, so our days were spent in our apartment, chained to our desks and locked in on the computer screen. To say it in the best terms, the fall semester was difficult. There was emotional and mental exhaustion. Some of it was from school, some from the pandemic and some of it from the life that had continued to go on despite the unprecedented times. We made it through that semester by relying on each other. I don’t know how I would have coped if we didn’t have family dinners and the small weekend outings to keep me going. My mom likes to say that the Lord works in mysterious ways. I took this semester as a real-life example of that.

Now we are in the spring semester, and things don’t feel nearly as bad. School isn’t killing me, and I have more time for my friends and family. Maybe it’s the resilience of youth, or maybe I’m adjusting. I can’t help but think about where a year in the pandemic left me coming into March. There has been a lot of heartbreak and a lot of fatigue. People have been polarized, and I’ve been left feeling disheartened, disgusted and tired. But while I experienced the bad, I also experienced the good. I witnessed love, support and acceptance. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how much I could grow as a person in a place where the value of time seems diminished.