Happy Birthday COVID: I Hope It's Your Last

There’s this haunting video that sits like a deadweight in my camera roll.

It’s of my dad blowing out his candles on his birthday last year, March 13th. 

He is joking around and pretending to spit all over the cake I worked all evening on. I am behind the camera laughing and lightheartedly telling him to stop spreading his germs because he’ll infect my cake with “corona.”

Now, I revisit the memory with a soft “oh.”

The video sits at the top the screenshots of county closings of all public schools in Georgia, an email for an “extended/early spring break” from my superintendent, the President issuing a national state of emergency, College Board moving AP exams online, and the list goes on. 

March 13th, 2020: “A day that will live in infamy,” to quote FDR in the most cliché way possible. Though the exact day is debated from person to person, for me, this was day that the COVID-19 pandemic made landfall into my life. 

If you typed the date into Google to find the largest political/current events of the day, nearly every one of the millions of searches centers around the “COVID-19” pandemic. How it was shutting down country after country, news of the biggest events in sports being canceled, and important elections being postponed.  

The whole world was frantically falling apart, and all I remember was sitting blissfully ignorant in my car, with the biggest issue in my life being the very real possibility that I had just failed my Calculus test. 

I was relishing in the fact that it was a Friday, as I waited for my brother to throw his baseball gear in the back of the car. We had to do last minute grocery shopping for my dad’s birthday, and then finally go home for the weekend.

Thinking back to the conversation I had with my brother on the drive home, an almost laughable thought bubbles to the surface of my memory…we had wished for school to be cancelled.

We both wanted nothing more than a couple extra days slapped on to the beginning of our spring break, and I was just hoping for no homework as I counted down until my big spring break trip to New York City with my Mom. I didn't have the slightest understanding that I was driving away from my last real day of high school, and my last real day not dominated by a virus.  

I remember realizing that I had forgotten my sheet music for band in my locker. Although, I thought there wasn't the slightest chance that school would actually get cancelled, so I resigned to retrieve the folder Monday morning. I had believed that I would be surviving just one weekend without it. 

Since my past self was not privy to this dramatic hindsight, my brother and I continued home without any particular care, stopping to pick up cake mix at the local store. The small grocery store was swarming with an unusually large number of customers for 4pm, and I noticed that everyone’s carts were piled high with items in an almost doomsday-prepper manner. I hadn’t given it much thought until my brother pulled my attention to the toilet paper aisle. Confused, I turned to ask him why, but was silenced by the image of shelves laying unnervingly bare.The first signs of what was ahead of us was hiding in the emptiness of the toilet paper aisle. (An odd omen, I will admit, but an omen nonetheless.) 

I think about the things I would tell my past self, if I could jump in a time machine to that day. Would it be that I should learn how to tie loops in a face mask strap to make it shorter to fit my face? Maybe that I should stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer while I have the chance. Possibly that I should prepare to have to get a q-tip shoved up my nose or spit into a tiny vial with beads on multiple occasions. I know at the very least I would tell myself to learn how to spell the word “quarantine” correctly. 

Looking back at March 2020, it feels as if ten lifetimes have passed. I’ve graduated highschool, I got my first real job, I turned eighteen, and I started my freshman year of college. 

All of these milestones were completed under the ever-darkening cloud worry that follows the COVID-19 crisis. Sure, a huge next chapter of my life has started, but the gravity falls short of expected when every day I wake up and grapple with the notion that the repercussions of this global pandemic will continue to echo for the rest of my life. The pandemic is already stealing the twilight years of my adolescence. How will it affect the job market I walk into, the availability of internships that I can pursue, my ability to create connections and contacts, and even my education when so much is occurring through a computer screen? 

Yet, here we are March 13th, 2021, one year later. I guess counting on the virus magically disapearing by summer 2020 was a false hope. Regardless, in the sometimes dispiriting recollection of all that has been missed, the pandemic has given me a new view on treasuring every laugh, every new friend, every smile from a stranger, every big slobbery hug from a dog, and every single person I love in my life that much more, so Happy Birthday Dad!!

 

……...and Happy Birthday COVID (I can’t say I wish you “many more”).