Mourn the Old World

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 27, 2020

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Submitted: June 27, 2020

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Denial.

I, like many people, like many Americans, doubted the seriousness of coronavirus. It couldn’t be worse than swine flu, bird flu, mad cow’s, that spout of Ebola we went through, etc. When it proved that it could be, and indeed was, I, like many young people, doubted it would even affect me. I don’t have a compromised immune system. I’m hygienic enough. I never get sick. Even if I do get sick, it can’t be that bad.

So, by the time New York City ground to a halt, I had made up my mind to see a movie in the huge Times Square AMC the day before it’d be shut down. No mask, no gloves yet, just a pocket-sized cosmetic hand sanitizer that I figured was good enough. When I walked out of the theatre and truly saw how deserted the usually tourist-filled block was, the shock finally set in.

 

Anger.

It just wasn’t fair. Why was this happening now? During my birthday? During my Spring Break? During the semester I was supposed to travel for my practicum? In the middle of the first semester I was spending living on campus?

It had been a hectic semester, and I was looking forward to relaxing during the mid-semester vacation, but I quickly had to forfeit that as airlines cancelled flights, New York shut down Broadway, and campuses suspended in-person gatherings. Instead, I was locked inside my dorm. I felt melancholy bleed into my muscles and bones as I struggled to adjust, unable to see my friends and classmates, no longer indulging in social activities, stuck watching the residence halls empty. I was afraid to move out and back home myself, terrified at the prospect of carrying the virus home to my family.

This all resulted in deep-seated irritability. By the time classes resumed (online, of course), I was sick and tired of talking about the pandemic, souring every time anyone asked “How are you coping? How are you adjusting? What are you doing?” and miffed at every taciturn response: “Oh, you know, just hanging in there. Taking it one day at a time. Just doing what I can.”

I watched the news and hated it. I hated the deniers – how dare they make light of people getting sick, of them dying? – hated our government’s lack of response – how dare they be unprepared despite countless warnings? I internally screamed at the people going out without masks – don’t you see we’re in a pandemic? I wanted to yell. But I’d groan at the sight of those who were wearing masks – what are you so afraid of? I wanted to shout. But I knew the answer. And I secretly knew why I was so angry all the time: I was mourning the loss of normalcy.

 

Bargaining.

By the end of March, I knew we weren’t going back to normal any time soon. Countries who were hit first were climbing in infection rates that didn’t seem to be coming down at all; New York City was predicted to be hit the hardest in the United States; and despite this, the federal government was still playing fast and loose with our preparation. As a graduate student studying policy, I knew what to look for in public and political responses to crises: the signs weren’t great.

This doused my anger and turned it into a simmering pool of anxiety. I collected factoids about the virus, convinced that if I could stay informed, I could avoid it. I would do my part, hope that everyone else was doing the same, and we would all crawl out of this abyss together. So I washed my hands for 40 seconds, shared fact-checked articles on Facebook, watched every Fauci interview on every late-night talk show. Because in the absence of anything else, this was all I could do.

 

Depression.

Isolation is akin to torture. I craved social interaction as much as I feared it. I thought often about taking walks or sitting in a park, but I didn’t have a mask, and I was convinced that going outside without one was a death sentence. So I wasted away in my dorm and tried to content myself with occasional food deliveries. We had a public bathroom that I used less and less; after all, with nowhere to be, there was no point in showering, and it certainly wasn’t worth the risk of infection.

I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself, though. I counted my blessings: at least I had enough food to last me a few weeks before I succumbed to a trip to the grocery store; at least I’d had enough in savings to support myself; at least I had a place to live apart from anyone potentially infected; at least I had stable Internet with which to continue classes online and binge watch my favorite cartoons; at least this all started in the winter when there wasn’t much to do outside anyway.

My mental health was saved when I was kicked out of my dorm.

 

Acceptance.

I had thought I would be angry when I received the Email telling me I had to move out of my dorm, but I wasn’t. I was relieved to be seeing my family again, comforted by the fact that my school had decided this out of concern for my health (public bathrooms during a pandemic? Big no-no). Even the knowledge that I’d have to figure out what to do with all my stuff later didn’t damper my spirits.

Of course, I still felt guilty about the prospect of transmitting the virus to my family. Sure, I hadn’t shown any symptoms, but I had been surrounded by other students, the incubation period for this disease was ridiculously long, and had a strong immune system: I couldn’t assume that I didn’t have it.

The two weeks went by, though, and no one got sick. Throughout, I laughed and smiled for the first time in almost a month. I finished my semester on an upswing, and even the hell of Internet lag as I competed for bandwidth with my mother couldn’t break me. It’s this attitude I carry forward as we deal with the new norms and practices our communities are implementing, the new landscapes we’re navigating, the new attitudes and priorities we’ve developed in ourselves. The old world is dead; this is the new world order.


© Copyright 2020 Chanonvic. All rights reserved.

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