It’s nearing the end of 2020—I thought the day I could say that would never come, sometimes.
What a year.
So, I’ve been looking back through my “Corona Journal” in my iPhone notes. It’s a bunch of typo-ridden voice-typed ramblings about my reactions to life since March. A lot of it centers around working in a grocery store during a pandemic. As I’m starting to look back, trying to corral all my emotions and memories into boxes at least a little more understandable than the vague tangled mess in my mind, I thought I’d post snippets of that journal here. It could be a way to remember, to laugh, cry, grieve, heal. A way to witness what’s happened.
That was one of my phrases for 2020, back in innocent January when all looked calm and bright (the lie of “Silent Night”). Bear witness. Well, I didn’t know what I would be bearing witness to, but that’s the point. You make the pledge regardless of what comes, and your promise keeps you to it.
Okay, enough pretentious philosophizing. Here are some of my musings. I’ll break them down into a few posts, and I’m changing some first names to give people privacy. (I also fixed the typos. You’re welcome.)
March 10, the day they announced school would be closed until the end of spring break; four days before I was supposed to leave for spring break
Before class had started, I’d looked at Laura and she said I should probably get out, that maybe they would shut down the buses. Before I left work, I asked my boss if she thought I should leave, and she was emphatic: if I wanted to get out I should do it now.
Part of me wanted to stay in the city, to have a few extra days that were more free than expected with no classes. Why was I giving up extra time in the city? But I was also tired and stressed, and I just wanted to go home. I got out my suitcase and started packing, still debating with myself what to do. In the end, I knew it was one of those choices that either way could work out well, and God was giving me the freedom to choose. There wasn’t a wrong choice.
As I crawled into bed, I had the thought that this would be my last chance to do this. My family is going to move to Europe, Jack is going to go to college, and I’ll never again be able to bus home last minute and be with everyone. Even though I knew the decision was a free one, I was so thankful for this confirmation. There were still things that I would miss about staying, but I knew my choice was right.
I wonder, though, if my reluctance to leave was also partly because I could sense, or at least I feared, that this was an irrevocable decision. That this would mark the beginning of the end, that going home will be more final than it was supposed to be.
March 13, home for spring break with my friend Sharon
During family friends’ visit, I got the email—I saw it as a text alert first—that King’s would go online for the rest of the semester. Lanie called me, and we processed it together, which was comforting. It was so good to hear her voice and remember that I wasn’t alone, that my life at King’s wasn’t just a dream fading away as morning came.
I think it was that night, or Saturday, or Sunday, but Sharon and I both cried. I had finished getting ready for bed and climbed up on my top bunk, and she got up and went to the bathroom. I didn’t know she was crying, and she didn’t know I was, but we both were. It was after we both got news that some of our roommates probably wouldn’t be coming back this semester.
We were at Valentino’s, this awesome pizza place near church. The guy who was serving us was super friendly and nice. He passed around hand sanitizer and wiped down the table before we sat down. I was encouraged that there were other people ordering and eating there. This virus wasn’t scaring us. I didn’t realize it would be the last place I actually sat down to eat at for—well, I’m not sure how long it’s going to be.
Looking back, it’s sad and beautiful how normal it was, to just sit at a restaurant. It’s also a little eerie, because we could tell things were changing even then, with the hand sanitizer and the caution with which we opened doors with our elbows. Our family was scornful of the tiny church service, of all the people staying home. Now I see otherwise. I don’t regret going at all, but I realize that it was a bigger deal than we thought it was.
March 17, day trip back to the city to grab more of my stuff
I left Ashia, my sparkly-eyed monkey whose name means hope, on my bunkbed in New York. She smiled at me as I climbed down. She was my proof to myself that I would be back, that things will return to normal, that this was not the end, and it is not a catastrophe.
I was afraid that coming home would return me to my stuck state, the one I have been trying to get out of for two years. And I had to remember, I still have to, that even though the circumstances may look the same, the truth is not. I am still living at home and now I am working at Wegmans again, but I am doing actual classes that I have sat in with friends. I have roommates, and plans for roommates next year. I am doing college. It is so different from what it used to be.
It’s weird, I just read a World article about how different Christian colleges responded to Corona (I’m so proud of King’s!), and I realized that King’s had been sending us alerts about Corona since February. I totally forgot about that. I just blew them off and deleted them right away. I remember being a little more careful to wash my hands every time I came home, but other than that, I didn’t really care.
I feel like people will look back and wonder why we didn’t see it coming sooner, but when you’re living it, it’s yet another thing that people are talking about and that’s buzzing around. You don’t really think it’s going to become this history-making thing that shuts down all of society. I don’t think you can think that way—if we did, we’d be freaking out about everything in this Internet age.
Anyway, it’s weird about memory. It’s like Malcolm Gladwell said in one of his podcasts, how little you can trust it. I was so sure I’d only heard about it on World once but actually, I had been getting emails about it. Oh, and Mommy gave me a Marco Polo about it, how she was stocking up. I rolled my eyes at it, thinking how alarmist it was. But it ends up she was right. I’m glad we have all the Clorox wipes now, before they all ran out.