A new normal

By Jessica Henderson/El Inde

As I was packing for my spring break trip to Hawaii, paranoia and worry was in the air. I got a call from my friend Brooke saying she wasn’t sure if we should go. My response was like most college students’ at the time: “It’s not that big of a deal,” I remember saying, “we’ll be fine.” 

Once we landed we took precautions, like wiping down our seats and using hand sanitizer after we touched anything. Even though I’ll admit I was a bit paranoid, everything seemed fine. The airports were decently full; it was as if Covid-19 wasn’t even a thing. It was business as usual for Hawaiians. We went about our trip, stress-free until six days later, when we hopped on our returning flight unprepared for what was about to happen. 

We had a layover in San Jose, California, and that’s when reality hit. We saw people in masks, covered head to toe, the smell of hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes filling the air. People seemed afraid of getting too close to each other. The airport was empty and our flight was barely half-full. 

Finally home in Tucson and in my bed by Sunday, March 15, I took note of how eerily empty my apartment complex was. I woke up the next day with no class, because the university had postponed classes for three more days. Then It was announced that classes would be online until April 6. My mom called me asking if I wanted to go home to California, but I told her ,”What am I going to do there? All my friends are here.” 

Within 30 minutes of our call, as I scrolled through social media, all I saw was panic, conspiracy theories about the virus, incoming news, and false information. There was no food in the grocery stores because of panic-buying and no toilet paper (something I still don’t understand).

I decided I should go home for at least two weeks to ease my mind and my mom’s mind, and to at least be quarantined with my family in a comfortable environment. Once again, the flight home was empty, but there were yet more changes in the air: Security officials couldn’t touch your flight ticket or I.D. for fear of spreading germs. 

My flight landed and I walked out of the airport to see my mom waiting for me. The freeway was empty. I’ve never seen any freeway in northern California so empty in all of the years I’ve lived here. As we were driving, my mom and I were discussing how my aunt was on a stay-at-home order in San Francisco. As soon as we hit the city limits for Elk Grove, a voice on the radio announced that our county would be under a stay home order effective immediately. 

Within about three days of my return home, the university sent email after email of Covid-19 updates, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t annoyed. It’s all anyone was talking about and I just wanted something positive to talk about and look forward to: my own graduation. On Facebook, my cousin announced that his was being canceled and I prayed that that wouldn’t be my outcome. Unfortunately, it was. 

I went into a state of feeling empty: Suddenly, I had nothing to look forward to and the future was and still is very uncertain. My friends began losing their jobs and filing for unemployment. I tried to pick myself up and remind myself that people are in worse situations than me, and eventually got over being upset. 

That weekend, my mom and I went grocery shopping for us and for my grandma. We had to go in separately because they were only allowing 30 people in at a time. They were also limiting the amount of meat you can buy, so my mom shopped for us and I shopped for my grandma so we could purchase more than “allowed.” As I was shopping I felt like I was in “The Giver.” It was strange walking around, seeing and being part of our new reality for the next few months. We got back to the car and stripped our protective layers (gloves and masks) and immediately sanitized our hands and anything we touched, like the steering wheel, our phones, credit cards and door handles.

I was anxious and frustrated at the thought of isolation for the next month or so. And these overwhelming thoughts caused me to panic buy — but not the usual things. I started going crazy on Amazon.com, ordering all sorts of crafts and puzzles and cosmetics to keep me occupied and distracted. But then I had a conversation with my friend Brysen that put a lot into perspective. He reminded me that we still have things to do — and technically are still in school — even though with everything going on, for some reason, school had started to feel optional. 

By the time we finish with school work in May, things will be shifting — hopefully. My brain will be tired by then and I’ll probably go into a post-school slump and be lazy for my usual two weeks before I get bored and need something to do. But the thing is, I’ll always have something to do between online classes, my job (that was thankfully moved online), and figuring out my plans for grad school or potential jobs. The quarantine, after all, isn’t as bad as it seems. 

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