Being an “essential worker” and a graduating senior during the pandemic

By Heaven Rodriguez-Elliott/El Inde

Never in a million years did I think I would be living through one of the most confusing times — like I am today. I was supposed to be getting ready for graduation, ready for the next step of my life and going to classes.

Most days, I used to hate waking up at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m., getting dressed and leaving my apartment. Thinking back on how I used to approach school and classes, I realize now I took all that for granted. All I can think about today is that I want to be able to hang out with my friends. I want to be able to go and see my family without the anxiety I hold because we are all essential workers and we could come into contact with Covid-19.

Ever since this pandemic started, doing my job as a courtesy clerk at Safeway has been a nightmare. I went from working roughly 15 to 20 hours a week as a part-time employee, to working almost full-time for all of March. My managers knew that our classes were going all online, yet it felt as if they were more worried about their business versus than their employees’ wellbeing.

Yes, I am getting an extra two dollars an hour for my work during the pandemic — but at what cost? I’m mentally fatigued, as I’m sure most of my peers are, too. I know I shouldn’t be complaining because so many people lost their jobs during this time. After all, I am privileged to be able to make money and to have that ability to leave my house, even if I’m only leaving it for work.

During a recent shift at work, every single customer I encountered treated me as if I were a Marine by “thanking me for my services.” Others, however, would take out their anger on me because something they wanted to buy had ran out of stock. Back in January, when I decided to work at a grocery store, I didn’t realize that I was signing up for something that would lead to me feeling degraded; something that is out of my control. I’m so tired of it.

All of it is taking a toll on me. Some days, I feel like I just need to push through it, but my mental state is declining rather quickly. I feel fatigued most of the time and not motivated to do anything but sit and exist, quietly.

I just want to be able to go to my favorite Korean barbecue restaurant with my friends and have game nights. My friends and I had this big trip planned for the end of April: We had planned on seeing two of our favorite bands in concert, BTS and ATEEZ, in Los Angeles and also in Santa Clara. Both were postponed. We got our tickets last January. But due to covid-19, our plans were unfortunately postponed.

The six of us were ready to stay in a tiny Airbnb; dressing up every single day of that trip just to take pictures and create even more memories with those we love.

This year was supposed to be something very different for me. I was meant to graduate with my peers and finally move back home to Phoenix — with something to show for it. I’m the first one in my entire family to be graduating from a big university like the University of Arizona.

Hopefully, as time passes, everything will go back to normal. I know I will pull through and I will be OK in the end. I know I will be. I have to remain positive in order to stay sane.

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