(Image via Stephanie Fairchild)
It’s hard to believe that a full year has passed since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. I can still feel the fear that I felt in my chest when classrooms on campus were buzzing with talk of the school shutting down. I remember hearing, “if you have asthma, you should be at home,” as I looked down at the inhaler in my backpack. I skipped the rest of my classes that day and drove straight to my mom’s, in hopes to seek shelter from the maddening world at my doorstep.
I remember getting the email that classes had moved to remote learning. I remember being afraid to go to work or the grocery store. I remember hearing horror stories from other countries. I remember having an anxiety attack in the middle of my psychiatrist’s office. I remember watching numbers climb and thinking that just maybe, the world was ending after all.
I work in a bank and we closed our lobbies for two months at the beginning of the pandemic. In May, we reopened them, and I remember how uneasy I felt from simply letting the general public back inside. It was so strange, adjusting to people walking into a bank with masks on. Yet, somehow even stranger to see people refusing to wear them.
Months passed without seeing family and friends. I broke quarantine on my 27th birthday to see a few friends, but it felt wrong. And somehow, it still felt lonely. The year, somehow, simultaneously passed both briskly and at a sluggish crawl. Our world was suddenly polluted with a whirlwind of misinformation, fear and selfishness. I could taste the lack of balance in the air, I ached for some resemblance of normalcy. I knew I was not alone in this.
People around me were suddenly out of jobs, late on their rent and buying every roll of toilet paper that they could get their hands on. Nursing homes and hospitals were put on lockdowns and the weak and fragile were forced to die alone. My friend’s parents and grandparents got sick. There was suffering all around me.
And amidst the newfound chaos surrounding me, I lost the illusion of permanence.
In the past, I’ve told myself, time and time again, that the only constant thing in life is change. The dysfunction and shift across the world should not have taken me by such surprise, but it did. I found myself suddenly wishing for simple pleasures that I had once taken for granted…
A hug from a friend. Smiling at a stranger. Date night. Eating out. Dancing. Classroom discussion. Visiting my grandparents. Movie theaters. Swing sets. Live music. Sweaty dive bars.
By the winter holidays, we had started to settle into this strange, new reality, but case numbers were higher than ever, often reaching over 10,000 per day just here in Ohio. Everyone wanted to spend the holidays with their families, but health officials advised against it. Some people still didn’t even believe that COVID-19 was real, as hundreds of thousands across America lost their lives to the virus.
On January 3, 2021, I woke up with a cold. I didn’t think much of it, until my boss called me while I was waiting for a table at my favorite brunch spot (because wow, did I miss brunch), to tell me that she had tested positive for COVID-19. Despite months of tirelessly cleaning, mask-wearing, staying home regularly, and using hand sanitizer obsessively… I knew I had to get tested.
The test itself was nothing but a mild discomfort but waiting for the test results was maddening. My cold began to worsen as I developed a cough and lost my voice. I took my temperature religiously three times per day, only to discover that I had no fever at all. My tongue had a burnt feeling that wouldn’t go away, like when you bite into a pizza roll that just came out of the oven.
Three days later, I got the phone call that I had tested positive for COVID-19. It was upsetting and the idea of lingering or long-term effects terrified me. Thankfully, my case was mild, despite being asthmatic, and all I was left with was a lingering cough that was quickly cleared up by a steroid inhalant.
During my quarantine, I turned to art – something that this world has taken for granted for too long. From stand-up comedy and award-winning films, to live music streams and revisiting my favorite albums, to virtual museum tours and a canvas and paint porch drop-off, courtesy of my mom – art kept me sane, hopeful and busy. Art can heal in ways we often chose to ignore and take for granted. COVID-19 gave me a new appreciation for what had been in front of me all along.
As vaccines are now rolling out across the country and mandates are beginning to be lifted, I can’t help but feel hopeful for the future. Dreams of music festivals, in-person graduations, weddings, hugs, and travel fill my mind daily.
Over the past year, we have proven our adaptability by coming together and supporting each other in some amazingly unique ways. However, being together physically is tangible, irreplaceable, and something I can’t wait to appreciate the simplicity of once again.
2020 was a year of rampant loss. The way we interact with each other may be permanently altered. But I believe that there is a happy ending to our collective story.
I deem 2021 to be a year of hope and gratitude. The year we stop taking things for granted, because within a moment’s notice, they could be gone. The year we realize “the little things” were always “the big things” all along.