“We’re leaving Tuesday.” I stared at my father in amazement, incredulous that he expected me to get on an airplane and travel across the country only 48 hours after reaching the peak of my sickness. He explained his qualms about staying any longer; the entire country may enter a lockdown, grounding all flights for the first time since 9/11. Nobody knew how bad this novel coronavirus was, and because of this mass uncertainty, the nation was beginning to prepare for the worst: a pandemic on a scale not seen since the Spanish Flu.
I had expected to leave UMass Amherst on that Thursday or Friday, allowing me nearly a full week to recover before making the 12-hour trek back to my home in San Dimas, California. But because of rapidly changing information and onsetting nationwide panic, my father told me that I needed to muster up the strength to make the flight home as soon as possible. A difficult task, perhaps, but not impossible. However, there was one catch; I had to cough, sneeze, or sniffle as little as possible. Just days before, a plane made an emergency landing over Colorado after passengers became hysterical, worrying that one coughing passenger may have the virus. Never had I thought that the difference between a safe trip home and being stuck in Massachusetts or grounded over the midwest would hinge on coughing. Luckily, I refrained from exhibiting symptoms long enough to land at LAX, get in my car, drive home, and promptly sleep for 15 hours straight.
Three Months Later - June 20, 2020
The world is beginning to reopen. After months of “quarantine” (the word my friends and I use, encompassing strict social distancing, business closure, long days spent at home, and an interruption of normal life), the economy is beginning to open. Restaurants, beaches, gyms, parks, and recreational areas that were boarded up for weeks are blooming into existence once more, albeit with limitations. Hang-outs and get-togethers, at one time taken for granted, are a rare treat only allotted to some whose parents are more easy-going. Now that the restrictions imposed by the government have become more lenient, some parents have followed suit. I have a myriad of friends, and can see a broad spectrum of the effects the virus has had on different people. One of my best friends has scarcely left her house, and has just begun to see friends, staying outdoors and six feet apart. Yet other friends of mine have made desert and river trips, held kickbacks, and hung out every day.
There is a growing sense of restlessness, a desire to get back to some sort of normalcy that I believe is pushing people past the fear of contracting this virus. But difficult decisions are still being made every day; is the invigorating, forgotten experience of sitting in a restaurant worth the risk? Is the gym, a magnified petri dish, worth joining for fear of getting the virus and spreading it to my at-risk, elderly grandparents? Despite this new normal, it is easy to forget that one month ago, two months ago, everyone was inside, at home, distancing themselves, FaceTiming, attending the infamous “Zoom University”, waiting for the day they could return to life as it was before the pandemic. And continue to wait, we will.