So I’m home now, for the extended future, with three classes to get fully online. I have to say I don’t so much mind losing the 5:45 a.m. alarm, but that’s about all. This is just too weird for words.
It’s really strange to be living through something, knowing as it happens, that it is, historically, a big deal. Obviously, I lived through 9/11, and I remember having a similar feeling, but not quite so harshly outlined, for want of a better term.
I was at work at a medical clinic, working as a transcriptionist, when 9/11 went down. We had just gotten the internet at work, and it was a big deal. I heard about what was happening on the radio while I was on the way to work. I heard the newscaster say that a plane had hit the towers in NY, and thought to myself that it was “just” a prop plane – no biggie.
Later that day, though, all of us gathered in the waiting room of the clinic to watch TV, and I stood at the back of the room, watching the news unfold in a state of totally disconnected shock. Even as I watched things falling apart, I was able to tell myself – and believe myself – that things weren’t REALLY that bad.
I still have a memory of standing in that waiting room, with the big TV up on the wall, and one of my co-workers standing towards the front of the room, also watching. She turned around towards me and silently mouthed, “I’m scared!” You wouldn’t think that a silently expressed sentence could or should have an exclamation point, but it did.
The days that came after 9/11 were surreal too, but by then it was pretty clear that that fog of “no big deal” had to disperse. I stood on the deck with my husband and we marveled at the silence from overhead – no jets. No planes. Nothing. Once I saw it – saw the lack of planes – I couldn’t unsee it, and for however long flights were suspended, I was unsettled by the silent sky.
This coronavirus thing is different, but really similar. It’s going to kill loads more people, I think, than some idiot terrorists could. It’s going to devastate the economy of poor people, and people who live paycheck to paycheck. It’s going to be awesome for the rich who can buy up America at fire sale prices – again.
But it wasn’t sudden like 9/11 was. The morning of 9/11, I read a story about the huge number of CDs being sent out in the mail as freebies by AOL trying to get and keep subscribers and how they were creating problems in the trash collection business. That was the headline. Seriously. (At least as far as I can recall – it was a long time ago, and I’m old, and memory is weird.) Things were super normal, until all of a sudden, they weren’t.
But with COVID-19, things have been pretty gradual. “Yeah, yeah. People overseas are dealing with a nasty strain of the flu. Shit, and I forgot my flu shot this season,” I thought to myself. Then I’d forget about it. Then I’d see another news story about COVID-19 again, and it was still a ways off.
Then it arrived here, on American soil, via airplanes and cruise ships. Things still didn’t feel weird, though, until stuff started getting cancelled. Like the NBA. And MLB. And entire UNIVERSITIES.
I’m lucky I have a job that isn’t dependent on my being a particular place – my husband, too, works from home, but his job depends on his boss doing interviews, and she travels to do them, and those were the first things I saw getting cancelled that gave me that flutter of fear.
It’s been pretty weird, feeling that fear. I felt fear similar to this not during 9/11, but nearly the whole time I was living in Texas. Obviously, there was the fear of the cops. But there was also the fear that bubbled up when Texas tried to pass a bill that directly attacked women. That was the first time I really felt a fear like that – one where it was aimed at me not as ME, but at me as a very general, nondescript entity: a woman.
So now I’m home, feeling that same sort of fear, but much, much stronger, and trying to be productive at the same time. It’s really, really strange. How am I supposed to expect students to give a shit about comma splices or descriptive essays when they aren’t supposed to leave their homes? Or go to work?
What about the people who CAN’T not go to work? Who have no sick time? No savings? What about the people with kids, who now can’t take them to school because schools are closed, and who have to go to work if they want to get paid, and who are starting to feel a little tickle in the back of their throat?
The idea of getting sick isn’t super scary to me – I’m not so old that I fall into the danger zone (my parents do, though), and I’ve had nasty strains of the flu before. I’m vegan, I run regularly, I’m as healthy as I know how to be. But I’m afraid for my students, for my own livelihood, for the people who work at the grocery stores and the hospitals.
There’s a plane coming for the towers and shit’s about to get real, I think.