Pandemic Priorities

1st Prize Fitchburg State Writing Contest


The date is August 27th, 2020 and we are amidst a pandemic. It’s been quite some time since the virus hit;  school has started back up again, but we can’t go to the school building which is no shocker to us; our home has become everywhere-  school, work, church. To be optimistic, I’m grateful for technology so I can still see my friends and teachers through the screen; however, learning remotely isn’t quite the ideal scenario for any student’s senior year.  I’d like to think that good things happen in goodbyes, like the sunset in a way; you admire its beauty and how unique it is, that’s until the sun slowly starts to isolate itself hiding behind the horizon. It leaves you questioning if and when it will return, oh please come again.

I say this because here I am sitting with my best friend Anna watching the sunset at the farm in the outskirts of town, already five months deep into the pandemic,  and there’s still no word on going back to school yet. I interrupt the song Talking to the Moon by Bruno Mars turning the sound dial down a little bit, 

“Wanna know what’s funny?”, I ask before shoveling an immense bite of my rocky road ice cream cone into my mouth. Anna wiped the melted excess drips from the corners of her lips before replying, “I mean lot’s of things, but what’s up?”

There was the slightest hesitation before I spoke, “It’s just crazy what this pandemic’s done to everyone, I guess, ya know it’s just, okay, get this.”, I was struggling to get all my thoughts into a steadily flowing sentence as I sat up and inaudibly clapped my hands together, “It’s August, and misplacing your mask is just as bad as misplacing your keys. Or kinda how perfume has become lysol and lotion has become hand sanitizer.” I could tell she was kinda thinking more deeply about what I just had said, simply due to the blank stare of bewilderment painted all over her face.

“Nah, you know what I think is crazy,” she mumbled as she multi-tasked speaking while licking her ice cream cone, “besides you and my family,”, she mumbled talking with a mouth full, “I don’t really remember how it feels to hug someone,  like, I don’t mind social distancing and isolating from those I don’t know, but it just sucks being away from certain people, ya know?” 

The next song cued on our playlist was Black Muddy River by the Grateful Dead, which had me thinking how it was the last song Jerry Garcia ever performed in concert. I spun the sound dial up the slightest bit before interrupting again, “Maybe we’re like Jerry Garcia in a way, ya know? He performed this as his last ever song performed live; like nobody knew that, not even himself.”, Anna interrupted giggling, “Annie, where is this even going,” she giggled a little bit harder, “How did we go from talking about COVID-19, to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead?” We softly giggled in unison as  nudged her shoulder and exclaimed, “Oh my god, shut up you’re a dork!”

The clouds above started to transform into streaks or coral and fuschia dancing across the sky just like a sugar plum fairy, I took another bite of my ice cream and said  “Nah, nah, hear me out,” I swallowed my ice cream before I continued, “My last day of school we were all sitting in the cafeteria, as you do, and someone asked Mrs.S if our school was one of the ones getting a 2 week vacation and she just had this look of fearing the unknown in her eyes., I don’t know. We were all so excited but, Anna, I don’t think we’re going back to school.” It was evident the mood  shapeshifted from positive energy to serious matter. A brief occurrence of awkward silence went on before I said again, “You can’t even tell me the vibes were insanely off, that day of March 13th; everyone was talking about it, it just felt so off. It was in the air, it felt like we were near approaching an apocalypse… or something like that I dunno.” 

She took a deep breath and I could tell she hit the brick wall I did the night before, and that wall is hitting the harsh reality that this virus probably isn’t going away for a long time. 

Anna went to take another bite of her ice cream, and her hair landed in the melted milky mess, we both giggled and she started to throw her hair back in a low unkempt messy bun before she said, “It’s kinda crazy what day this all happened on, ya know? Friday the 13th of March, something bad obviously was going to happen, it’s Friday the 13th, everyone knows that’s the most unlucky day.” I quickly interrupted, “No, 13 is just a number, and ‘unlucky’ is just a hoax, I don’t tend to believe in superstitions like that.”

She undid the cap of her water bottle quickly spinning it off; she flicked it at me like a flying saucer before replying again, “An extra week of spring break they said, we were all so ecstatic. Nobody had any idea what was to come, the fact we would never get to say a proper goodbye to junior year, or let alone a proper hello to our senior year. God damnit,” I exclaimed, “who even knows, maybe not even a goodbye to highschool. What if this is it? It just sucks man.” The music cut out in the middle of Cigarette Daydreams by Cage the Elephant and I looked down to see my phone had just died. Unplugging the aux cord from my phone, I handed it over to Anna saying, “You’re gonna have to go on aux, my phone just died.”

She reached over and grabbed it from me, in the midst of Anna plugging it in and browning her music library to find our playlist she began saying, “It’s just so crazy to think how everyone was clueless to the fact it was the last day of our ‘normal’ tendencies I guess, I don’t know. We were so oblivious to knowing the seniors lost their chance to dance to the tacky music at their senior prom,  to say goodbye to their teachers before venturing off to college, or even to throw their caps high into the air and fly, and ev-”,

 I cut her off again, “Anna, you realize we probably lost our shot at all that as well too, right?” She took in and let out a deep sigh of disappointment before continuing, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, you’re right. I guess I’m just tryna not think of that yet and I’ll worry about it when it gets here, ya know?”

A soft chuckle escaped my lips because that’s my mindset through everything in life, no need to stress simply because I’ll worry about it when it gets there. “No, I get what you mean,” it was the kind of conversation where things took a really deep turn, rather quickly too, “If only I had known these high school memories would be cut short  and known it wouldn’t all last, ya know? I feel like the majority of the high school experience is your junior and senior year; but that was kinda robbed from us I guess, but mainly our senior year.” 

A flock of birds flew overhead, which caused me to pause to admire their beauty, but I continued, “I just feel like I would have embraced it so much more before if I knew it’d all be cut off so short, when I actually had the time to,  ya know?  Stupid things that you wouldn’t even think you’d immensely miss, such as painting everyone’s face in the student section under the lights before the friday night football games.”  My heart sank a little bit once I realized I’ll never get to experience the friday night lights again, and dress like an absolute dork for the spirit theme. 

I picked up my pink lanyard as all my mini tacky key chains jingled and I held it up, “Never did I ever once think I’d miss Mr. U and Mrs.S giving me a lil blue slip for detention for not wearing this stupid thing.” I pointed at my school ID and Anna’s jaw dropped in sync with her cackle lighting up the car. I’ve always been a sucker for her laugh, so matter how somber the vibes may be, it’s like a beam of sunlight.

I crumbled up my used napkins and packed my trash into the brown paper bag the worker at Dairy Queen gave me at the drive thru window as Anna replied in response, “But yeah, I’m the same way,” she let out an exaggerated huff and a puff, “well it was a good run, you can’t even deny that.” Anna put up her hand signaling to me she wanted to do our secret handshake, I giggled and she laughed in response as we fist bumped while snapping and clapping.

I looked at Anna with a humourless look deep within my eyes, “No dude, but seriously, it’s really been hitting me full force lately. Like, this damned virus has changed everything. It’s changed the way we love, Zoom calls are as connected as we’ll be with our classmates till God knows when. They tell us, ‘Stand on stickers, but don’t forget to follow all the arrows; wash your hands, cover your mouth, and most importantly wear a mask!” 

I could tell I was starting to go on a little bit of a tangent, which was fine because it was much needed; looking over at Anna, I noticed that she was fully attentive and hearing me out, so I continued.

“I guess I’ve just come to some sort of realization that I now have the inability to remember what it even feels like to hug my friends, my classmates, or even a high five from Mr.Jones after a high test score; for now we stand six feet apart not knowing how to act or even each other anymore it seems, attempting to read the countless emotions held captive within people’s eyes; I know that’s a bit on the dramatic side of things, but am I wrong?”

There was the briefest pause once I finished dumping all the overthought baggage living rent free in my conscience. The sun’s crown was just barely overhead the outlined horizon of the mountain; the sun was hitting Anna’s face in a way that made her eyes glow like pools of honey. 

“No, no, no,”, she started, “you’re definitely not wrong here. I’ve been thinking about the same thing, kinda sorta I guess. Like, we’re so far into the pandemic that misplacing your keys or wallet is the equivalent of forgetting your mask. We’ve gotten so far that you can only tell a story through your eyes, simply because these damned facial coverings scream isolation. Hold up.”, she said.

You could tell she was building up a sneeze, she had one of those ridiculously funny looking faces you make while you wait for it to come out. Finally, the super loud and obnoxious sneeze set off like a rocket, and I giggled.

 “Anna bro, y-”, she cut me off and frantically reassured me, “Oh my god, I PROMISE I don’t have COVID, I just have a c-”, I began to laugh harder my sides grew sore. “Dude, I know.”, I replied reassuring her I wasn’t bugging about it.

A laughed a chuckle of relief before going on, “No but seriously dude, these masks are morphing us into these faceless creatures, attempting to read the countless emotions held captive behind our burnt out eyes; they’ve smothered and buried the world’s smiles. Quite deep, dontcha think?”

I was fidgeting with the multicolored beaded bracelets on my wrist while listening to her little vent; looking people in the eyes while they’re speaking is such an awkward thing for me. You’d think, ‘She’s your best friend, why do you feel awkward locking eye contact while speaking to her?’ Well, you see here’s the thing, this virus has completely wrecked any sense of social skills I had prior to the virus; I guess I just forgot how to interact with other humans, even if it’s my best bud.

Anna twisted the sound knob down again, I could tell she was starting to approach the deep rooted point of her mini speech, “I guess what I’m trying to say is that I find it funny how we hide our faces nowadays, almost like they were never even real in the first place. Just think about this for a second,” she leaned forward in the passenger seat and readjusted her stance. “Everyone used to care so much about what other people thought of their looks, constantly in fear about if they looked okay ya know; but now masks conceal all of us, eyes being the only window into our being.”

Anna’s always had this ability to think of the bigger picture, which is always something I admired about her. The way she analyzes situations and her ability to see it from a different perspective helps me ponder to a deeper level. We sat in silence for a few moments as curiosity and abstract meaning lingered within the car.

I added onto her commentary, “There’s definitely far too much to miss right about now to even find one focal point, I’ve frequently been finding  myself reminiscing about the memories of normalicies, ya know, life before the virus hit”, things were starting to get real, “What I fear is that I’m beginning to lose touch with what ‘normal’ used to even be. Warm greetings with a contagious smile matching the eyes,  or even being caught by surprise from someone excitingly  hugging me from behind.”, a rather intense sigh slipped out of my mouth as I entered upon the deeper meaning. 

“I miss things you never would expect a person to miss, such as high fives and handshakes. Sometimes I catch myself considering how much easier things would be lately if I just learned ASL, simply because masks mute and muffle on top of standing six feet apart from everyone. It’s to the point I can barely talk to anyone anymore.” I looked down at my fingers and twidled with the various rings on my fingers, “I don’t know man, I guess I just feel as if masks make me feel like I can’t breathe; however thinking about this stupid pandemic seems far more suffocating to me than breathing through multiple layers of cloth.”

“Wow,” Anna said, “that was pretty deep, dude. I’ve never really thought about it like that before, you’re really intelligent Annie, and I can assure you that no matter what the end result of this virus is, is that you will be going far in life. Here’s a new word for you I learned the other day,” she reached under the passenger seat to grab her purse. Rapidly unzipping it, she took out a little orange stack of Post-It notes. “You gotta pen?”, she asked looking over at me, and I handed her over the gel pen that sits in my glove box. Her face got super close to the little card as she scribbled something down.

“Here you go,”, she said enthusiastically while ripping it off the stack and handed it over to me, “the word is ‘onism.’ It’s basically the awareness of how little of the world you’ll ever experience. I discovered it the other night,” she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, “I guess it just gives me a sense of hope that even with all this Coronavirus stuff going on, I’m not really missing out on all that much. I was thinking the other night about how life was before Covid, and that all of this hit us like a massive frying pan out of nowhere,”, we both snickered, “I just find myself longing for the way things once were lately, wishing I had been more content rather than constantly asking for more.”

I quickly interrupted her with relevant commentary, of course not with the intention of being rude. At this point the sun was buried beneath the horizon, but the clouds were still a darker purple with the remnants of the sunshine’s glow reflecting off of them.

“Yeah, no, but not only that dude, I wish I could vividly reminisce but everything is just so fogged now. Going out with friends, seeing new movies in the theatre, screaming my lungs out at concerts, sharing my drink at a cafe with my friends and the time that went by so fast.”

She leaned over and embraced me not too shortly after I finished speaking, she caressed me rubbing her thumb back and forth on the sleeve of my threadbare Levi’s jacket, “Annie, I love you so much. You’re my best friend.” She pulled away before continuing, “ Can you promise me one thing?”

She stuck her pinkie out, the one she had our matching rose quartz ring on, before continuing on with her plea, I replied with a simple, “Yes, of course, anything at all.”

I found it quite ironic that our song was playing in the midst of this moment, the song Yellow by Coldplay to be specific.

“I need you to promise me, that no matter what ends up happening with the end result of this pandemic, seeing as how it’s been quite a mess so far, that we stick together.” I stuck my pinky finger with my matching ring in accordance with her petition and interlocked mine with hers. 

“Of course Anna,” I started, “these are uncharted territories for everyone- teachers, students, children, parents, everyone, literally everyone.” In unison, we both formed a subtle, yet warm grin widening across the width of our faces, “There’s no one else I’d rather learn from and grow with through this chaotic mess of a pandemic, or should I say pandemonium.”

She obnoxiously cackled in response, “Wow, look at us being all deep and vulnerable and what not, you and me till the end, you’re my ride or die.” She kissed the end of her hand that was intertwined with mine, and I did the same in return.

We both retracted at the same time as I buckled my seatbelt and pulled the gear shift down putting the car into drive, “Alright, we should probably head back now, the sun’s been down for literally 20 minutes.”
She looked down at her watch reading the time as her eyes widened, “Sheeeesh,”, she shouted, “our parents are probably wondering where we are, after all because of quarantine watching the sunset’s the only thing we’re really allowed to do.” We giggled in unison and I cued the song Gives You Hell; the volume was still rather low from our conversation, so we cranked the volume as I pulled out of the farm’s parking lot.

The drive home felt freeing; all the windows were down with the summer wind swirling through our hair as our screaming singing voice oozed out into the streets. I mean, hey, good things happen in goodbyes, what can I say?

The End