March 13th, 2020
It’s March 13th, 2020. The news around the world is bringing more and more information to light about this thing called Coronavirus, whose formal name is COVID-19. We’re about a week away from spring break, and the only thing I can really think about at the moment is that the yearbook deadline will be here in two weeks, and I need to really push my students to get everything done. We have some sports teams that still need to be photographed, the spread for the musical needed to be completed, and some other loose ends needed to be tied up. I was worried about COVID, but more worried about getting this book finalized.
I remember it was a rainy day, and very cold for Southern California. My sixth period class is yearbook, so we were in the computer lab, working like crazy to get things done. There were rumblings that we might be sent home for a couple of weeks in order to stay safe from the virus. In fact, one of my colleagues, who seems to know everything before it happens, had warned me a couple of days beforehand that we were going to be sent home for a while. I simply thought he was being dramatic because no other districts in my area had closed their schools.
I was at a computer, listening to the kids gossip about Corona, telling them that it’ll be okay, and trying to get them to work on their assignments. One student, Crystal, was very nervous about what was going on. She came over to me and sincerely asked, “Miss, is this the end of the world? I’m so worried about my grandma because she’s very old, and I don’t want her to die.” I stopped what I was doing and tried to comfort her as best as I could. In my head, I thought that the question was so silly, but I made sure to tell her that it was not the end of the world. Little did I know that in 45 minutes, our world, our campus, everything, would be shut down for an indefinite amount of time.
About 20 minutes after my conversation with Crystal, an email arrived in my inbox from the principal to the entire staff. I can’t remember exactly what it said, only that I needed to tell my students that when we got out of school, they needed to clean out their lockers, the Book Room had boxes for students that needed them to carry books home, school was going to be canceled for two weeks for a deep clean, and that there was going to be an emergency all staff meeting in the auditorium after the final bell of the day.
I sat there for a moment, trying to figure out how to tell my students this information so that I didn’t cause a panic. I think I said something like, “Hey, I need you to listen and stop working for a minute. I just got an email from the principal that says you need to clean your lockers out after school because they will be sanitizing them over the weekend. The Book Room has boxes for people that need them to carry your stuff home. We won’t be back here for two weeks, so I need you to make sure you’re finishing your spreads at home so we can meet the deadline. Keep in contact with each other, and make sure you check your emails because I’m going to be bugging you!” I also added to some of my most reliable students, “I think we should take some pictures of people cleaning out their lockers because we might be able to use this for the yearbook.” After I delivered the news, everyone, including myself, started furiously texting friends and family about what was going on.
As the final bell of the day rang, I said goodbye to my students, told them to stay safe, and that I would see them in two weeks. Jesus, what was I even thinking about!? I feel so dumb looking back because I seriously thought that we would be back at school in two weeks. As I made my way to the auditorium, it was surreal watching kids dump the entire contents of their lockers into book bags and boxes. They were annoyed because it had now started pouring, and all of their belongings, as well as themselves, were getting drenched, but they were also cheering and laughing because they were getting two weeks off of school.
Walking into the auditorium, there were urgent conversations going on all around me. I looked over at one of my friends, whose last name is Corona, and jokingly told him this was all his fault. People were sarcastically telling each other to stay away, or keep their distance because they didn’t want their germs near them. When the principal arrived, we all sat down in the rows, and I remember how serious the atmosphere suddenly got. Her message was clear: Take home any teaching supplies you will need because we don’t know if it will be two weeks or more. Check your emails frequently because information will be coming out constantly. Be safe. Take care of yourself. Basically, Godspeed to you all.
The hush that fell over that auditorium, and the change from lighthearted teasing to disbelieving whispering was immediate. I can’t remember if I walked back to my classroom alone, or if I walked with some of my friends, but I do remember the feeling of finality. As I gathered books, my work laptop, and anything else I thought I would need, I couldn’t help but feel like maybe Crystal’s fears were going to be realized, maybe this was going to be the end of the world. Being the weirdo that I am, I said goodbye to my classroom as I shut out the lights, and took one final look around my darkened room. It was surreal.
I’m not going to get into what happened next because we all know. Two years later, and we’re still in this shit. Yes, things aren’t as bad as they were at the peak, but it’s still a pandemic. I’m slightly anxious because tomorrow will be the first day that students are not required to wear masks, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see if there’s another surge or variant. We’re all a little worse for wear, we’ve all been affected in some way, we’re all still dealing with and processing the entire thing.
I will say that, to round out the story, the yearbook was completed in time. We didn’t get the final sports teams photographed, we had some blank pages, the spring musical was canceled so we had to use photos of practices, we had some pages of pictures that showed students cleaning out their lockers, or wearing masks to Costco, or holding up giant bottles of Lysol. We didn’t know that this was going to be the beginning of something that would continue for what feels like an eternity. I’ve been thinking back to that day for the past couple of weeks, and knew the anniversary was coming up. We just didn’t know how much our world would change on that cold and rainy March afternoon. We didn’t know that millions of people worldwide would die from it. We didn’t know that we would be in almost complete isolation for months. We had no clue, none at all.