N.G., 19, a student in Totowa, NJ

I remember while growing up, my brother and I always begged our parents for various toys, or clothes or vacations. I mean, this isn’t unnatural behavior; kids don’t understand the concept of money, and they want anything flashy. Parents then have to teach the kids to be patient and that they “can’t have the lego set today, but maybe if they’re good, Santa will get it for them under the tree.”

Whenever my brother and I would go on the “but I want it” tangent, my dad would say, “When I was growing up, I used to have to wait in a line outside of the store for hours, even days, to buy boots during the winter, just to get inside and find empty shelves, so instead I just bought flip flops, so be grateful for what you have,” and my brother and I would be quick to stop nagging. Both my parents grew up in Poland during communism, and didn’t have many freedoms, and like many of the immigrants in this country, came here for a better life.

Fast forward to 2020.

I’m a freshman in college. I remember the first time I heard about covid-19, I was on spring break getting ready to head back to school. At this time, I don’t believe there were any cases in the US, and if there were, I don’t think they were being publicized too much. So I just assumed it wouldn’t affect me just as Ebola didn’t really affect my day to day life in middle school. I went back to college and did as the college kids do – go out every night and day until the weekend was over and classes started.

On Monday I walked into chem class late, and the teacher was in the middle of telling us that if we would hypothetically go online due to the virus, we would probably move our lectures online and still have in session labs. I honestly thought it was just a precaution, like in highschool you do safety drills. Two days later all our classes and labs got moved online, and a few days after that I was packing up my dorm room after hearing that someone at our school was testing for the virus.

While packing up, my roommate and I were discussing how we couldn’t remember the minuscule problems which made our skin crawl before spring break. Now, the only thing lingering in everyone’s mind was corona, and whether or not you had it and didn’t realize it. In that moment, we realized that there was going to be a time before corona, and a time after corona. In a sense, that’s true. The question is, what does a time after corona look like? Will everyone grow as individuals in this time of loneliness, thus prompting a cultural reset where we change the world? Or will we end this battle with no fire left?

Only time will tell.

I celebrated my 14 days of self quarantine in my room after coming home by going to get some milk from the grocery store, as that is the only “adventure” to go on these days. I was shocked to see a line of people out the door, each keeping a distance of 6 feet away from each other. After waiting a while, we were let in in a small group. I heard jokes of stores not having toilet paper or water bottles or certain products, but I never saw aisles of completely empty shelves until that day. Luckily I had a mask on, as my jaw dropped the whole time while walking around the eerie store store, watching people run away from people who permeated the 6 foot rule even an inch. 

A few weeks into quarantine, I went down to the kitchen for a late night snack, and saw my dad sitting there alone. He just started apologizing for how I couldn’t be in college and how everything was so upside down. Then he said, “After communism, I never thought I’d see the day we’d have to wait in lines to go to the grocery store with empty shelves again.”

At that moment, I didn’t know what to say, but it was the closest I’ve ever felt to my father. It was as if everything had come full circle, and the very thing he told us all our lives to be grateful we didn’t have to endure had finally happened to us. I mean, of course you can’t compare life in America during corona to life in Poland during communism, however, it was a sort of “slap in the face” that each generation endured similar hardships, oppression and experiences in their youth that our youth faces as well.

Something that has also stayed constant throughout history is the trend of persevering through the difficulties and coming out on the other side stronger.

So although it seems like the world’s falling apart, the sun’s still beaming through my windows, waking me up at 1pm. Even though there’s no toilet paper at the stores sometimes, the quick check bathroom has a big roll and a locked door. Even though you can’t see all your friends, you find out which of them are real. Even though your sleep schedule is messed up and you go to sleep as the sun rises, you can afford to be lazy right now. Even though you’re supposed to be on the beach with your friends, at least you get to see what hidden gems lie in the nature around your hometown.

One day things will return to normal, or some kind of a normal, and we will adapt and find happiness and joy and success in this new normal. One day it’ll be us telling our kids about the days when we couldn’t buy toilet paper or leave our houses for months when they ask why they can’t have that one toy or why they can’t go out.

Right now, we must act as children and be patient. We can’t throw temper tantrums over the toys we can’t play with today. Instead, let’s behave, make it on the “nice” list, and wait for Christmas to come around so we can tear into the wrapping paper, spill out the legos and build ourselves a kingdom.

[submitted on 5/21/2020]

[submitted on 6/15/2020]

Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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