College COVID Life
I sat at my laptop as an empty Microsoft Word document stared back at me. I had one presentation, two papers, and three discussion board posts to work on, all due by the end of the month.
I have so much work to do, I thought. Where do I even start?
A few weeks ago, a few students at my school had tested positive for COVID-19. Because of that, 99% of classes would be online until further notice.
Why did they have to go to Italy anyway? I thought, as I reread the directions for one of the discussion boards for the millionth time. Didn’t they know that was the COVID epicenter?
I fell into the familiar pattern of switching back and forth between typing and checking the assignment directions. A half hour later, I had half a page.
That’s going to have to be enough, I thought. As I was about to paste my response into the discussion board, a gray furball jumped onto my desk.
“Hamilton,” I said, before picking him up. My kitten gave me his default “not my problem” expression. I sighed, “You know I have a ton of work to do,” scratching behind his ear as he began to purr.
After class, I sat on my couch and sifted through Instagram. I could feel the voice in the back of my head nagging at me to finish the assignments I hadn’t yet completed. I promised myself I’d only look for a few minutes. An hour later and I still didn’t have the energy to drag myself to my desk. Just then, my phone buzzed. I minimized the app and checked my messages.
Ashely, we’re overwhelmed here. Can you come in? ~ Gigi
I grit my teeth as I debated my response.
I just worked twelve days in a row, I thought, while my fingers hovered over the keys. Why should I go back in now?
I thought about the days when I’d return to my apartment and collapse exhausted on the couch. My bones and muscles ached at the thought of another twelve-to-fourteen-hour shift. Then, I remembered what my friend Sam had told me the other day: “You’re so lucky you still have a job. Most of my coworkers and I are being let go.”
My fingers trudged across the tiny keyboard.
I’ll be there as soon as I can ~ Ashley
“Sorry Hammy,” I said, reluctantly pushing myself off the couch. “You’re going to be alone again tonight.”
“I’m not here,” I mumbled under my blankets, listening to my cell phone buzz. It was Saturday, and while I normally worked, today was one of my rare days off. I closed my eyes tight and turned over, hoping that whoever was calling would leave a voicemail. No such luck.
“Ugh,” I growled, sliding out from under the blankets. “Ashley Mendez,” I grumbled.
“Is that any way to speak to your mother?”
I sighed and glanced at the clock. 9:30 AM. Too damn early.
“Sorry, Mom. You caught me at a bad time. What’s up?”
“It’s Grandma Alice,” she replied. “She’s in the hospital.”
Every thought left my head in that moment. Grandma Alice and I had been close since I was born. If she’d caught COVID…I didn’t allow myself to finish that thought.
“How long has she been there?” I asked, swallowing the lump in my throat.
“She was just admitted a few hours ago,” my mother responded.
“Is she on a ventilator?” I asked.
“No, thank goodness, your father’s going to visit her.”
“I wish I could go with him,” I said.
“I know, baby. I know,” she said. “Try not to let this weigh you down. You’re still in school, you still have a job, and you can call us anytime you need something. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said, as my voice shook without my permission.
“I’ll call you after he gets back. I love you.”
“Love you too,” I said, and hung up.
After I placed my phone back on my nightstand, I lay back beneath the blankets and stared at the wall for some time.
Another assignment completed, I thought, as I turned in my second paper.
So far, I’d managed to turn in most of my assignments. I still had an Abnormal Psych presentation to finish, but that was almost done.
“Hey, Hammy,” I said, as Hamilton jumped into my lap. “What’s up?”
He meowed and laid down.
“You knew I was going to get up and get something to eat, didn’t you?” I asked.
He looked up at me with a “duh” expression. I picked him up and carried him to the couch.
“Ugh, what now?” I asked, as my cell phone buzzed.
I saved my notes and glanced at the caller ID. Mom.
“Hey, Mom,” I said.
“Hey, baby,” she said. “I just got off the phone with your father.”
For the past few weeks, my parents had received regular updates regarding Grandma Alice. Because of COVID protocols, my dad had been the only one able to visit her. And even then, he’d only seen her once since she’d been hospitalized. Mom had been keeping me updated on Grandma Alice’s status. The last time Mom had called, Grandma Alice had been on a ventilator.
“How is she?” I asked, practically on the edge of my seat.
“She’s coming home,” she replied, and I could hear the tears in her voice. “Your father’s on his way right now.”
I slumped back in my chair as relief washed over me. I wiped the tears from my eyes.
“Ashley? Are you still there?”
“I’m here,” I answered, my voice cracking on the last word. “I’m just so relieved she’s coming home. More than relieved, really.”
“Me too,” she said. “I can’t imagine life without her.”
“Me either,” I said.
“Well, I have to go. My lunch break’s over,” she said. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said, and hung up.
My eyes began to blur as Hamilton jumped onto my desk. I stroked his soft fur as tears streamed down my cheeks.
One two, one two; my feet pounded the pavement as my ponytail bobbed behind me. The stars and moon hung above. Goose bumps appeared on my arm as the early morning wind brushed against my skin. I pushed the sensation aside as I raced across the street. In my head, I went over my presentation.
It wasn’t supposed to be very long, two to three minutes at most. But, like most college students, I would rather cut off my own limb than speak in front of others.
Just do the best you can, our professor had said. I know the pandemic has been chaotic for everyone, which is why I’m going to be more lenient with this assignment than usual.
Chaotic doesn’t even begin to cover it, I thought, as I passed by another runner. We nodded at each other and continued on our way.
Despite the burning in my legs, I kept going. I wasn’t going to let a little fatigue stop me. Not now, not ever.
This wasn’t how I’d envisioned this semester going. There were so many things I’d wanted to do and places I’d wanted to go. While COVID had thrown a wrench in my plans, and pushed me to my breaking point, I’d somehow managed to keep going.
As I reached my apartment, the sun rose into the sky. The warmth seeped through my skin and into my bones. For the first time in a long time, I smiled. Regardless of what the world threw at me, I was ready.
Cassandra Briseno is currently a senior at Michigan State University. She is majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in history. Her hobbies include reading, writing, working out, watching Netflix, playing videogames, and playing with her cat, Oslo. “College Covid Life” is her first published piece.