New York City declares a state of emergency due to coronavirus. I squint at my iPhone, tap the headline out of morbid curiosity. Swallowing, I glance up, look around at New York City. The sky is defiant in its blueness, sun pouring amicably over the concrete. Across the street, a man and woman stop to allow their dogs time to acquaint with each other.
I hold my thumb over the link, which Twitter says I ‘might be interested in,’ and hide it. Worrying never saved me, I chide myself. I listen to music, bask in my surroundings, let this body feel at home somewhere among the wild, concrete sprawl.
The next day, at a meeting, we discuss possible next steps. There are more questions than answers. Emotions run the gamut, from fear to something like excitement, but one thing is clear: Everything is not normal.
Three days later, and universities across the country have published their contingency plans. Grocery store shelves are empty, smiling toothless smiles at us as we wander by. My friends hug their coworkers goodbye as they prepare for stints of working at home. Meetings held while wearing pajama pants.
What’s next, someone asks me, and I don’t want to go home. I text a friend, ask how he’s carrying all this, and he tells me his heart is broken. Chapters resolving in ways that don’t feel right. How frustrating to learn we do not always get to hold the pen (do we ever?).
The President squints at a teleprompter, recites a speech in unconvincing bravado. If only Europe had done it like us, he says, patting himself on the back. That night, I wander home some seventy blocks –– not because I’m worried about viruses on the train, but because I’m tired of sitting in contained spaces with other people’s unease.
My sister and I talk the whole way, make plans for what’s ahead, unpack what’s happening.
Today, after work, I pull on running clothes and go for a jog. This is the only time I can convince myself everything is normal. Melodies pour into my ears and coax my feet into rhythm, my heartbeat catches up. The world seems business-as-usual when I’m gliding through it this way. I can’t see the way everything is shaking.
November 9, 2016. I’m driving my car through Muncie, Indiana in the early morning hours, and my friends and I can’t find a word between us. I drop them off, exchange halfhearted good night wishes, and park my car. For a moment, after turning the ignition, I sit in the silence. I walk back into my building, through my apartment front door, and I sink into my chair. I sob, helpless.
In the morning, I wake up and stand on unsteady feet. I pull on running shoes and cycle through a run, my mind busy replaying the events of the previous night. The ‘election party,’ the way it began with joy and laughter, giving way to tension, then to hopelessness. Make America great again. Battle cry of the brutal backwardness.
I shower, dress myself, and walk to my office. I open my email, half-interested, and abandon that mission. I decide to walk campus, see the world as is for myself.
Campus stretches in every direction, but I swear I could hear a pin drop from the other side. Cars pass by silently, as though their guts have also been ripped from them. At the Scramble Light, a group of students holds signage offering free hugs. We could use one, they say, and I hug them. Hope is, if nothing else, a goddamn rebel.
‘Drop your pencils,’ he says, and we all look up with wide eyes. We are twelve years old, and we’re slowly growing accustomed to the cold new world of middle school. We assume we’ve done something wrong, that someone’s been caught cheating on the state exam. All of us are bracing for the worst.
He tells us, in a shaking voice, that a plane has crashed into a building in New York City. That, moments after the plane crash, another plane crashed into its twin. An attack has been made on American soil.
To me, New York City feels a million miles away, the kind of place where things like this might happen. In small-town Indiana, I feel safe and secure, though I am not sure what to make of this grown man wringing his hands at the front of the room. As the day goes on, as I travel from class to class, I see adults have no idea how to explain the world to me. Who has the answers, if not them?
At the end of the day, in a throwaway course called ‘General Music,’ our instructor cries openly. ‘You shouldn’t have to face this,’ he tells us, ‘this shouldn’t be your world.’ He plays the piano and sings us songs about America, and I wonder when the world is going to return to normal.
When, I think to myself, squinting as I walk out to the school bus home, will the volume turn itself back down?