By Rose Davis
Being in physical classes again this semester is, in a word, weird. The past year the university was shrunk into my room, my computer and my bed. The physical books were replaced by digital copies and discussion forums that felt both unrelated to each other and the class itself.
My professors were only seen at odd, off-center angles, their faces bordered by an office space, their living room or a window that was slightly too bright for comfort. My classmates were webcams of varying qualities. The reality of other people turned to question.
This was all backed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the entire world felt at conflict. The news and the people around me didn’t sync. There were people without masks in stores while I wore one everywhere. Death became a static noise regulated to the back so people could shout about freedom in the front row.
I was expected to continue school, while the world went back and forth on every issue. It was like I was on a bad carnival ride that wouldn’t let me off and only served to make people puke.
I’m back on campus this year though, attending physical classes with books in hand. However, while it’s unquestionably better it doesn’t stop the echoes of the last year and a half or the coming year.
My entire life I’ve been living through major historical events, I was one when 9/11 happened, then seven when the 2007 financial crash happened, ten when the BP Oil Spill fueled a brief national environmental movement, 13 when Trayvon Martin was killed, 14 when it was Michael Brown, 18 when Parkland happened and 20 when George Floyd died. Yet, this one changed something different, my sense of time.
The last year and a half doesn’t feel complete, instead it’s a flicker of events shown through daytime news, social media posts, Zoom meetings, conservative pundits on my stepfather’s radio and YouTube. The day of the week was in the air constantly. I was pushed forward by an expectation that it would end, but it hasn’t.
Suddenly, I’m back on the quad and pushed forward with an expectation everything will be normal, like the rest of the United States wants to believe. It’s not going to be normal; everything is still disconnected. It’s the feeling of watching a clock move while the sound is desynced. You hear one thing, but see another.
The COVID-19 pandemic is still going on and getting actively worse, while I attend classes and go to club meetings. Of course, the social distancing and hand sanitizer is rightfully here along with a background anxiety at every gathering.
But, through no fault of their own, they are symbols of a deadly virus. A disease that is rising in cases as the U.S. economy is apparently doing fantastic. A plague that seems to get more variants by the day, yet schools reopen. It’s a violent clash of tone.
My fellow students and my professors have voiced similar feelings around me, a feeling like time has slipped on the clock like Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory.” It has revealed to me the concepts which are artificial in our society, our concepts of time, socialization, ideas of labor and what constitutes “normal.” We should not be trying to go back to “normal” because it doesn’t exist anymore.
It’s gone and, like post 9/11 America, we can never go back to pre-COVID-19 because it is a real memory to me. I’m living through it, I can’t forget it, no one can.