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A Non-Cinematic Apocalypse: A COVID-19 Essay

| This is the 556th story of Our Life Logs® |

My name is Mark Taylor. A bit about myself: I’m 23 years old, I was born in Concord Massachusetts, and, at my core, I’d say that I’m a student of conflicts.

My own difficulties are one thing, but I love stories. Stories of monsters, epic battles between good and evil, and where the world hangs in the balance. Stories where people are forced into stressful situations where they’re forced to give up the things that they love for the good of others and they’re forced to grow from the fact that their lives have been thrown out of disarray. These are among my favorites.

This pandemic though? This isn’t cinematic.

• • •

Over a year ago in 2019, I was in college, living with roommates while time moved slowly. I don’t know if this is something that is simply my own issue, but I think that I grew to accept that my “normal” was a depressing routine with scattered moments of happiness that was, overall, boring.

So, when my roommate started to share his thoughts on the Coronavirus, I didn’t think much of it. I mean, how was he so worried about what might happen. But then again, no one ever expects things to become chaotic. That’s part of what makes it so frightening. That’s what makes you deny it when your “normal” gets thrown out the window.

• • •

When I’d left the dorms to start 2020’s Spring Break, I hadn’t known that that was the last time I’d see my roommates.

Within a week after leaving the school, the college contacted us to say that they’d pushed Spring Break further out of fear of the virus. Within another two weeks, they decided to call it. None of us would be returning to the college to try and keep us all safe.

I haven’t spoken to any of my roommates since then. 2020 was the year they were supposed to be graduating, so I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing them again, even when the school allowed for us to return.

After that, I was mainly confined to living at my family home. My classes were moved to online formats, but for the most part, the rest of the day was mine.

Truth be told, I did manage to have a bit of fun with the online format. Mainly since the majority of my teachers were still learning how to use it, so there were quite a few mishaps:

· The professor who accidentally kicked all of us out of the session.

· The professor who kept getting randomly surprised by her cat was just adorable.

· And then there was the time that my professor forgot to turn on his microphone; that was just too funny.

o Especially the part where no one said anything until I just had to go and speak up.

§ “How long do you guys think until he realizes that his microphone is still off?”

It really is the little things that make life more fun.

• • •

I don’t know if it’s horrible to say this, but I think that my biggest problem throughout this situation was boredom. I’ve learned methods for dealing with sadness, emotional pain isn’t much more than fuel when I can use it to help add something personal to the usual stories that I write. But this? Just pure isolation, boredom, and confusion, I’m not the best in that situation.

Those in my circle have shared with me the changes to their daily routines. For many, it goes beyond boredom and doing without a few grocery items.

Fear is rampant.

We are sealed off from one another.

And as a whole, we have lost our sense of normalcy.

All things considered, however, I’d say that I’m very fortunate.

• • •

I wasn’t exactly “cruelly separated from friends” thanks to the pandemic. My ability to connect to others, though, is very… limited. I mean, I used to worry about people who didn’t understand me, but sometime in my teens I just started being myself (even if I was by myself) and would kind of go from there.

In fact, the months that I was kept from college were fairly enjoyable. Being confined to home, dealing with online classes, and eating with family was good.

On the other hand, 2020 was my younger sister’s last year of high school. Something she’s worked hard for, pushing as hard as she could even when having to endure the bullying abuse of her peers—but this virus just destroyed her plans.

While I was working on online classes back in March of 2020, she’d been intending to go to prom, have fun with her friends, and then get to have her graduation. A beautiful moment where she could stand with her classmates and be celebrated for the work she’d put in to be able to make it onto that stage. To know that her work had been acknowledged and that she could move forward with some pride.

Her school called it quits before mine did. Telling her that she wouldn’t be coming back. That her prom had been canceled. The final straw came the night when she was called and told that the school had canceled her graduation.

She didn’t do it in the presence of myself or our mother, but I heard her crying quite a lot that night.

She and I are very different in that regard. My experiences when it comes to school have never been worth talking about. I can honestly say that despite, how many years I worked, all the effort I put in to make it through, I barely have a moment that’s worth remembering from all that time.

• • •

I really can’t remember much of that first semester that I spent on my online classes.

Aside from that day when I forgot to turn off my microphone and ended up singing to my class while we were on a break.

But that ended and after summer vacation, we were allowed to come back to the school as long as we adhered to the rules that they set out for us:

· We had to avoid gathering in groups.

· We had to stay in our dorms when we weren’t in classes or getting food.

· We had to wear masks whenever we exited our rooms.

· Maintain social-distance.

· And we had to submit ourselves to weekly COVID-19 testing (which became twice a week once the numbers on campus spiked up).

I’ve stated previously that my ability to connect to others was limited, but the new conditions on campus made it nigh on impossible.

Half of my classes were still online, but even when I did sit in a classroom, there was no interaction between anyone. No one wanted to get too close to anyone or get to know a stranger that could easily not be there the following class. That’s not even a hyperbole. For one of my classes, I’d sit in the classroom and notice that almost every week, we’d lose a student to the world of online classes.

I would say that, overall, campus life became quite different. Usually, whenever I went out for a walk, I would see large groups of people gathered, messing around in one activity or another. This year though, not so much.

In fact, there was a time when, just outside of my dorm building, there was a group of people who’d gathered to try and hang out outside. This resulted in campus security coming in to break them up. And when they didn’t get the message and gathered again, I remember watching from my window as the cops were brought in to deal with them.

I’m thinking back on it now, almost every week I’d get emails from the school on updates on our “COVID-Status,” and unfortunately, it was more common for us to be receiving bad news than otherwise. We were having so many students end up infected that I became numb to it.

All of the infections, the students who’d be packing up their things and leaving almost weekly, and the general feelings of unease, I don’t think that that bothered me as much as it did for others.

I’ve gotten fairly used to being lonely over the years. Hard to get upset over losing something you don’t have, and in that way, the pandemic wasn’t able to hurt me as much as it did others.

But, for whatever reason, I found myself wanting that more than ever.

Just someone to talk to.

And since I decided that I wouldn’t be able to find that on campus, I decided to turn to the internet.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much.

But I managed to find some online discussion sites…

Okay, I admit it, it was basically a free dating site.

But, unlike the others that I’d found, I saw that this one would allow for me to post stories.

That was the key selling point for me.

Stories are the big way that I’m able to get out my feelings, and they’re honestly what I’d prefer to be judged on.

So, every day after classes, I started sharing bits of myself, one broken and disturbed character after another.

And people would sometimes comment on them, some would even message me to talk about them, and we’d compare and contrast ideas.

I don’t know if this is twisted, but I think that I socialized more in this year than I ever did in person.

I even made a new friend who’s quickly grown on me. Becoming very near and dear to my heart with how much she enjoys my stories, and especially when I get to read the beautifully heartbreaking things that she wrote in turn.

I started to see my new friend as the silver lining to this whole situation, because, if it weren’t for the pandemic, I honestly don’t know if I’d have met her.

All of that combined to help me to have a new kind of support system while working my way through college, and I needed that.

Since, after all, this was my Senior Year.

• • •

I’m not exaggerating when I say that it feels like this snuck up on me. I changed my major around the middle of my second year of college, so I’d had to change my date of graduation. This made it so that the 2020 Fall-Semester was my last.

I found myself pausing every once in a while, thinking about it: this was my Last Bow at this place… should I do something?

But, unfortunately, it seems that things weren’t in the cards.

I tried to see if I could meet more people by leaving my dorm room a bit more than I should have (given our new rules). I’d go to the library to see if anything could come from it. But that usually ended with me sitting there alone.

When it finally came down to the end of it all, where the semester ended and we were allowed to go home, my roommates left without saying goodbye, and I was the last man there.

I couldn’t help but feel like it was fitting in a way.

Out of all of them, I was the first man to arrive at this place in the beginning, so I suppose that it makes sense that I’m the first to really leave.

I decided to leave them a note.

“First man in, first man free. Take care and good luck to you all in graduating too! – Mark Taylor.”

Then I packed up my things, moved out of the dorm, turned in my key, and that was it.

I can say that I really didn’t know what to feel that night.

• • •

With how detached and abnormal I’d felt throughout this year, I felt like I was at a loss. Like I’d been cheated out of something I should’ve been mine. So, I left college that day feeling like there was just another void. Like I was leaving with less than I’d arrived with.

But, that night, I went online and I started a conversation with my friend, telling her how I was done, how I felt about all of it, and then she did the most amazing thing. She made me smile.

Probably the most anti-climactic end I could’ve had to my college experience, and yet with a conversation she was able to get me to smile and feel like I’d accomplished something worth doing.

She made me feel like I took my Last Bow well enough, given the circumstances.

It’s amazing sometimes what a good friend can do for you.

And these days I’ll sometimes pause when I think about how different this is from my normal life.

It surprises me when I see that I’m no longer hiding in my loneliness.

But I suppose that’s one of my favorite parts of apocalyptic stories: the way that people are forced to make changes.

The world has gotten an overhaul, but, since this isn’t the cinema, that means that we don’t get to just be witnesses and let the credits roll. This is our world, and that means that we have to find our way through.

And if the world has been forced to change, then why shouldn’t we do the same? We could all use this as a wake-up call to try to do better than the “Normal” that we had before.

Besides, something I’ve come to understand: staying the same is boring, and I’ve decided that my life isn’t meant to be boring.

This is the story of Mark Taylor

Mark, 23, recounts his experience and observations during the COVID-19 pandemic. While, he admits, his life hasn’t turned upside down, Mark shares how he was able to push his boundaries and admire the silver linings of the socially-distanced and socially-strained new world in which we are all trying to survive.

This story first touched our hearts on April 14, 2020

Writer: Mark Taylor | Editor: Colleen Walker

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