I wonder where the time has gone. I wonder if this is what we expected the end of 2021 to look like. And who knows? Maybe the world can pull off a trick and figure out a way to improve. Maybe . . .
Or, maybe something like this will stand as a tale to tell in future stories when teachers teach future students about the great pandemic. Should this be true and this is a document that anyone reads in the future, then please allow me to explain my social view without favoring or leaning towards any agenda or position. But to be clear, I remember the shutdown perfectly.
I had just flown home after a week-long class which was cut short. There was news about a virus that was spreading throughout the world. This is something we heard about on the news but nobody ever dreamed the virus would touch our shores. At least, not like this. Safe to say that most assumed this would be another gross overreaction by the media. There were reports about a shutdown but no one really understood what this meant. We were told that everything would close down for a two-week period so the virus could die and, of course, we would dodge the bullet and everyone would be safe.
I saw a news report from people in Italy. They were struggling with their isolation. Neighbors were singing on their balconies and making sure that human connection was not lost or misdirected by technology. I saw this but still, none of this seemed real to me. It was too awesome in size, so deadly and too tragic for me to honestly understand the concept of what a pandemic truly is.
A week prior to departing for my class, I called down to the administrators of the mental health training division. I asked if the class was still on schedule. I was told “Yes.” Flying out of New York had already proved to be interesting. Still, nobody knew what was coming our way. I was told that Florida was operating ahead of the curve and that there were no threats, which meant the class was scheduled to commence without delay. Plus, I’m sure no one wanted to have to refund the money for the class.
I can remember landing in Orlando. I can remember the strange eeriness and the emptiness of usually busy places. No one was in the airport and for those who were, everyone had a strange look of unsureness on their face. What was going on? What was happening? I didn’t know.
It was just announced that Disney World was closed. Scattered people were wearing masks but not me. I wasn’t sure what to do or what to say. I had heard about the Coronavirus from a family member. I was told about this being something that was found in bats but again, this was all too strange to be real.
I heard from different people who subscribe to the conspiracies that this was simply a ploy to sway an upcoming presidential election. Meanwhile, this was a worldwide problem. People were dying but none of this seemed real. Could this really be happening? I started to wonder if this was the end of times.
There was something about the news that made the virus too powerful to be real and again, who listened to the news anyway? Isn’t their job to promote viewership? Don’t news and news channels thrive on ratings? Maybe they were exaggerating. Maybe they were trying to promote better ratings. No one believed the virus would ever reach our side of the globe and hurt us like this. Then again, beliefs are not always truths.
I can recall my arrival at the hotel where the convention was being held. The location was near to but not on Disney properties. No one was around. Most of the stores were empty. The restaurants were open but no one was around. The wait staff were sitting at tables with nothing to do. And still, this was all too crazy to be real. I walked into a place to get lunch. I asked how many people had been in to get a meal. The waiter told me, “Aside from you and the cop that just left? No one!” Meanwhile, my week-long class was cut short and rather than have the usual time to study and prepare for my certification, we managed to cut the distance and finish the class in half the time.
In total, there were 15 people staying in the big hotel of which 13 of those people were attending the class and the other two were the instructors for the class.
On occasion, I checked the news reports on television. They were talking about the virus that was sweeping the world but, nobody believed that Covid would ever be this strong. No one thought that two years later we’d still be looking to get out of the weeds and find a cure.
“The news must be trying to scare us,” I thought.
“They’re probably preparing us for the worst and hoping for the best,” is what I figured.
“Better to be prepared and nothing happens than be unprepared and have it all go down.”
I have seen a lot of things in my life. I have seen crazy things and terrible things but this was biblical. This was unlike anything I had ever read in a science fiction book or seen in a movie. Hell, at least there’s an ending in movies and books. There are heroes who save the day. But this was not a book or movie.
Nobody thought this would last as long as it has. There was pre-Covid and then post-shutdown but then what? What does the next chapter look like and if it looks good, then when can we turn the page?
I landed home in New York. I was told that my company was alternating schedules and that half of my coworkers would be in on alternating weeks.
My turn was up first.
I drove in without a stitch of traffic. There was no one on the road. The governor said that everyone should stay home and quarantine. No one was to be out, except for essential workers, which was me. I was essential; at least, to some degree. But no one was more needed or more essential than the nurses and the doctors. Emergency rooms were filled beyond capacity. People were dying and again, no one thought the virus would ever be this tragic.
I walked into my place of business, which is an old historic commercial office building. My day job is located right in the middle of Manhattan, NYC. I had never seen the streets like this. Empty as if the entire world disappeared. There were no cars on the road. Times Square was absolutely empty. I walked through tenant spaces in the commercial building. Everything was left exactly as it was before the shutdown. Nothing was moved. There were St. Patrick Day decorations hung around some of the offices. Sweaters were dressed over the backs of office chairs. Shoes were tucked beneath desks. I swear, this looked like a crime scene that was left in pristine condition and pending investigation. The offices stayed that way for more than a year.
Everyone was separated and told to stay home. There was wartime rationing of toilet paper and supplies at the stores. There were times when people could enter the supermarket. Who’d have ever thought that a store clerk would ever be deemed as essential?
There were wartime casualties only the war was with an unseen virus that came with misinformation and ill-informed politicians. Both on the left and on the right were arguing points as politicians became the new scientists. Politics became the new religion. Masks and opinions became the standards of where or how you placed your vote. Families severed over disputes of who to vote for and who to vote against.
Meanwhile, refrigeration trucks were parked behind funeral homes with bodies stacked and frozen because the numbers of the dead were too much to handle.
People were dying in hospitals alone and without their loved ones. Nurses were rationed masks and equipment. Bodies were soaked in Clorox because funeral homes would not accept the bodies unless they were cleaned and Covid-free.
Stores closed. Business sank. The City that never slept had become vacant and empty. I walked across Lexington without the need to be concerned if traffic lights were green or red. There was no one around. There was nothing. There was only the news and social media. There was no way to see the people you loved, except for virtually and online. There were no other options in New York City. There was only fear and the essentials moving about the streets.
I say essentials, I say the people who had to man their stations. I say essentials but to some, they argued the word. Some called themselves sacrificial. And some, well, the restrictions eventually loosened and there was a slight return, which meant the essentials became forgotten. Store clerks went back to being store clerks. Nurses and doctors went from being healthcare heroes to mandatory workers who had to follow vaccine mandates. Whereas before, whether they were sick or not, they were all to report to duty because too may people were dying at once. There were too many choices and too many times when nurses or doctors had to choose who to save when two or more people coded at the same time. Save one and someone else flat lines. But who do you pick? How do you make the choice? Or, better yet, how do we go from supporting our healthcare workers to nearly instantly forgetting about them once there was a moment of reprieve in the pandemic?
This happened by the way.
Don’t ever forget it.
I was there on the ground and reporting this for an article in a labor publication.
Nobody ever thought that nearly two years later this is where we’d be, still dealing with Covid restrictions and still trying to recover from the stages of grief.
The problem is how can anyone evolve through the stages of loss when loss continues.
One thing that happened is that Covid has normalized the mental and emotional challenges we face. Everyone is going through something. Literally, death and dying become the new normal.
And then there was the vaccine. Then there was hope; at least, this is true for some people. But then there was the civil unrest. There were riots. There was an election in America. There was racism and videoed deaths shown on television. There was a worldwide outbreak of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). There were people divided worse than ever before. So the question became, how do we heal from this? How do we recover?
I remember there was a mob of people that were marching down the street. One of the suits and ties in my company was telling me to be careful. He said that I better get off the street.
I told him, “Me? I’ll blend in but you? You better get inside now.”
He smiled. He looked at my tattooed arms and me as I was in my street clothes, a citizen of my City and a regular guy. Then he said, “You’re right!” and went inside.
I walked through the mob untouched. I was afraid but not of my City. I will never be afraid of my City. Besides, she knows me too well. I was afraid of my leaders and the arguments between them. I was afraid of the losses that we could never regain. I was afraid of losing more friends and loved ones. I was afraid that more people would die and all that would be left were unanswered arguments that took priority over the healthcare of others.
It was a time where deaths were biblical in numbers and yet, all we did was make sure we didn’t run out of toilet paper. People argued. People claimed their religion by picking a political side. We became so rigid that we nearly broke – or, maybe we did break and that’s why we struggle to heal.
The City was empty. Anxiety was high. Fears took over and as for the overdoses and the drug epidemic and as for the alcohol abuse and suicides, the numbers were astounding. The moment was tremendous and irreversible. All I wondered was if I was ever going to get through this. Would I make it long enough to pull off my trick?
All I wanted was to put the virus behind us. . .