“Happy April Fools kids! This year has been the biggest joke of all.”
I received this text at 12:05 a.m. on Wednesday. The sender had clearly stayed up to send it to the group chat. She was trying to cheer us up, to disrupt the endless stream of emo Facebook status updates and worrying invites to relaunch our Webkinz accounts. She is 1000% right: this year is a joke. Remember the headlines: “2020! Explore your 2020 vision! Roaring into the 20s! Roaring into your 20s with more optimism than ever before!” It only took about 26 hours and some emails from Dean Chun for a stream of chaos to ensue. I’m now sitting on a sofa, poised to enter the job market on the tail of the worst recession in recent history, uncertain of my graduation date, trying to cook a meal from a pantry exclusively stocked with protein powder and old cheese, and where the only physical touch I have felt in fifteen days was the mouse that decided to join me around 3 a.m. last night. And I miss my friends.
Enough complaining. Quarantine is not good for my self-absorption. Yes, this might seem like a fantastical joke gone too far for many of us. Right in the middle of spring break?? Even Harvard had the chance to throw heading-into-quarantine parties before being booted off campus! Could corona not have waited just two more weeks – fine, one! This virus is truly heartless.
Don’t focus on the past and don’t focus on the future: that is the proverb that I am hearing from every wisdomous soul who wishes to put in their two cents. If we must focus on the present, maybe I can think of a better joke. What if… quarantine was cancelled?
In full disclosure, of course I want to return to “normalcy.” I hate Zoom University (are you seriously asking my friend to film herself fighting an invisible person for Stage Combat?). I’ve started talking to myself about the days when “we used to just hang out at shopping malls or dangle innocently from the monkey bars,” neither of which I can recall doing in the recent past, and I actively bristled when a small child passed within two feet of me during my daily walk-round-the-block. When I choked on my coffee at the supermarket last week, the death stares made me fear for my life. As much as I want all these things to go away, I can also see that corona-exit might pose some challenges.
Imagine on the news today: “Quarantine Cancelled.” What do you do? The first problem: the indiscriminate texts to everyone in my contacts and, if a number wasn’t available, any one of my Facebook friends. In the immediate fear that social distancing would transform me into a pale, socially-inept ear of wheat, I’ve been sending out more messages than I ever would in normal times. The bar to hit send was dismally low, conversation starters ranging from “tiger king is WHACK” to “should I file for Irish citizenship” to “what do you do with a kilo of quick-oats?” I have had more extended text conversations with some people than exchanges in real-life. And of course, the response rate is high because everyone is on their phones, and honestly, now is not the time to ghost. A good number of these texts were sent in the comfort that I would probably never see that person in the near future, maybe ever. And then there’s Tinder. Too many swipes and too many conversations because even if you wanted to meet up, the virus will not allow it. If quarantine is cancelled, what now? Will I have to have them over after all? Should I put another banana bread in the oven?
And then returning to campus, how do you act normal around the classmates outed over Zoom? We’ve all gained a snapshot into one another’s home lives. Do I now pretend that I don’t know that the girl in my seminar who comes to class in thrifted bargains every day was quarantining on a yacht eating acai bowls handed to her by her butler?
The next item in the crisis-management to-do list: cancel those online shopping orders. Find a place to return the 14 paint-by-numbers, barre resistance bands and “crochet your own baby yoda” beginner kits that are expected to arrive sometime between May 13 and July 20 2021. Do I just return the Peloton? How can you quickly dispose of thirty candles, a hypothermic blanket and a harpoon without drawing attention?
Then, re-teach myself how to put together an outfit. “Why do you look so fancy?” my sneering brother comments every morning before he realises that I’ve paired tracksuit bottoms with my “fancy shirt.” He obviously doesn’t understand that Zoom seminars require active video cameras, focused on the chest up. Imagine the outfits people will wear outside, on their first outing post-quarantine. The debate on masks continues, but will the world be ready for no-trouser Tuesdays?
Next, decide whether or not to cut ties with the extended family members I have reconnected with, who now enjoy a standing Facetime slot in my Gcal. Four Facetimes a day is not sustainable in a non-quarantine world, so who will make the cut?
Post-quarantine, every day will have to be leg day. After weeks of moving from sofa to refrigerator to sofa to carpet, my leg muscles have simply atrophied.
Learn not to squeal at the sight of shelves fully-stocked with toilet paper.
Finally, I will have to find a new email intro. “I hope you are safe and healthy in these trying times” has really become quite convenient. It’s the perfect number of words to flesh out an otherwise embarrassingly short email, a neat little phrase to succinctly and universally express my empathy.
And then I will have to decide whether or not to let my Sims die. There you have it, the biggest joke of all. Cancelling quarantine could turn me into a murderer.
Alexa Stanger | firstname.lastname@example.org