a whole new world

Years ago, before the advent of online education, I spent a third of the school year in quarantine.

I didn't know it at the time, but I was lucky. The last thing I wanted to do was put more distance between me and my teenaged peers. I didn't want to spend four out of 12 months at home, eating oatmeal and watching The Andy Griffith Show with my middle-aged father and our troupe of cats. I wanted to be where the people were, as Ariel sings in "Part of Your World." I wanted to be normal—and mandatory homeschooling, while certainly a privilege, was nothing akin to cool.

But it was that or death. That or weeks in the hospital, with tubes up my nose and nurses waking me up every four hours to check my vital signs or whatever the hell they do in the dark. So I went along with it.

It was a period of slowness. Simplicity. My dad made omelets and pancakes and waffles with peanut butter. Sometimes I ordered a chocolate and caramel shake from the Dairy Queen and watched Stargate SG-1. I didn't have to set an alarm or get up at some godawful hour to shower before school. I studied and slept and somehow managed to stay alive, even despite the germs.

I was lucky. But I was also sad, in countless, inexplicable ways. My brain felt numb. The world outside my window was gray and wet. I hated high school, but I loved it, too, in ways that only high schoolers can. I wanted to be where the people were. I wanted to go to pep rallies and Christmas parties and study sessions at the library.

I was stuck. Trapped. And I wanted out more than anything.

But spring came, always when I least expected it. I'd wake one morning and feel like singing again. I was back in my body, with color and sensation, birds chirping in the distance, sunlight flooding our carpeted den.

You know it's springtime in Minnesota because people are wearing T-shirts in 40-degree weather. It's desperation, plain and simple.

It's called seasonal affective disorder. I know that, now, just like I know that moodiness, irritability, and fatigue are symptoms of a bigger issue. Sometimes you need medication. Sometimes you need to get out of the house. Sometimes you need a combination of the two, and sometimes, if that's impossible, you just need to wait it out.

Spring always comes. I know that, now. And, all things considered, I'm doing okay this year. I'm juggling work and a full load of classes and the knowledge that, in less than two months, I'll be a free agent in more ways than one. I have a book to make better, and an anthology to publish alongside some of my best friends, and a life to live, finally, for the first time in forever.

Spring is here. I can feel it in the air. But so is the coronavirus. And I am privileged in that, unlike so many others, I can stay home. I will still be able to pay my bills. I can lock my doors and avoid physical contact with anyone who isn't my flesh and blood. I can step out of the stream of the world for weeks—if not months—at a time, and it'll all be just fine.

Not everyone can hibernate like this. And I am lucky. Infuriatingly so. But I am back in my body, and spring is on the tip of my tongue, and everything in me is begging to run and scream and wear T-shirts in 40-degree weather.

Every morning I wake up and tell myself, "You're not dead yet." Which is true. I'm back in my body, which is a miracle in its own right. But it hurts more than I thought it would, because I'm stuck again, back at the beginning, me and my dad and our newest TV binge.

It's like nothing has changed. I'm 14 again, staring mopily out the window. Little by little, blade by blade, the grass is remembering how to be green.

People keep asking me how I am, to which I say, "okay," with a bunch of question marks, because really, how the hell can you be okay with half of the world on lockdown?

But it's true. I'm okay. Maybe because, for the first time in forever, I'm not alone. (My computer just dinged. An email from my adoptive mom, Heather Havrilesky, with the subject line, "Isolation.") I went into this pandemic with the naive assumption that it would be like any other winter. I would stay home for months on end. I would see no one but my parents and our quasi-demonic cat. Meanwhile, the world would go on, with poetry readings and presidential elections and Easter gatherings.

In a surprising turn of events, I'm not the only one staying home. Remote positions are suddenly humanity's savior. I keep getting emails about working from home and social distancing and how to stay sane in isolation, which—

Don't get me wrong. It's scary. I am worried sick—about my friends, my family, my community of immunosuppressed folks who don't stand a chance. People are dying. COVID-19 is attacking the world at a systemic, structural level. How do we work from home? How do we appeal to our social natures without endangering those at risk? How do we pay for test kits and ICU beds and grocery delivery? How do we balance good-natured humor and doomsday thinking? How do we recognize the self-serving dangers of hoarding while simultaneously acknowledging that some people (not the people hoarding toilet paper) need to stock up on supplies if they want to stay alive? This will change society as we know it.

But it's also not the end. And maybe that's the therapist in me. Maybe that's the years of experience, and the selfish, sharp-edged part of me that rolls its eyes at every tweet about breaking quarantine to get a Twix bar. Disabled people were self-isolating before it was cool. For many of us, watching the world begin again is old hat.

Spring is coming. We just have to wait.

I think it's the timing that gets me. I have 37 days of school left. 37 days until I graduate with my M.A. 37 days until I'm free. But here I am, stuck behind a computer screen, playing obscene amounts of Disney Emoji Blitz because I'm legally obligated to finish the Star Wars event they're running right now. I want to run and scream and take my favorite girl to Build A Bear in a T-shirt and get another tattoo just for the heck of it. I want to go through my clothes and organize my closet and dye my hair pink. I want to go to Goodwill and buy the picture frames that have been on my list for months so I can finally hang the art prints I got for Christmas.

I'm pretty sure they call it spring fever.

But I can't yet. To protect myself, people I love, and the people I've never met but would probably love if our paths were fortunate enough to cross, I have to stay home. And I think that's a good thing.

I'm annoyed that it took the world this long to realize that working from home is not only smart but sustainable. I'm annoyed that my alma mater has moved all face-to-face classes to a virtual instruction learning environment. (At the height of my depression, I begged them to let me continue my classwork from home. They said no, so I left.) I'm annoyed that people are treating the disabled and the elderly as expendable. But I think we have an opportunity to learn from COVID-19.

I think we can make this into something good.

So I will beat the Star Wars event. I will check in on my friends and do what I can. I will finish school and celebrate in small ways. And when it's time, I will step outside in my spring dress and greet the world anew.