Spring break starts. In an alternative universe, it goes as planned. We went to Stratford, enjoyed
chocolate and wine. We came to Brighton, enjoyed the seafront and a pint. The world continued as
normal and no plans fell through.
But that’s not this story.
Spring breaks starts. Sat in a café is where life goes from normal to disturbed. My Norwegian
friend is in tears. Her course provider has just told all the exchange students to get home as soon as
possible in case they can’t get back. The shock is wearing off, the situation is getting more serious. We
are helping her pack, realising that our plans for the holiday are coming apart at the seams. We have
filler conversation, too upset to look at the black truth.
“We’ll see each other soon.”
“There’ll be other trips.”
“Have you signed up to Zoom yet?”
The LNER train carries me into London. The atmosphere is tense. Mixed with the normal smog
of the underground are the tendrils of suspicion and fear. They have grown with every bottle of hand
sanitiser purchased and every face mask worn. As I walk through the station, the need to sneeze is
repressed. Sneezing now has become like shouting ‘bomb’ in an airport. In the seat opposite to me, a
father is trying to explain to his little girl why she can’t suck her thumb. Her confusion at this new world
mirroring my own.
Getting home brings a feeling of utter relief. Like Indiana Jones, I have rolled under the stone
wall coming down in the nick of time, reaching back to get my hat. Safety envelops me like a warm
hug. But this feeing doesn’t completely keep uncertainty out. Uncertainty is a master thief, creeping in
through the cracks and taking plans, silently and ruthlessly. Boris Johnson’s lockdown order takes the
last hope that life will continue as normal.
University life is almost unrecognisable. There are only seven of us in the seminar today. No
video, only voices echoing across the country, bringing us into an artificial room, an imagined seminar.
Technology not quite meeting the mark. The conversations continue, although they no longer have the
same rhythm. However, a pattern can be found and new skills can be learnt. “Okay, can everyone hear
me?” Grey heads float in front of me, silent in their agreement. “Can everyone give me a green tick?”
Bing. Bing. Bing. “I’m just going to share my screen”.
Structure is hard to continue. The day has no markers. The hours twist, turn and dance, defying
definition. They flit across the day, starlings taking flight. Essays are harder to write. A miasma covers
the laptop, warding off all approaches. What text will fit here? What will support this argument? No
running my finger along the spines of books, behaving like an archaeologist, dusting off the pages and
searching out the treasure within. Instead, I search the soulless texts online, untouched by humans,
missing the sweaty fingerprints of students who fed on information.
What’s the point? University is a mirage, shimmering on the horizon, just out of reach. As I
walk towards it, it comes in and out of focus. The emails are the only source of light, shooting stars
across the blackness of unknowing.
A new normal has emerged. The alarm breaks into my uncomfortable dreams. Despite my good
intentions of getting up at 7, the bed holds me captive like a petulant child. The bedroom has become
my prison, making it critical to escape in the morning so I am not wasting my day there. I troop down
the stairs, feeling the quietness of the house. Slow movements get the living room ready for my morning
workout. Cajoling myself to get through the exercise and remember that this will be the only proper
exercise of the day. Then onto the kitchen. Coffee, breakfast and morning work. Trying to find things
for me to do. Maybe reading, maybe job searching. More often than not, the whirlpool of YouTube
sucks me in for a few hours. Then sitting in the garden, enjoying the luxury of the beautiful weather.
Hearing the neighbours kids, seemingly free from the worry or stress of this time.
A new normal has emerged. Zoom calls with friends fill the void of everyday living together.
Conversations don’t flow well, becoming more like a cacophony of sound. Everyone talking over each
other in our eagerness to reconnect. But the roar of the sound drowns out the intimacy. It’s not the same.
The social cues are not there. People drop in and out, their connection not strong enough to hold us
together. We should be sat drinking Pimms in a park somewhere. Letting soft sunlight sprinkle us with
gold. Discussing what we’re going to do this summer, if we should plan a trip and how to mark the end
of our first year. Watching people flock to the beach, feeling the injustice of being good. Seeing a few
friends in the garden - can’t see everyone.
A new normal has emerged. I am a bee trapped in amber; my days preserve me in their
unchanging nature. My wings are frozen and I can’t escape this gaol. Despite this immoveable restraint,
my days hold no structure. No one holds me to the mark. Time escapes my hold, leaving me in a space
where time no longer exists. This does not help my mental health and means I must struggle every day
to take care of myself. Trying to be healthy, but feeling the blackness at the edge of my consciousness.
A new normal has emerged. I am alone all day. My brother is hiding from the world by escaping
to his X-box. Like Sleeping Beauty, he is waiting for someone to come and wake him up from his
troubled slumber. Sometimes, I can escape to my secret garden where my grandma lives. We sit, two
meters apart, trying to enjoy the sanctuary-like quality found here. But, the invisible wall that stops us
hugging is crushing in its presence. Not being able to hug the people you love is the cruellest kind of
torture. The Snow Queen has trapped me in her ice palace, away from all that I love. Never again will
I take for granted a hug or a kiss.
Questions flit around my head like flies, fat bluebottles filled with uncertainty.
What will September look like?
What will freshers look like?
How will all this loss and grief ever heal?
Their buzz is a defining drone that can’t be silenced. All these questions that no one can answer.
Living in this smoke of doubt is terrifying. It’s like being on a roller-coaster, that moment of pause at
the top of a massive drop. The feeling in your stomach, holding on the straps that are supposed to keep
you safe, hoping that they are tight enough.
Pandora’s box has been opened. Someone could not resist the mystery of the box. Now, fear,
sickness, death, destruction have flown out, ravaging an already unstable world. Now we must let hope
fly free, from where she is crushed at the bottom of the pile. Hope is picking herself up and struggling
out. We must allow her to offer us a different view of the future. One where we can dream and create a
new normality. The gestation of this unborn future has been uncertain. No one knows what creature
will be birthed into the world. Will it be a monster, something recognisable or something we cannot
even imagine. How will this future, stumbling on new legs, be welcomed?
I try to imagine this future. Create it in my imagination. Manifest it into being. Going back to
York, the familiar train taking me to my second home that I have so missed. The house with my friends
being full of life. Sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee from the new mugs I have optimistically bought.
Studies beginning again, being able to use my brain and delving into my books. Sat in my seat at the
library, listening to the hum of students. Despite this manifestation of the future I have created,
questions remain. What will greet me in this unborn future? Will I be able to join the societies I wanted
to? Can I still get involved with the charity work I wanted to do? Everything I’d planned, thrown into
uncertainty. But hope must not be forgotten at the bottom of the box. She brings the possibility of a
Slowly the world is returning to normal. Tentative steps are being taken towards what we know.
But is this the best course of action? These steps are being taken towards the past, back to times that for
many hold painful memories.
The world is rebuilding itself in new ways and we are going to have to adapt. We have to
recognise this pandemic has changed our world, but is doesn’t have to be for the worse. This time of
rest has opened our eyes to the seas we swim in.
What needs to be changed can be seen and addressed. This year that has supposedly been
cancelled, filled with grief and unprecedented loss, should not be wasted. As my mum always says, the
grit inside an oyster is what makes the pearl.