It’s been two years to the day, the second Friday in March of 2020, that the world, my world, shut down.
I sat with my principal in her office on Friday, March 13th and came up with plans A, B, and C for our mid year WASC cycle review which was to take place the following week. We thought it was business as usual and whatever was happening around the world was just another “thing” that the United States and, more specifically, West Sacramento, would be untouched from.
We were so wrong.
A little after 5pm the School Board met to discuss what to do for the next two weeks amidst reports of other districts closing in our state. I listened, with one earbud in, while my family and I watched our traditional Friday night movie.
And then our Board President announced that we would be closing for the next two weeks and would reassess about reopening as more information came out about the impending global pandemic.
I began to cry. And then I drank a bottle of wine. All. By. Myself.
The days following the announcement played out like a game of dominoes. President Trump ordered U.S. borders closed Saturday.
There goes my trip to London for my sister's 40th birthday that was just two weeks away.
People began stockpiling. And stockpiling. And stockpiling.
Students left college dormitories. Businesses closed. Neighbors and friends stopped seeing each other. And the Zoom calls and the House Party app served as one of our only connections to the outside world.
My family and I were on our way to Tahoe that Saturday because it’s part of my pre-WASC routine to get out of town the weekend before the big event. After checking into a grimy hotel, my aunt’s spidey sense went off, she called me, we told her about the hotel, and she then arranged for us to stay at her timeshare. My husband and boys and I spent the next four days on our pre-lockdown fairytale vacation. We ate out in restaurants, we used the jacuzzi and the sauna, we played in the snow, we met new people, and shopped in grocery stores that still had boxed noodles available to buy.
To this day our family talks about how it was one of the best trips we’ve ever had.
The next few weeks were met with fear, uncertainty, sadness. Oh, the sadness. Oh, the 2-3pm wine bottle opening time. And more sadness. And grief. And shock. And denial - the life preserver I wear on the daily.
The ups of hopeful messages that we would go back to teaching after spring break were met with the downs of more cases, more forced lockdowns, more mandates, more deaths, more sadness.
Then came the regret. The regret of elitism for my privileged life - being able to stay home while my essential worker family stocked shelves, delivered packages, took care of patients, and ran restaurants seven days a week to serve all of us that were in "hard lockdown"; which still to this day fills my heart with shame. Telling my family I couldn’t see them...in person, because they were too much of a risk…because they were working with the public...because they lined the shelves of the stores where I shopped…because they had to go into work....the shame from my ugliness is a penance I will charge myself until I find my way out.
The weeks, months, and years that followed March 13, 2020 were filled with the rolling tides of emotions -but my two emotions stayed pretty consistent: anger and bottom of the well grief. I had to compartmentalize in order to just stay functional. It was the only way I could survive the world, the people, the community folding in on itself.
When my mom texted me in April of 2020 during a meeting and said “call me” I knew someone had died. That was how it worked - to soften the blow she texted those six characters when there was a family tragedy. This time, it was Uncle Jerry, one of the men who raised me when I was a young girl. One of the men who taught me to love Jaws, Die Hard, and Milano cookies. We talked on FaceTime at Christmas, just months earlier, because he accidentally called us. That accident was a gift from the universe - a totem for us to cling to amongst the busy family life my sister and I had been trying to build during the last ten years.
But I was in a Zoom meeting. With the Union and my colleagues about the students.
About the living.
So I didn’t call her until later. And then another bottle of wine, or maybe two, but this time it was Chardonnay because that’s all I found in the closet…then a game of “Zoom Around the Room” with my new found friends…then vomit in the bathroom…and the next morning, and the next, it was Groundhog’s day over and over and over again.
Two days later she texted again, I was in another meeting.
Someone else? My reply.
Yes, grandma Jvona.
A pause. A deep breath. Your camera’s on. In a meeting. Zoom. Don't react. Focus on the living. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
My grandmother, another matriarch in the family, another person who taught me to love gladiolus, gardening, and Milano cookies, died just days after her son...just miles away in a nursing home because she was recovering from a stroke. The attendant at her nursing home said “she was just looking out the window, staring off, when I went to go get her iPad for her to watch one of her shows. When I got back, she was gone”. I still believe it was Uncle Jerry waving to her through the glass and telling her “cmon! Let’s get going mama” in his twangy southern accent.
Anger. Wine. Grief. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
This has been my cycle for the last two years. Oftentimes when I would call my mom before or after work I would tell her “I’m going to burn the whole thing down…stage a coup…move to Texas” because I was so frustrated with the world around me. From the rumors about my family and me, from the divisiveness, from tactics politicians have used over and over again for their own gain.
Frustrated and hurt to the core about the judgment that fear can cause in people. It became clear early on that only one opinion mattered and if you were not on that side of it, you were wrong regardless of what reputation, education, religion, or heart you had.
And then there were moments when I played Mario Kart in my classroom with the few students that showed up for hybrid after other students logged out for the day. Or Sushi Fridays with one of my best friends where we could just be. Or when I got to hang out with just the very few that were coming into work. Or when one of my favorite kiddos told me she only came to school for the Twilight marathon.
In those moments, when I’d call my mom after work, “well I didn’t burn it down today” and she would sardonically reply “good job honey, I’m proud of you.” And we’d laugh and then move on to whatever other things there were to talk about in the world, that wasn't about Covid.
In February of 2021 I started my new grad program - one I was supposed to start shortly after my stepfather died unexpectedly in February of 2017. This was a healthy way to channel all of the emotions and anxiety I was feeling on a day to day basis. Then I became a tech lead. Then I got Teacher of the Year. And then I became department chair. Then I got a covid kitty. Then I got a covid puppy. We redid our backyard. Got the house painted. Redid my She Shed. Changed social circles, got the kids into different extra curricular activities because the other ones just didn’t fit right or were canceled. Oh, and I started eating salad. (I hated salad until my new friend introduced me to her amazingness. So now I eat salad. Oh, and I started drinking champagne. Thank you Covid and Lady G).
So here I am. Two years later. Trying to wrap it all up in a post. A new post. A post that will hopefully signify a new chapter. A chapter that isn’t as blurry, or marred with errors like the last ones.
Next week, I ironically or serendipitously have another big thing. One of my best friends - a lifeline during the last two years, full of daily texts with memes, emojis, encouragement, bad words, sadness, deleted videos, frustration, and support- and I are presenting at a conference together in fabulous Palm Springs. I also have some cool things lined up for my gender studies course and I get to spend a few days with some of the most creative, forward thinking, ideation-oriented, student centered teachers in the state. Just writing all those things makes me smile with gratitude that I get to be with these people. I love my job. I love my friends. And I love my students. And much of my grief over the last two years is because I was disconnected from those three things. The things that provide me with reasons to do all the things and to do them with love, kindness, humility, humor, and determination.
Two weeks ago a colleague came into my classroom and noticed the “get to know you” paper t-shirts hung on a clothesline on my wall. They were from my spring 2020 class. The class I shut down with. The class I loved to see everyday. My juniors. My amazing juniors.
When we talked about the artwork and I said they were from my lock down class from last year and I was trying to figure out if they had graduated yet. I couldn’t piece the timeline together. It was a blur. When was this? Wait, was that last year or the year before? Wait, are they seniors right now and I just haven’t seen them this year? Ugh.
I couldn’t add the math or visually recall where in the last years of academic craziness these kiddos were. My colleague said “Um Melissa, if they were your lockdown juniors, they already graduated, honey.” Then she paused and softly said, “It’s time to take the t-shirts down.” We laughed. She left and as I walked back to get my current class of juniors started, a pang of sadness stabbed me in my chest.
I’m not ready.
I’m still not ready.
I’m not ready to say goodbye because I didn’t really ever get to say goodbye. I’m not ready to take down Laci’s picture. I’m not ready to take down Chloe’s or Garrett’s shirt. I’m just not there…yet.
I do see the sun though. And it’s ironic (again English teacher here always looking for the deeper meaning) that daylight savings ends this year on March 13th.
The sun is going to shine a bit longer everyday starting this weekend. And yes, the conflicts in the world, the inflation rates, climate change, food scarcity, and a million other things will still plague us. But we are in a moment where maybe, we can finally, whatever all of this is, we can try to process the grief and all those other big emotions and find peace in the present.
The world turned upside down, and we will never be the same, but if we take just a moment to sit under our own vine and fig tree, we might be able to write our way out, and tell our stories in order to learn how to say goodbye to the last two years.