Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top
decorative element

Dispatches from the Pandemic

  • Liz BartoshevichI always found the first lines of The Waste Land  to be counterintuitive. April has always been my favorite month. I’m not a fan of the cold, so the arrival of the warm sun is always a welcome change. I listen to my favorite bands, celebrate my birthday, and drag my friends by their hands to go dance in the rain. T.S. Eliot’s opening sentiments made less sense to me than the rest of the fragmented poem:

    April is the cruelest month, breeding
     Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.
    Winter kept us warm, covering
    Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
    A little life with dried tubers.

    But I understand it now. I have never felt a colder April before. This April, I live in my room, as if trapped in a metal cage.  I don’t get tired until 2AM, and even then, sometimes I’m up later. I wake for my live classes, otherwise I could probably sleep well into the afternoon, warm in my bed and forgetting the panic that seeps into every day. Sometimes I pick up my ukulele, but I can only play for a short time without getting a headache.

    The headache… is that a symptom of COVID-19? Is the oatmeal I ate just bland, or am I losing my senses of smell and taste? I’m allergic to pollen and pets, but live in an old drafty house with four cats and a dog… that’s probably the reason I feel tightness in my chest, right?

    This paranoia is fleeting. Some days I worry all day; others I just tell myself that everything is okay. Or at least, everything will be okay. If I try hard enough, I can force a feeling of numbness- a great accomplishment considering we are living in a pandemic. Sometimes, I distract myself by reminiscing. A few days ago, my friend from college told me, “What I wouldn’t give to be sitting in the Honors House, eating omelets and talking about The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” It’s comforting but painful to think about where we could have been this April. Before the pandemic, I imagined springtime picnics and long adventures in the woods, and seeing how many people could fit under my bed (the record is six- but now I can’t imagine being that close to anyone), silly pranks, movie nights, and group breakfasts. Right now, we would certainly be studying together for finals, and tearing up at the thought of being apart until fall.

    But where will be in the future? What does next April have in store for us? Will we be able to laugh, remembering the days of phone-call sleepovers, desperate haircuts, and mastering the art of wordless communication in a group Facetime? Or will we be wearing masks to class and having limits on group gatherings while our plans of traveling the world fade into dreams?  I wonder about people coped with the Spanish Influenza, living within the damaged cities of war-torn Europe.  How were they able to keep moving forwards, when I struggle to imagine a world where we can’t return to campus in the fall?   

    One of the biggest projects I worked on this semester was in Introduction to Digital History, where I studied the British Bill of Mortality in the early eighteenth century: a record of every death in London, listed not by names of people but by cause of death. While I decided to study the document before quarantine started, the morbidity of the numbers weighed upon me. It blows my mind that thousands of people, with lives just as intricate and full of worries as ours, were reduced to a simple tally. Will this happen to us too? Perhaps this pandemic will be remembered as a blip, reduced to a couple pages in a textbook.  It’s hard to come to terms with all snapshots and status updates, all these lives and hardships, being ground into history.

    But we still remember the Lost Generation, and the Greatest. We remember the Great Depression and the Black Death. We remember the strength of human perseverance. After all, Eliot writes, having suffered from Spanish flu himself, “we think of the key/ each in his prison.” This key must exist, and it will be found through herd immunity or vaccines or the virus-killing sun. At least we can remain comforted, knowing that we are not the first to fear our world is lost. If human beings overcame the waste land of World War I, then we can overcome COVID-19.

  • Chloe BrzoskaEvery day I scroll through the Center for Disease Control’s COVID-19 test data on the Connecticut government’s website. I skim the daily increase in cases and deaths, checking specifically the towns where my friends and I live, and oversee the decline of hospitalization. But it’s clinical, idle research, my mindset akin more to a person playing a trivial game on their phone than someone staying informed on a global pandemic. I scroll through:

    “Oh look, 58 more deaths added to the high score.”
    “Heh, still at 19 cases. Burlington’s looking good. Harwinton better pick up their social distancing though if they want even a chance of winning.”
    “Natural selection: 1. Humanity: 0.”

    I understand what these numbers represent. The death, the fear, the tragedy. So why don’t I feel overwhelmed or upset? Is it okay to be unaffected? Social distancing is nothing more than a logical strategy to me; The tighter the quarantine, the less suffering there is. Sound reasoning, but that’s all it is. An analytical argument where empathetic motivation barely exists at all.

    In fact, practice of social distancing carries strong connections to the behavioral concept that people are selfish by nature. The logic is simple. If human behavior is dictated by positive or negative reinforcers and punishments, then the next natural step is to conclude that a person will never do, say, or even feel something that doesn’t benefit them in some manner. After all, who enjoys being around someone who’s crying? This behavioral practice holds true with our current social distancing protocols under COVID-19. Obeying said rules of this pandemic ensures the survival of your family and possibly even the human race. Showing kindness to loved ones continues a mutually beneficial exchange, while shying away from strangers and acquaintances serves more to avoid punishing social consequences and to hasten along our own comfort.

    Perhaps altruism is just not in our nature. Or perhaps I’m just using radical behaviorism to justify my cynical rationalization in a world containing truly empathetic and emotionally attuned people.

    Regardless, I’m certainly not an unfeeling robot. I naturally have experienced various emotions throughout my life. The predominant one, I’m thankful to say, is happy. It’s not difficult for me to maintain an upbeat, optimistic attitude. This disposition has earned me the friend group roles of the antidepressant, the anchor, and even simply the sane one who is emotionally stable. But we’re in a pandemic, so I wondered if maybe that would break my cycle of always being the “okay” one.

    It did not. I’ll admit, the transition itself between college and home was jarring, and there’s been a few mood dips. A twinge of sympathy when my mom tells me that an entire family died; a hint of wistful reminiscence for my friends; a stab of guilt when I bend social distancing expectations or think about my own apathy. But I don’t dwell on sadness, or anger, or even missing loved ones. It’s gotten to the point where I forget we’re even in a pandemic. I know I’m not alone; Gary Shteyngart in a recent New Yorker article wondered about “how quickly [he] can get used to this.” However, he takes this line of questioning further, questioning if he’s even “allowed to smile anymore.” This is where my path differs. I think it’s okay to smile. If you’re happy, you’re happy, and you should be thankful for that. But is it actually morally okay to think this way? I have friends and parents who are overwhelmed and stressed by this “apocalypse” to the point of frustration or tears. And yet here I am, drawing in my room, talking and laughing to myself, and I am happy.

    The James-Lange Theory of Emotion states that after an event, we experience a physical reaction like sweating or an elevated heart rate, which our brain then perceives as an emotion.  While I don’t think this means we subconsciously pick what emotion we’re experiencing, I do believe it could apply to actively choosing to feel an emotion or not. I doubt people are choosing to be sad, afraid, or stressed.   But choosing to feel everything can be more detrimental than helpful; it can leave you crippled with fear or drowning in sorrow, especially during a time of major stressors like a pandemic. If you have the capability to use logical thinking and sheer stubbornness to maintain a happy disposition, I see no reason why you shouldn’t. At the very least, I know I have unwittingly for years.

    Right now, I am happy. I don’t mind online classes, working out from home, or playing Dungeons and Dragons over Discord rather than in person. My friends and boyfriend are merely a text away, and in their absence, I’ve actually bonded with my family. My days are open, endless, and free of pressure to socialize. To me, the status quo is pretty nice, and I could live like this for a while yet. The moral connotations of this mindset are certainly debatable, but the fact remains that your individual happiness is not contingent on the wellbeing of others. The world revolves neither around my happiness nor anyone else's suffering; it revolves around the sun, and that is a very comforting thought.

  • Liam HemingwayI recently underwent a difficult challenge in many modern people’s lives: college. It was particularly hard for me because although I have a sister, we were born nine years apart and have been described as “two only children” by our parents. This solitary upbringing meant that being around so many new people all the time was hard for me, and I prayed endlessly for the semester to end for me to go home. Then, halfway into the second semester, God answered my prayers.

    At home, my mind is as clear as the sky, and I am as happy as the animals that have recently reclaimed their homeland. Life is quiet. Peaceful. Simple. I cannot say the same for my online classes though. Although I read it over a month ago, while I was still at school, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot returns to my mind as I listen to my professors’ scratchy microphones: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?” This quotation plagues my mind. I find no rubbish, I find no stones, I find nothing but bones. Buried beneath the earth, the roots sing, a sweet song, a mortal ring. And as the roots, like perverted barky leeches, clutch and entangle my kin, snapping their bones to suck out the marrow through their mouthless skin, I am transported to a new world.

    Not one of barren city streets, but one of elves and magic. I battle to conquer the world and put down my enemies, spreading my tentacles like a plague. My character's motto is “I fight for the greater good.” Being home proves to me that I can never get bored of video games or watching TV for that matter, as I spend 8 hours or more a day doing one of those things, and I absolutely love every minute of it. I can play with friends or alone, on my computer, or my TV; the possibilities are endless. I have been watching The Witcher recently, and just as I was pondering Tessa de Vries scene with the eels, the screen in front of me fades to black for a moment. It is typical of loading screens in Total War: Warhammer 2 but in my mind, I do not see simple blackness; I see a man stand in a cement building, maybe a factory. Out of his shirt crawls a giant, wet, oily, black worm. A second comes, then a third. As each one falls, a soft splat is heard. They slither across the grass, killing everything in their path until they tunnel into the soil that turns to sand, killing my enemy, but taking my world, my plan. Then the same bloody roots that desecrated my brethren grow, fighting the blackness, and winning. What are the roots that clutch?

    I now find myself back in class, this time in calculus. We are rushing through the last unit online and both those factors compounded make the experience very difficult. I often tell people that now that I am home, life is easy, but school is hard, which is the opposite of when I was at college.  I have gone on long walks with my mother recently at a place called the Hillstead Museum. It is an old estate that was so large, it now operates like a park with its intertwining trails in the woods, around ponds; there is even a little barn with sheep and their newborn lambs. You know what they say, from death comes life, in this case a little too literally.  My mom and I talked about current events, philosophy, and especially the beauty of the world around us. I wondered, why can't every place look like this? What is stopping us from letting the world be beautiful? All we must do is sit still.   Nature can be harsh and sometimes even cruel, but she is a fair lady and the truest embodiment of good that I have ever physically witnessed. And because of that, I must trust her, as nothing in this world is more worthy.

    I am as happy as can be. I see my whole family every week, my friends every few days. I have bonded with my parents more; I have individual freedom. Everything is becoming right, not wrong. There are no more stones, there is no more rubbish. But there once was, and we saw what grew, what doom ensued. Now there are only bones. So then, I suppose the real question is what branches grow out of this fleshy bone? And do we prefer the branches from stony rubbish, is it the happier fall? I do not know where we should grow our garden, but I do know that sometimes, the best thing a flower can do for us, is die.

    published in CT Mirror (Date TBD)

  • Avan SheridanI think it’s time for me to be concerned about my sleep schedule. I have become nocturnal- waking in late afternoon, only falling asleep when the rest of my family wakes. April passed in a blur of missed emails and calls, guiltily turned off notifications, the memorization of how my room looks from my bed. It takes minutes to stand without pain swelling and roaring like a wave. I look like a ghost, feel like a ghost, limbs fading at the edges. If I try hard enough, I might even be able to walk through a wall.

    It has not always been like this- it would have been impossible, to be half-bedbound and a student, a good student.

    A lot of impossible things have become reality.

    Take the cough. There is an ever-present cough in my house, dimly rattling in the corners and tiptoeing through the shadows, flowing out of my parent’s bedroom and wherever my mother happens to be working. It is a reminder of pandemic, of empty streets and flooded supermarkets, of the masks and gloves that lay waiting on the kitchen table. There is no way of telling whether this cough means danger, of telling how the cough will spread. I would worry about catching the cough, if it weren’t for the way that my spine blooms with pain each morning, my muscles wound with barbed wire, my head a supernova each time I move. I would worry if there wasn’t a larger issue at hand.

    How do I get out of bed today?

    Despite the obvious problem, it feels like an invalid answer, an excuse. I feel like I am faking it, that my pain is not real, that the issues I have dealt with for years now, since before my first therapy visit, that have only gotten harder in the past year, when my life changed after an assault that left me unable to sleep for months, an underlying narrative exists that others must have it worse and I should be fine.

    And yet, the pain persists, and leaving my bed remains hard.

    When I wake up, bright and confused at the soft hour of three in the morning, cough an echo in the creaks of the house, the longing hits for the first time, the wish for human contact, for my friends to be more than videos on a screen once a week and text messages that pile up unanswered. A yearning to lie in the sun surrounded by the people I miss most, to huddle on a bed in fall with a group watching a movie while rain pounds on the windows, to speed down a highway with windows down and music blaring and my best friend next to me, to be crowded in a music hall next to everybody I don’t know and feel connected in the special way that comes through speakers and singing words back to each other. It is the first time I cry in quarantine.

    It takes less energy than I would have imagined making the playlist. To collect memories, press them like flowers between paper, fit into minutes of music. I press play, and I press it again, and again, and again, until the sun has melted the dew from the grass, and I hear my family outside.

    It does not give me more energy, but it makes the day easier. I answer a phone call, I turn my notifications back on. I stay out of my room a bit longer. The blinds in my room stay open, even when the light hurts my eyes.

    The next few days pass like this. Pain swells and roars, but if I hear something that makes me think my friends are near, for a second, I can breathe.


    The first time I have the energy to take the keys from the table and get completely dressed and presentable and slip on a mask and walk to the car, it has been weeks since the playlist was made. The door clicks behind me, cough silenced for now.

    I let intuition guide me- I pass through empty streets, a closed high school, winding backroads where cars lie dormant in driveways. I let myself get lost. I wear yellow-tinted glasses, because I found that it makes the world look that much more filled with sunshine, that much more lovely.

    I stay out for hours. The world is empty, but there are familiar turns, buildings I know that are now empty, parking garages that feel liminal when they are not filled, parks and fields that run rampant with wildflowers and dandelions and tall summer grass. They blur together, alongside the past two months, softened and fused with what came before and whatever can come after.

    I play the playlist. I see my friends in the car with me, how they would react to the songs. When it finishes, I play it again.

    When the warm light becomes a harsh buzz, when the speaker volume must be turned down, when I find that I am subconsciously slowing down, is when I climb up the driveway. The mask goes in the garbage, the hands are scrubbed meticulously, and by the time I let gravity win and I land on the mattress the energy I have left is small, hiding in corners and nervously shuffling its feet in the shadows. Rest is what is needed now, aching joints and flaming nerves and static head chorusing their agreement.

    That’s fine. I’ll find a reason to get up soon.


    Works Referenced

    “Isolation: The First Half of 2020”, the playlist made

    published in CT Mirror (date TBD)

  • Kyle GarneauI’ve paced my room for twenty minutes before I sat down to write. The anxiety that fills my head is not new, but it’s different. My house is eerily quiet; I’m alone while my parents and brother go to work with a newfound uncertainty: the uncertainty of whether or not they will succumb to the coronavirus. I don’t hear the airplanes overhead anymore and there’s hardly a car on the street. However, on my social media pages I see people disregarding social distancing and enjoying intimate moments with their friends. I don’t wish ill harm upon anyone, but the fact that these risk-takers may never suffer repercussions really infuriates me. My mother, a bus driver at a senior living home has been made into an impromptu nurse. She takes people’s temperatures, delivers mail to their rooms, and does other tasks not in her job description. She’s also an ex-smoker in her mid 50s with high blood pressure. There’s been 7 deaths at the home and around a dozen cases. If my mother gets the coronavirus, she has a good chance of dying. All the while, my grandmother of 94 years on my dad’s side is currently in the concluding days of her life. Because of the virus, I won’t get the chance to say my traditional goodbyes. I want to hug and physically comfort and be comforted by my family, but out of caution we can’t do that. Glasses shed and tears streaming down my face, I ask the empty room, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

    Suffering has always been part of the human experience. Religion and secular thought have both attempted to answer that question. Monotheistic religions typically believe that their God allows for suffering to happen for some greater good. I was raised Catholic, so I consider what Catholicism says about suffering. Father Mike Schmitz, a Catholic priest of the YouTube channel, “Ascension Presents”  explains why God allows for suffering. In the video “Why does God Let Bad Things Happen?” Father Schmitz explains the concept of God’s perfect and permissive will: “God’s perfect will are things that God wills to happen… God’s permissive will is what he allows to happen.” So to Catholics, their suffering is part of God’s plan to allow some greater good to occur.

    When I was in middle school, my uncle was hospitalized after a tragic, but nonlethal motorcycle accident.  When I confided in my catechism teacher about how I was feeling, she responded that “Everything happens for a reason.” She never explained, just like the countless others who have used that line since, what exactly that reason is. It is always up to me to find a reason for myself. I learned very young that the world is cruel and unfair and that those reasons can be hard to come by. I imagine many people suffering from the Spanish flu felt similar to how we feel today. Europe had just come out of a war where millions died and, much like me, they had moved away from their religious and traditional past.  Many soldiers felt a sense of purposelessness with their suffering. In fact, they even took the melody of Auld Lang Syne and sang the words “We’re here because we’re here.”

    As I’ve grown older, I have grown more distant from my religion. However, many of the lessons I was taught still stick with me. I am good because to me it is the right thing to do. Many of my principles now are based on secular ethics. It is rational to be good and fair to people because if everyone acted in self-interest there would be constant chaos and the inevitable destruction of society.  My grandmother is bedridden and relies on my aunts to do her shopping and her live-in aide to produce her meals. So, when I first saw videos of people hoarding supplies during this crisis, my heart sank. These people, are probably good, loving, decent people. However, their actions go directly against what both the major religious and secular teachings have taught us. Greed and selfishness are both sinful and morally wrong. There are people like my grandmother all over this country and yet, in a flurry of panic, they are forgotten as people buy an abundance of things that they don’t need.

    My grandmother passed away as I wrote this last paragraph. I wish I could find comfort in church, in ethics, in anything. The world is unrelenting, but like Camus said existence is an act of rebellion, and I will wave my fist in righteous indignation. I love for love’s sake and hold on to every piece of perseverance I have because that is all I can do.  Like others, I sit at home balancing my love and my frustration with my family. I will march on. This isn’t how I wanted to end my essay, but much like the displacement because of the coronavirus, life presents us with unexpected suffering, but we find a way through it. I can’t say goodbye to my grandmother, but I can still see my parents when they come home for their newly deemed “essential” jobs. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people; they just do.

    published in Manchester Journal Inquirer, May 30, Weekend Edition

  • Benjamin DionneOn February 24th, 2020, my grandmother passed away. She was one of the most influential people in my life and I was shattered when I got the news. Though she had been declining in health for three years before her death, I never really considered what my life would be like without her. I came home from college the next day to join my family in mourning. We sat down with the rabbi of my grandparents’ synagogue and told him everything he needed to know about the life of my grandmother, how she dropped out of college to raise her family, how she was the world’s greatest hostess, and how she loved her grandchildren more than life itself. The next day we lowered her into the ground, surrounded by her family and her closest friends. Later, sitting shiva in my packed house, we shared food and stories, and watched the memorial candle burn down. At the end of the night, looking around at all the people who loved and cared for her, I smiled; I realized she died knowing how loved she was. 

    This was all about two weeks before the implementation of widespread quarantine in the United States. Losing a family member so close to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic has made me think about my attitudes towards death, as well as those of the people around me. How do we respond to mass death as a society?    

    It is so easy to understand this pandemic as a set of statistics. Reciting the numbers is somehow more comforting than thinking about what they mean. 80,000 American people are dead now because of this virus. We have had 1.3 million of the world’s 3.9 million cases, despite making up less than 5% of the global population.  So many lives lost in a matter of weeks, and yet our attitudes towards this death are pointedly different than instances of mass death in recent American history. New York Times journalist Peter Baker points out in his April 30 article, “Amid a Rising Death Toll, Trump Leaves the Grieving to Others,” that we as a nation have yet to truly acknowledge the devastation this pandemic has caused: “As the death toll from the coronavirus over eight weeks surpasses the total American Military casualties in eight years of major combat in Vietnam, Mr. Trump has led no national mourning.”  After Vietnam we honored the lives of those we lost with memorials, with services of nationwide mourning, and yet somehow in a time of more lives lost, we have yet to publicly address the impact of these deaths on the American people. Why the difference?

    Even I have found my reactions towards death changing in the midst of the pandemic. I lost two more people who were important to me because of the coronavirus. These people were kind and loving to me and my family for many years, but their passing affected me quite differently than my grandmother’s death had only a month before. I was sad for their deaths, but there was no way for me to express it. There was no funeral service I could attend, no gravesite I could lay flowers upon, no family I could console. In this time of tragedy, we were denied all of the traditions that comprise grieving. We could not come together as a community to celebrate their lives. Instead it was as if they had joined the ranks of the 80,000 people in the statistic, defined not by the way they lived, but by the way they died. I was confused with myself. What could I do to honor these people whom I loved so much, in the same way we had honored my grandmother? 

    T.S. Eliot continues his description of the society. The next lines in The Waste Land read, “He who was living is now dead/ We who were living are now dying/ With a little patience.”  In our current situation, we are the people of The Waste Land. Those of us not infected are still plagued by fear and uncertainty. We are living, but the world around us is still dying and all we can do is wait it out. We can’t think about remembering the dead in the ways we always have, because people continue to die at alarming rates. Our rituals of mourning have been halted by the pandemic. We can’t take part in the restorative act of communal memory, our distinct ability to bring our loved ones back by sharing the stories of their lives. 

    It is important for us as a nation to keep in mind the humanity behind the rising numbers, even though we feel trapped in a Waste Land-esque situation. Someday the deaths will slow down and we will be able to live again. And when we do, we must figure out, as a society, how to mourn for those who we could not honor during the pandemic. When we who were living are no longer dying, how will we remember the dead?

    published in Manchester Journal Inquirer, May 30, Weekend Edition