By Troy Headrick
I’ve been AWOL for about a month. Now that I’ve shown back up for duty, I need to begin with an explanation. And an apology (or two).
I’d like to accurately recreate the experiences I’ve had these past several weeks, but everything blurs together in my mind. About three weeks or so ago, the college I work for dismissed for Spring Break. Of course, before we went on holiday, there was lots of talk about COVID-19, but the virus seemed to be a kind of abstraction. Then, lo and behold, there was a case in San Antonio, Texas, the place where I live. The carrier was identified as someone who’d been abroad. This reinforced the notion—a widespread kind of thinking among Americans not that long ago—that we still had time, that the sickness hadn’t yet rooted itself here, that it was something foreign.
I had lots of plans to write blogs and do artwork over Spring Break, but my plans all went out the window. Instead of writing and making art, I spent hours in front of the TV and online. Day in a day out, from the moment I got up until I went to bed late at night, I sat transfixed in front of the television. When I wasn’t watching news about the inexorable spread of the virus, I was reading about growing pandemic. I felt this very deep need to learn everything I could about the sickness and how it was affecting people in every country of the world. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn and the less I felt I knew.
Then, suddenly, it all started seeming very apocalyptic. I felt like a character that had been given a part in a dystopian science fiction movie. I began having strange dreams and found myself shying away from people the few times I left the house. One morning my wife began to cut up old articles of clothing to make homemade masks. By the time she’d gotten out her needle and thread, I’d already been days into the act of washing my hands with so much soap and hot water that I’d developed something akin to a cleanliness compulsion. Of course, after cleaning them so well and so often, I didn’t want to take the chance to dirty them up again, so I taught myself how to open doors using only my elbows.
Of course, after Spring Break, we never went back to our physical workplace and have been doing our jobs remotely ever since. Now, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, I spend hours sending and receiving emails. A few times a day I speak into my telephone and hear disembodied voices speaking back. There are times when these voices are accompanied by faces that I can see on my computer monitor. A thing called Zoom has given me the opportunity to reestablish my belief that human beings do, indeed, exist, out there, in the void.
Those are the facts of my current life. The facts are easy to record, but what do they mean? I’m not doing journalism here; I’m doing something else. I feel like I want to go beyond the facts, to see the bigger picture.
In some ways, this time period reminds me of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. When I compare this experience to what I lived through during those scary days now nearly a decade ago, I see some interesting similarities. Then, as now, I felt hamstrung as a writer, which explains why I wrote very little about the uprising while it was taking place. Similarly, this is the first thing I’ve written in about a month. This points out how living through a particularly memorable period is one thing; writing about it is another. Even now, as I try to finish this blog, I struggle with direction. Where do I want to take this piece? What am I trying to say? What is my focus? What do I want readers to get from this?
The fact that these questions are front and center in my mind are indications that I’m still struggling to make sense of everything that’s taking place right now. Yesterday, when I sat down in front of my laptop to begin this piece about life during COVID-19, I felt like I knew what I wanted to say, but with each passing sentence, I feel less and less sure. Now that I near the end, I feel like I have failed miserably.
So, I finish with two apologies. The first one is me saying sorry for having been absent for so long. The second one is my apology for having tried to write a piece with some purpose and coherence only to have it fall apart at the exact moment I was putting it together.
Thanks for reading whatever this is. I look forward to your responses.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found here.