COVID-19 BLOG: Living in ‘The Twilight Zone’

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Alexa Jurado created a collection of prints documenting her time on campus during the 2019-20 academic year. Photo courtesy of Alexa Jurado.

“There is a sixth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow — between man’s grasp and his reach; between science and superstition; between the pit of his fears and the sunlight of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that might be called the Twilight Zone.”

Imagine this: It’s morning and it’s eerily quiet. Roads are empty and nearly every establishment is closed. The few people you do happen to see are wearing face masks and rubber gloves. No one says hello in passing anymore, not even an awkward smile. That 24-hour diner in your hometown? It’s closed for the first time since anyone can remember. 

Except you don’t have to imagine it — it’s real life. 

Quarantine, social distancing and isolation — they don’t feel real. It’s as if I’m in an episode of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone,” minus the music. I could’ve never imagined a time in which I wouldn’t be able to hug my grandparents, in which the grocery store shelves are consistently empty, in which every moment spent outside my home feels like a potential risk. 

Radio, television, newspapers and magazines all scream one thing. I’ve grown all too familiar with televised press conferences with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, President Donald Trump and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force like Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx. I can’t honestly say I knew who Andrew Cuomo was before this hit.

The days are long, and then somehow too short. Communication is almost exclusively virtual. And despite social media, texts, phone calls and video chats, I feel so disconnected. 

I can’t focus on my schoolwork. I struggle to meet deadlines. I’m constantly stressed and busy but seldom have much to show for it. I don’t know how to learn from online classes, and my brain feels too jumbled to organize my life the way I did at Marquette. I didn’t think sitting at my dining room table to do homework would ever feel so foreign.

I miss the sound of Milwaukee traffic from my bedroom window. I miss the lake. I miss passing familiar faces on Wisconsin Avenue. I miss people watching at the Colectivo on Prospect. I miss dorm room movie nights. I even miss studying at the library and agonizing over assignments with classmates. I miss my friends, my professors, my co-workers. 

I asked my mom last week, “Is it selfish of me to feel sad?”

Because I’m healthy. My family’s healthy. My friends are healthy. I don’t have to worry about where to live or what to eat. My tuition is covered by scholarships. I continue to get paid by the university through federal work study. There’s so much to be thankful for, but I feel overwhelmingly sad.

And when I moved out of my dorm room, out of the building where I had met my best friends and called home for nearly two years, I cried. I didn’t think I would, but the tears fell. Maybe it was because of the abrupt end to a year that had helped me find confidence, a year that assured me I was right where I was supposed to be. Maybe it was because I knew things would never be quite the same. Maybe it was because I’m more sentimental than I’d like to admit. 

Alexa Jurado sits in her empty residence hall room after moving out during the spring 2020 semester. Photo courtesy of Alexa Jurado.

It’s not just about missing Marquette, either. When I see once-full parking lots now empty, read about small businesses closing their doors for good and watch videos of grandparents seeing their new grandchild for the first time through a window, my heart breaks a little bit. It’s my mom staying up until 4 a.m. to file for unemployment. It’s knowing that millions upon millions of other Americans have had to do the same. It’s not knowing when this will all end. 

I live my life with an “everything works out the way it’s supposed to” mentality. But now it’s hard to see the good in these circumstances. It’s hard to be hopeful, to stay positive. It’s hard to not ask, “Why?”

But as I sat in my car in an empty train station parking lot, watching the clouds turn colors while the sun set, I think about the amazing ways I’ve seen communities come together. Moms are sewing and donating masks for hospitals and fire departments, restaurants are giving free meals to senior citizens, and neighbors are cheering on and thanking health care workers as they leave for the day. Local breweries are making hand sanitizer, hotels are becoming hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are pooling their resources to find a vaccine.

The sun sets as Alexa Jurado watches from the train station parking lot. Photo courtesy of Alexa Jurado.

So, as wary as I feel, and as I grieve the loss of my sophomore year, I know we’ll be OK. I hear we won’t be back to “normal” for at least a little while longer, and many don’t know how much of our “normal” will remain. And I hope that’s true. I hope our new “normal” is kinder and more understanding. I hope we keep the gratitude we feel for the things we often take for granted. I hope we have greater awareness of each other and appreciate the ways in which we are connected. I hope we celebrate our differences, check our privileges and stand assured in the fact that we got through this together.

This won’t last forever, though the future has never felt so uncertain. Every episode of “The Twilight Zone” has to come to an end.

This story was written by Alexa Jurado. She can be reached at alexa.jurado@marquette.edu.