A door leading to the outside world. AUTUMN MACZKO | THE ALL STATE

When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, I, like a lot of my fellow Govs, was enjoying spring break.

While everyone else anxiously awaited the guidance of health care professionals on what the next move might be to tackle a new and rapidly dangerous virus, I was busy partying in Texas with my friends. Not a care in the world; just the beach, the sun and good times aloud.

Until the day we left to head back home. That’s when the world shut down, and thus my participation in the outside world for almost a year and a half. 

I remember wistfully thinking about how maybe things will go back to normal in only two weeks. That’s what some were saying, but then things got worse.

First, it was an extension of spring break, then it was shutting down campus for the whole spring semester, then it was allowing people back on campus but only on certain days.

As someone who lives hours away from campus and had to care for my immunocompromised parents, I started to feel trapped inside my home. I dared not leave, especially without my mask; the thought of contracting the virus and infecting my loved ones with it was too much to bear. 

I became reclusive and even started to avoid close friends from my hometown. Things were getting worse, and I felt like the reality I had known was over and a new terrifying reality had emerged from it.

There was a rainbow after the storm, however. In the spring of 2021, when vaccines were becoming readily available, my family and I got vaccinated and — with the assurance of cases going down and the buildup protection of the vaccine — I was confident I would return to campus in the fall.  

After 17 months, I settled back into my dorm and resumed my college experience.

The first few days felt strange. Seeing people’s unmasked faces again made me feel like an elderly time traveler sent to a bygone era he only remembers in fragmented memories.

In class and indoors, however, reality came back to me. The clear faces I had just seen moments ago now had masks covering them, jolting me back to the fact that things weren’t 100 percent like they were prior to spring of 2020.  

The weight of COVID still hung over everyone. Even though “six feet apart” was no longer the rule, being near individuals seemed against the rules.

I remember walking into the library my first time back on campus and instinctively sitting far away from others, like I was trained to not be near humans as a dog might be trained not to bite. Just seeing people sitting next to other people made me think I was in another world, where the arbitrary rules that had been in place for a year and a half were nonexistent. 

The good thing was at least I could finally see the professor with my own eyes, instead of through a computer screen. Hearing them lecture in-person had more of an impact than having them teach over Zoom.

I started to feel like I was connected in the class again and that I could express myself with my classmates and discuss the material with my professor. A more open and thoughtful environment made me happy to be back in class. 

I struggled with getting back into the swing of things: going to class, going to the cafeteria and going to the library were challenges early on.

Not long after that, though, I started to feel like I was a normal college student again, like the world hadn’t gone through a once-in-a lifetime event. Like there wasn’t a disease that had ravaged my country and killed more of my fellow countrymen than our Civil War had.

I realize that there are still people suffering and that the pandemic is far from over, but just going to and from places outside without a mask on made me think maybe, just maybe, things are getting better.