Special to the Panther Press by Dee Henry, sixth-grade teacher and journalism adviser of the Cambridge Springs Elementary School Blue Devils’ Daily (Mrs. Henry is a former Saegertown teacher and yearbook adviser.)
Today is Monday, and the clock chimes eight times. Steam rises from my coffee mug, catching the morning’s sun after it passes through a prism in my window. I watch the rainbow steam puff and curl before returning my gaze to the dim laptop screen. Riley snores, all four paws curled under her belly, and Phoebe lifts her nose off the floor to look up at me with a question in her eyes: “What are you doing here, mom?” The pink light of sunrise has turned to gold, and the guinea pig, unsure of her new home high atop a shelf in my living room, is quietly chirping. It’s so peaceful.
But yet, it’s eerie. Unsettling. I’m not supposed to be here. This isn’t a Snow Day. This wasn’t the plan.
Only three days ago, at this same time, my coffee was getting cold in the travel mug. Everything was normal, mostly. It was an in-service day, so my colleagues were working on some new materials and talking about how to incorporate them using the best practices for our students.
“Have you completed this unit, yet?” Cathy asked. “I think I’m going to do it next.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “The kids really liked it. Hey, since you’re here, how is your mom doing?”
Later we sat through the usual meetings in the auditorium, everyone following along with the speaker.
But Friday was different. People were checking their phones, and toggling through tabs on their laptops. First, it was the website we were discussing, then someone in front of me discreetly switched tabs to a news source, then on to Facebook, and their neighbor did the same. They leaned in and whispered.
“No, but according to this, the Governor will be speaking at 3 p.m. But as of now, Ohio and Maryland are shut down. Surely, it’s coming here, too.”
Three days ago, sitting in that auditorium, things were mostly normal, except for the undercurrent of excitement and uneasy energy that was the root cause of our distracted attention. Everybody was plugged in to it, and even though I couldn’t see it, I knew the electricity was there. Intelligent people were reading and attempting to make sense of simple words being forged into a new daily vocabulary: Quarantines. Travel Bans. Flattening the Curve.
It was 3 p.m. and I was in my classroom packing up to go home. A stack of papers I planned to grade over the weekend slid into my backpack, and I scanned the room to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything.
As I headed into the hallway, I heard it. It was like a simultaneous release of air, a breath finally being let out, but sucking air back in did not give relief from the uneasiness.
Then I heard it echo through the hallway. Someone had just checked the news before heading out. “Here it is, folks. According to the Governor, we are officially in a State of Emergency and shut down for two weeks!”
I felt goosebumps on the back of my arms. This was the announcement we had been wondering about all day. I watered my plants, put on my backpack, and loaded the squealing guinea pig and her supplies into the back of my car.
I didn’t know how long it would be before I would be back. I didn’t know what this would mean for parents in need of child care. I didn’t know what would happen if many of us were already carrying the virus and weren’t showing symptoms. I didn’t know. And that was hard.
Today is Monday. It’s been three days, and I still don’t know. Should I stay in my house? Should I avoid being near my elderly parents? Should I be checking my email? What about my students? Should I start cutting up old shirts since I’m down to two rolls of the most coveted commodity of the times – toilet paper?
I sip my coffee. It’s still hot, unlike Friday. The guinea pig, a stranger in this house, chirps and scuttles around her cage. Phoebe stands and rests her snout on my leg. I pat her on the head, and I turn my attention to what certainties I have.
I know I am going to live in this moment. I know that I can call my parents. I know that I have everything I need for right now. I am going to take the dogs for a walk today and enjoy the sunshine. I know I don’t have any answers to what lies ahead – what this all means for me and the people I care about.
We are creatures of habit, used to making blueprints of our lives and executing those plans as we see fit. I know today that is not what is going to happen. I know that I don’t know anything for certain. And that will be just fine for now.
Journalism Adviser, Saegertown Jr. Sr. High School