When COVID-19 had other plans

CATEGORIES: Student Perspective
headshot of Meghan Custis
Meghan Custis, sophomore in public relations and technical communications

Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa State University has moved all spring 2020 courses to virtual instruction for the remainder of the semester. Students in Assistant Professor Laura Witzling and Assistant Teaching Professor Beth Haag’s Public Relations Writing (P R 321) courses wrote blog posts about how COVID-19 has affected their lives for the Greenlee School student experience blog. This post has been published with permission. 

By Meghan Custis, sophomore in public relations and technical communications

This spring, I unexpectedly learned a hard lesson about what matters to me and how our dreams can change. It happened fast, in mere days. Some things happen in the blink of an eye. Over the last month, I have never seen a cliché become truer.

In January, I registered for a week-long, cross-country hiking and camping trip. All semester I looked forward to this trip. I dreamed of seeing mountains and exploring new areas of the country and envisioned myself unzipping my tent every morning to see a new landscape ahead of me.

On March 11, I received a text from my mom warning me she thought my trip could be canceled. I immediately shook this off. I had been planning this for months, and I was leaving in just three days. The longer I thought, and the more I heard the buzz on campus, the more I began to doubt. The buzz was about more than spring break trips, though. It was about NCAA tournaments not allowing spectators, the MLB postponing the season altogether, states declaring a state of emergency, universities closing their doors.

My dream suddenly felt like some kind of nightmare. I had never seen anything like this before. Professors shared their fears and the unknowns for the remainder of the semester. Peers declared doubts and refused to believe it was possible that we would not see each other after our break. Anxious spring-breakers trudged on, fleeing south in vans, ready to escape an inescapable reality.

On March 11, at 1:11 p.m., we received our first update from President Wintersteen that we would not be returning for two weeks after spring break. Sitting in the Memorial Union, I heard the students studying around me all audibly react the way I did. This isn’t real. This has never happened. What does this mean for the rest of the semester? Consequently, my university-sponsored trip was canceled, and I packed my car to head home for an unexpected three weeks.

At home, I did the best I could to make the most of the situation. Okay, so I wasn’t going camping. But I could take the time to do other things I enjoyed. I planned when I would go to the gym, looked forward to visiting my favorite coffee shops, reached out to friends in Iowa City to arrange lunch or dinner dates, and looked for anything I could do to fill my now copious amounts of free time.

On March 16, I realized this situation was much more serious than I had let myself believe. While at the gym, I looked up to see every television turning to the same breaking news segment of President Trump addressing the nation. The gym I was standing in would be required to close in 40 minutes for at least two weeks. The same would apply to restaurants, coffee shops, bars, etc. In just a few days the same would apply to “non-essential businesses” like salons and small shops.

My boyfriend, Tony, was the only person I could see outside of my family. We passed our time learning to play chess, going for long walks, baking items from scratch, watching movies and waiting for the two weeks to be over.

On March 18, we received the unsurprising email that Iowa State would continue online instruction for the duration of the spring semester. Another aspect of my life, canceled. Minutes after receiving the email I told my family I needed some time alone and laced up my running shoes. I ran to a creek near my house and threw rocks into the water as hard as I could. I ran up and down hills avoiding tears of frustration. Nothing felt right.

On March 20, I drove to Ames to move my belongings out of the sorority house I share with 55 other women. I saw three other people as I packed frantically, wanting to be done with the emotional day as soon as possible. My mom and I packed everything within an hour, and I waved goodbye to Iowa State in my rear-view mirror.

On March 28, Tony called me to let me know his parents were no longer allowing him to leave the house. Neither of us knows when we will see each other in person again.

When I look back at all these dates each big moment is seared into my mind. It hurts to recall the days that confuse me the most, like the day I came home with everything I own and accepted that this is a new reality I have to adapt to. Mixed into each terrible day is the news playing quietly in the background delivering more statistics, more predictions, more haunting tales that are hard to believe as true.

There are other memories, though, that I can choose to see in all of this.

There is the last sleepover I had with my friends on March 13, laughing all night and reminiscing about all the fun we had this year. There is the next morning on March 14 when we all hugged goodbye and waved from the doorstep of our house teary-eyed.

There is March 20 when the wedding we were supposed to attend could only be celebrated with 10 people in attendance. We joined many of our friends in the parking lot of the little white church to honk and cheer from our cars when the bride and groom left the church hand in hand.

There is also March 20 when my mom and I arrived home nearly 8 hours after we left to retrieve my belongings,  and my dad and sister had “painted us the beach” in our basement to cheer everyone up. We had a “beach party” in our floppy hats and flip flops with a space heater by our side.

There is every weekday that my family and I deliver meals through the Salvation Army to those who cannot leave their homes. (Don’t worry, we don’t come into contact with anyone — we leave meals right on doorsteps.)

There is March 30 when, with my dad, I began construction on my new garden in the backyard. I am now patiently awaiting my seedlings to sprout and my garden gnomes to arrive in the mail.

My dream looks much different now than it did on March 11. I dream of the day I can hug my friends again. I dream of the way we’ll laugh telling each other what we did to pass the time. I dream of sitting lazily on the couch with Tony. I dream of walking through my favorite coffee shop full of people. I dream of going to Mass and being able to give the sign of peace to everyone around me. I dream of seeing my extended family. I dream of how I’ll tell my kids one day that the daily inconveniences of life are what make life beautiful and that we should never take them for granted.

Meghan Custis is studying public relations and technical communications and minoring in general business. She works as a campus visits student associate for the Office of Admissions. She is a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority and enjoys spending her time exploring the great outdoors, being the best friend she can be, and reading good books.