When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I was faced with an impossible challenge. I was given less than 24 hours to decide if my best option was to move back home to my parents in an environment I was not safe in or move out of my college dorm to an undisclosed location. In the wake of our health care system’s unprecedented challenges, New York public colleges were taking control of their dorms and preparing them to be made into makeshift hospitals. The time to decide to leave was quickly approaching. In a tense and horrific zoom call filled with red eyes and puffy faces, we were told that by 5pm, the following evening, the entire building would need to be evacuated with the expectation that anything left behind would never be seen again.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I suddenly felt a door drop from below my feet, a door I had not ever consciously realized was there. My mind was racing, fear and adrenaline coursed through my veins, and the blood in my brain pounded heavily against my skull; the rhythmic thumping felt like it would drive me crazy. I could barely hold onto a single thought. Mourning the loss of a privilege I hadn’t consciously realized I had, planning for an utterly unforeseeable future, and tackling the mortality of the world I knew left me a ghost of the person I once was.
After a moment, my eyes adjusted to the watery filter my heart had placed on my vision, and the tinnitus I had from those shell-shocking words finally started to go away. I turned my camera back on; I wanted the school administration to see the damage it had done me. I had taken a quiet moment to myself, begun processing my emotions, and needed the information necessary to make my decision.
Other students sat in their unfamiliar rooms, with walls of different colors, parents, and siblings surrounding them as they were held in support. Mothers spoke up about refunds for the housing costs, and fathers grew red in the face, resentful of the lack of information available. The students who sat alone with identical white backgrounds all were silent and scared.
When it came time for me to talk, my mouth moved before I ever had the thought. “What’s stopping you from ripping us from this next location?” The call suddenly grew silent as the students who faced a similar alternative to me began questioning the same floor, dropping out from under them again. Then a flood of other questions. “If this is contagious, why is it smart to combine students from all over the five boroughs into one building?” “What borough will we be heading to?” “How long can we stay there?”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, everyone lost something. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I lost a sense of housing security for the first time. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I learned just how cruel this world really could be.
Jared Martino is a member of Young Invincibles’ New York Young Advocates Program.