Picture this. You have just moved into your fourth-year apartment. You love how the layout of your room and living area turned out. You’re exhausted, but ready to start your last first-day-of-class with a coffee in your sweet, new setup. You’re driving to your favorite coffee shop and notice that the annoying “check tire pressure” light turns on. You aren’t even surprised. Of course something had to go wrong — it’s 2020.
This annoying orange light is not foreign to me. We love a good car ride in my family, so I am very used to pulling off at a gas station to fill my tires up with air. Pulling into an empty Speedway station was just another errand I needed to run.
As I got out of my car, I went around checking the usual suspects. My front tires read normally, my right rear was fine — and then I went around to my left rear and thought, “This doesn’t look right.” A nice, young man came out of his truck to ask if I needed help, noticing that my tire was almost completely flat. Me, being the strong, independent and resourceful young woman that I am, denied him of his assistance. You could also read that sentence as, “Me, being the clueless, stubborn and optimistic girl I am, thought I was going to be able to figure out how to change a tire whilst on the phone with my dad.”
I was not able to figure it out. Not because I haven’t been told how to change a tire. I have even helped my dad change a few. However, I had an industrial car jack then. I had all the time in the world to learn where all the tools went and in what order to go through this process. Now, I was sweating in the heat and frustrated with my dad’s over-the-phone instruction.
Luckily, I remembered that I passed an auto repair shop on the way to the gas station. And thankfully, the guys at this auto repair shop were so helpful and nice, even though it was very clear I was in over my head. But if this start to my last year doesn’t speak volumes about 2020, I don’t know what does.
2020 started out fine, great even. I was having an amazing time with my friends, starting a new semester, getting into the swing of things and gearing up for volleyball nationals. I was happy in my living situation, and I was excited about what was to come after spring break. All was well, but obviously I knew very little about what was to come.
However, I think I did my best to make the most out of the past five months. The thick of quarantine was a little difficult, but I made myself a flexible schedule and kept things interesting by going deeper into some of my hobbies like investigating new recipes.
When businesses started opening up, I started working again — safely, of course — and partaking in social distancing-approved activities like visiting the beach, taking up golf and hanging out with my small group of friends who had also stayed home with their parents. I had gotten things down pat during the brunt of quarantine — for the most part, at least.
Coming back to school, I knew that things would be pretty precarious. One slip up, and we could essentially shut down for the semester like we did in March. The lifestyle I was living at home, though, is not all that different than what I was expecting to do here. I could replace going to work with going to class, find places to hit the driving range, see some of my friends who have been in Charlottesville and still do some Charlottesville-specific things like Carter Mountain or hiking Humpback.
However, I am learning that things just don’t go as planned. As much as I thought that the lifestyle I was living at home wouldn’t be all that different here, I was kind of completely wrong. Going to class on Zoom is much different than being at work. At my country club job, every day is different. We are very safe, of course, but there is an excitement in having to physically go to work and see what each shift is going to be like.
Here, I have already noticed that I will be in a mundane routine. I have to log in to my Zoom classes at specific times, I do not have volleyball practices that keep things entertaining and if I want to see my friends, we have to ensure that we are being as safe as possible. This requires a lot of planning — and I am not a planner.
Clearly, this is not what I thought my fourth year would look like, even during a pandemic. I honestly thought I would be meeting in person for a lot more of my classes considering they are all less than 30 people. However, I am only supposed to have one in-person class, and that might not even happen. There is still so much uncertainty about the semester. Will fall sports still happen despite the Big Ten postponing all of their sports seasons? Will I figure out how to balance my time like I did at home?
But this is what I have learned about life by being back in Charlottesville this week. Just when you think you have it all ironed out, you get a flat tire. And no, I am not saying this semester is doomed. I am actually more excited by the fact that there is so much we don’t know about what this semester might look like, and therefore there is a lot more room for creativity and how we choose to spend our time.
The tire doesn’t stay flat forever. This semester is not unfixable. I have a lot of hope that this semester is just another flat tire we have to find a way to fix. And if I was ingenious enough to remember that there was an auto repair shop next door, I believe that anyone can figure out how to enjoy all that this semester still has to offer. Whether online from your hometown or in Charlottesville, I think this semester will have a lot to offer to us that we never could have anticipated.