“I don’t know, do you think I should just cancel the whole thing?” My friend Ella texted me one afternoon. I was on my couch with my laptop on my tummy, working my super cool new job that allowed me to work from home one day every two weeks. Wasn’t that a dream? Ella elaborated, “With all this Corona stuff in the news, maybe it’s not a good idea to go to a bar.”

I frowned. The hype had been building around this crazy virus lately, but it hardly seemed like a good enough reason to cancel her last day drinks. After all, she was moving across the country shortly thereafter to start at Master’s program. Who knew when the next time we’d all get to see each other would be. “No, I think it’s fine. It’s a special occasion!”

My boyfriend Ant, who was still working at the school where we’d all met wasn’t quite as confident. “They’re telling us on the news that we should be staying home. Maybe we should listen.”

“Yeah, but,” I replied as I put on my winter coat, “I don’t really think it’s a big deal. It’s just a virus. Those happen all the time. It’s not like it’s even really here in Leafton.”

Reluctantly, Ant agreed, and we walked together to the bar. Admittedly, I needed the night out. After working from home all day, staring at my laptop, sending emails that would go unanswered, I was feeling a little stir crazy. 

At the bar, it seemed like all anyone could talk about was this virus. 

“They’re extending March Break for elementary and high schools.”

“Damn, they’re lucky.” Ant mused. “I wish our school would shut down for a few weeks.”

“Percy says we won’t shut down,” said Charlotte. “Apparently they’re planning a meeting on Monday to get us ready in case we have to teach online.”

“Teach online?!” Our administrative coordinator, Tina exclaimed. “How would you manage that?”

“I guess through Zoom. I don’t know how we’d get the materials to them. I don’t know—“

“Guys it’s not going to happen,” Dennis interrupted. A bemused smirk rested across his lips. “Just think about it for a second. We can’t move the whole school online. If we have to close the school, then that’s it. The company is going under.”

An uneasy silence swept the table. Aside from Ella, her husband and I, everyone else still worked at the private language school. Dennis added, “but really, if the school shut down and we were all unemployed for a while, would it really be so bad?”

Now people were frowning. It was Charlotte who spoke up. “Yes, it would be really bad if we all lost our jobs. Some of us have rent to pay. Some of us can’t just move back in with our parents in the suburbs.”

I didn’t tell them that my manager was fairly certain the colleges and universities would be next to close. He’d mentioned a few days ago that he wasn’t even sure they’d be able to reopen by September. September! As if a virus could be so out of control that schools would have to shut down for six months! People were definitely exaggerating. Nothing like that had ever happened before, it definitely wasn’t happening now. Of course not. 

An uneasiness I’d never experienced washed over me as I gripped the bus’ handrail on our way home that night. Things were open, but we were disregarding public safety warnings. But a virus couldn’t shut down a city. I was sure of it.

Of course, things did shut down. First the elementary and high schools, then the colleges and universities and then the private language schools too. Then the stores and the malls and everywhere else shut down as well. The city, the country, the world went through multiple lockdowns, with only brief periods of new normalcy.

Schools did learn how to pivot to online teaching. That little language school not only survived the pandemic, it thrived. It was finally able to service English learners in their own home countries without having to travel to Canada. A whole new demographic of students, a whole new way to teach was borne out of this pandemic. 

And not only that, not one of the people at that table stayed at the school. First it was Dennis. I haven’t talked to him since. Rumour was he was let go in the early stages. But I suspect online teaching was just never going to work for him. Ant quit next, tried a whole new career for a change. Then Charlotte found work editing academic journals. Tina switched schools, and Ella ended up moving across the country in vain and completing her master’s program virtually. I left my job for a new permanently work-from-home position. Even Percy, the director of studies at our school, had found a new job by the time we started to emerge from the pandemic.

We didn’t know it then, but most of us wouldn’t see each other for at least another two years. We couldn’t foresee the unprecedented changes the pandemic would bring. The constant rules and regulations we would soon learn to adjust to. The unrelenting progress in the face of stagnation. We had absolutely no idea the ways in which our society as we once knew it, as it existed for fleeting moments in that bar so long ago, would slowly slip away from us and transform into a whole new world. 


9 thoughts on “The Before Times

  1. I was like you in that I thought the pandemic wouldn’t be such a huge deal, especially in its early stages…Then March 2020 hit, the world went into lockdown, and I got laid off from my job (in the airport, of all places, of course). It had been improbable, even absurd, to have thought that the pandemic would continue for so long (even to this day) and this will definitely define the 2020’s when we look back on it decades from now– fingers crossed we can look back on this and say we survived it!

    Liked by 2 people

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