We all have that day — that moment — when we realized things might never be the same
I swallowed the lump in my throat as I wiped what seemed like a thousand ketchup bottles and prepared them to put away. We could no longer keep condiments on the table because of a virus we called Corona.
Corona had recently made its way to the U.S. and reportedly had an astonishingly high death rate. As of yet, we knew nothing about it. We were doing this because we wanted people to feel safe — not because we knew it would make them safe. We didn’t really know anything, yet.
One of the servers, Alexis, stopped and asked me what was wrong. I looked up in silence for a moment, not sure what to say.
“I don’t know yet”, I said, thoughtfully.
She started working on my pile of ketchup with me.
“Are you worried about the virus?”
“I’m not sure”, I replied, “I just feel like something really bad is about to happen. It feels like a collective pending doom.”
She gave me that half and almost inside out smile — you know, the one that’s not a smile, where you tighten your lips and your chin wrinkles a bit. It’s like an almost smile. It doesn’t imply happiness, rather something more like mutual respect or a nod of understanding with best wishes. I could see the fret in her brow.
“Well, I hope everything gets better, I am not even making enough money to buy diapers”, she said, as she looked around at the empty restaurant.
My heart fractured as I thought about how many servers weren’t making enough money to support their families.
“If it helps, you are welcome to take dinner home tonight for your family. I wish there was more I could do.”
Her eyes lit up.
“Yes, absolutely, tenders and sides”, I replied as I headed to the bar to greet the one customer that had just arrived.
“Hey, what’s up girl!”
It was one of our bar regulars, Greg. He was a true Texan Chicano, as he called himself, born and raised. (Texans say you aren’t truly Texan if you weren’t born there) He came in five times a week or more.
I gave him his usual, and he pointed to the TV.
“You know Trump’s about to come on…”
He pointed at the remote, and I handed it over. As he turned up the volume and put the press conference on, I sat down in a bar chair. I hadn’t watched one of these things since Obama became president.
Another table came in and requested to sit near the TVs. We all sat and waited for Trump to appear.
As the server rushed back with drinks for our new guests, all the big people from the White House shuffled onto the stage.
The server got out her pen, but the table looked at her and nodded as if to say, “It’s okay, let’s wait”. She sat down too, at a nearby booth, and we all sat in silence. The kitchen staff lined the ledge at the back of the bar. It had never been so quiet as we watched these important people get situated. We had all silently agreed that we would stop the operations of the restaurant, long enough to find out what was happening in our country.
I had never felt anything like this.
I had goosebumps everywhere, even my face. But not the happy kind. These were eerie goosebumps — ones that make you want to run to your bed and hide under the covers. It was as if we were all waiting to find out if the world was going to end.
So far, Corona had been nothing more than memes and political controversy, for most people. Trump, at this point, had only said it was a hoax. Many people were not taking it seriously. But there was some word of an outbreak in New York, and people were getting scared. This was the first big press conference. Things had just started to get weird. It was the moment that things would change for what would end up being forever.
As Trump began to speak, admitting our worst fears, I could feel the sadness sinking even lower among the ten or so of us. If Trump, who wanted to deny the virus for so long, was calling a National Emergency, then we must be in big trouble — one way or another. This we all knew. And we all knew that this was very bad.
Greg hugged me before he walked out that day. For the first time in years, it felt like we didn’t know if we would see each other again. And the same went for the team. No one said it, but you could see it in everyone’s somber eyes. And you could feel it in the hugs as we all parted ways. We never did see each other again.
Within two days, our restaurant shut down. At first, it was supposedly temporary. My boss, the General Manager, left notes under a rock by the front door, informing the team members that they were all out of work — overnight. Not even the courtesy of a phone call. And not only were we all out of work, but our whole life — what we did every day — abruptly ended. The people we spent time with every day for years, people we loved, we would not get to say goodbye to and may never see again.
A week later, corporate notified us that our restaurant was closed completely.
Within a couple of weeks, Texas was on lockdown, and there was a curfew. People were fighting each other over the short supply of toilet paper. Only essential workers were supposed to go out. New York began losing an ungodly amount of people every day, and no one had enough PPE. There weren’t enough doctors and nurses, and the ones we had started getting sick. Then, the shortage of ventilators. Hospitals began to overflow, and there were so many dead bodies that they had to carry them away in ice trucks.
And so it began. Or, more accurately, so it ended. The world as we knew it was gone for good — even if we didn’t know it yet.
Written by Holly Kellums