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Four Years Gone By: A Pandemic Retrospective

Notifications came from school. Early pick-up. And then, none of us knew what was next. That whole week, I had been stocking up and standing in long supermarket lines. It seemed like all of us were. But when that day came, none of us knew what was next. The middle school had let out early that morning. There was just a bunch of young teens at the coffee shop by time I went in. And all of them together, oddly, were quiet. But I got my coffee and went about my day. Then the notifications came for us parents to pick up our kids from the elementary school. And none of us knew what was next.

The oldest of my two daughters was in 6th grade. She was supposed to have a Girl Scout campout that night. That was cancelled too, in “an abundance of caution.” So we went out for pizza with the Girl Scout Troop leader and her daughter and son. My wife and the Troop Leader chatted. Our kids meandered about. And I zoned out , watching quiet nervousness occurring, from table to table, across the whole restaurant.

For us, that was the start of the pandemic lockdowns outside San Diego — what began four-years-ago this week. We didn’t know then, but schools would stay closed for the rest of that year — and stay closed the whole year after. Then masking in school followed for the whole year after that.

It’s odd but understandable how many of us grownups wax nostalgic for the long walks we took then through neighborhoods we’d never been though before and haven’t visited since. And the bread loaves we baked from flour and yeast.  And how we stayed up late playing board games and cards, and binge-watched Tiger King and Umbrella Academy on Netflix. We finally cleaned out our garages, and we learned to riff a little on ukulele.

All of it, understandable, how since then we’ve wanted to leave all of it back in the past. After living so long in an odd juxtaposition — relegating our kids to uncertain and unending loneliness, while we embraced tranquility from that same solitude. So, here we are left with the need to forget, to move on, and simply turn the page from what we did and put our kids through in the pandemic.

I’ve tried best not to forget. I’m a writer, so I wrote. By the end of it, after opening my house to classmates and friends of my daughters, after teaming up with parents on Facebook to try to reopen the schools, after forcing my girls out the door on bicycles to break up the malaise of days, through more than two years of it, I wrote.

I’m surprised — but grateful — my daughters look back with fondness on the COVID Club we held at our house with their friends. They seem to have blocked out memory of tears after first learning schools would stay shuttered. That means I did my job in easing their pain. And I know other parents who did the same.

But that tightrope we walked them across while blindfolded, I don’t want to be in any rush to erase. We kept them sane and safe and connected, and I know far too many families who didn’t or couldn’t fare the same. Four years later, and I almost forgot that this was the week. God, it’s been so long, we’ve come so far since. I’m grateful to still remember it all, since I don’t want ever to return there again.

Jason James Barry is an award-winning journalist and author. As a time capsule of events as they occurred, in 2022 he published “A Season in Madness: Essays on The Year of Isolation, Introspection, and Closed Schools” so that readers could reflect and always remember.


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