QC Life in the New Normal Writing Project: Phase II

This project has allowed community members to express themselves through writing about how they are feeling, coping, and managing to live through this unexpected, life-changing event. This also helped us to capture this period of history through the words of the people by preserving real-time reflections about life in the Quad Cities during the COVID-19 era.

We asked that people submit writing pieces, including poems, essays, and more. In addition, during this phase, we also asked for photos and artifacts. Specifically, we asked for any photos related to working from home, signs people had seen posted, documents, letters, memos, or anything else they wanted to share. We gave examples of the various creative writing formats for different age groups, but participants could write in the format of their choosing.

Phase II of QC Life in the New Normal Writing Project offered personal comparisons between people and their life experiences. We were thrilled to get these incredible submissions. We hope you enjoy them as well!

Winner of Phase II

“Recalled to Service” by Andrew Sichling

Veteran, your nation needs you in ways that you never thought possible. You thought it was all over once you got your discharge paper, the coveted DD-214. Remember when that Master Sergeant looked at you and said that you were one of those “break glass in time of war” kind of guys. The glass has been broken, Veteran. 

You came back to a society that you didn’t feel comfortable in. You didn’t feel comfortable because you knew that the luxuries of America are so fragile, that it could break at any moment. You knew that the United States has life and peace not seen anywhere else. 

Veteran, your nation is scared and doesn’t know what to do or how to live. It is up to you now to be a light in the darkness like the Green Goddess of Ellis Island. It is through your enlistment that you gained abilities and leadership that the American people need now. 

Veteran, you know the dangers that the world holds. You have seen it first hand. You’ve seen people who were persecuted for religious beliefs, sexual orientation, political ideology, and even hair color. You’ve seen the portal to Hell and yet, you smiled. 

The American people are now seeing the same portal. A great Dragon released its rage among the populace. You are now the only force between your tribe and the Dragon. You must posture yourself against this evil beast that wants nothing but the utter destruction of your 
people, home, and way of life. Veteran, you know what it’s like to live with leadership that has no idea what’s going on. You’re seeing politicians on the news pointing fingers at each other and calling each other names. You know that it’s all grandstanding. You’ve seen how leadership doesn’t know what to do because that’s what chaos is. It’s a flow of ever-changing issues that don’t stop. You know that you must carry on like you always did. You know what it’s like to walk down a path of uncertainty like it was your home that you grew up in. You know how to keep walking. It is now up to you to show the American people how to do it.

Veteran, you know what it’s like to live with an enemy you can’t see. COVID-19 is claiming thousands of lives, but no one knows where it is. Just like what you saw during your time on the streets of Baghdad, the mountains of Afghanistan and the plains of Syria. You had to always be on guard. The child might be harmless, but it could also be a suicide bomber. You never knew, but you kept on. 

Americans don’t know who does or doesn’t have the disease. Every time an American goes out into the community they have a chance of contracting the virus and for some, it could be a death sentence. Just like you, but you didn’t have the luxury of #stayhome. You must demonstrate that same courage now, holding off the fear in the back of your mind telling you the dangers and showing your fellow countrymen how to move forward in the world. 

Veteran, you know boredom. Americans don’t know what it’s like to be restricted to their homes like this. You do. Combat is 99% boredom 1% excitement. You were in your tents, holes, and structures for months. Watching the same thing over and over again because you 
couldn’t stream anything. You found ways to keep yourself entertained, you found ways to not mentally break from not knowing if, how or when you would meet your maker. Show your families and loved ones how not to go stir crazy. Find some open area and exercise, you know to 
be resourceful with your land. Remember how you used to do calisthenics between the tents. How you took empty ammo cans, filled them with sand as improvised kettlebells. Play the Name Game, where someone says a celebrity’s first and last name and the next celebrity’s first name had to start with the same letter as the previous celebrity’s last name, you remember that you used to play for hours on post amongst the other fire teams. Talk about the things you want to do after this is all said and over, like the dates you want to take your sweethearts on, or how you’re going to enjoy that first good meal at your favorite restaurant. 

Veteran, you know how to do more with less. You went months at a time without luxuries. Most of you never even had a toilet for the duration of your deployment. Tap into that again and show your families that not being able to make that quick trip to Wal Mart is okay. How to do without. You figured out how to make tables out of wood and sandbags. You still 
have your utilities during this time, you can just flip the lightswitch, unlike during your deployments. You know how to ration supplies and how to make food with a combination of things you never would’ve thought of. Remember the MRE Cookbook? Now it’s time to get creative like you used to. Remember, anything tastes edible with enough Tabasco on it. 

Veteran, you know how to plan for supplies. Like I said earlier, the quick trip to the store every day is not a thing right now. You remember that getting supplies was a full tactical mission that had to be planned out to the smallest detail. What routes would be taken, how much your vehicles could hold, and just how long you were able to be out. Your leadership was never going to constantly put in orders for supplies every day and things like ammunition and water were going to take precedent over things like tobacco, energy drinks, and baby wipes (because you couldn’t take an actual shower). Now is the time to show your loved ones how to make lists and show how they can live without certain things for a while until it is deemed worthwhile. 

Now, the politicians are calling for either extension of the stay at home orders, or a phasing operation to reopen. Just like how deployments were. Sometimes you got extended, and sometimes you got sent home early. Now, you need to show the populace how to go with the flow, how to take things as they come. Like how you were supposed to be in Afghanistan for ten 
months, then a year, then you got sent home at around the eight-month mark. You also remember the times you got deployed on short notice, that twice, you were only given a four day weekend with your families before you went forward into enemy territory. Then getting sent home after four months on your last deployment, that you reenlisted for, because of the draw down. 

Veteran, you know everything will return to normal. You remember coming back from your deployments and life went on. You remember the surreal feeling of getting in a car that you didn’t need your PPE. The American people will eventually go back to that, and it’ll be weird for 
them just like it was for you. That one day it’ll be back to how it was, and life goes on. It’ll be unceremonious, just like how it was for you, the days of ticker-tape parades being a thing of the past. 

The Dragon will be slain and the people will rejoice. Things will go back to how they were and you won’t have the luxury of being able to relax. Veteran, I know you feel normal during this. This is what you’ve been wanting, that your people will see that you aren’t crazy and that all your preparation wasn’t for nothing and you don’t want it to come to an end, but it has to. 

Veteran, where do you go from here? You know what you must do and what you serve as. You know that time and life always move on. You’ll be training for the next thing because as you know, it’s never goodbye, it’s “see you later.”

Honorable Mentions:

“Untitled” by Kristina Bouxsien-Hearn

If I had known that March 11, 2020  would be the last day I’d get to drop off my preschooler and my kindergartner at school, I would have slowed down and appreciated the moment. I was already feeling anxious and worried about the spreading coronavirus, but it still felt far away, affecting other areas. When the message came that local schools were shutting down, it felt real and deep; the pandemic was serious and things weren’t going to be normal for a very long time. I sat on my basement steps and cried, pouring out all the weight that I was carrying in my mind, upset for the businesses and people who were losing their livelihoods during the shutdown, concerned for individuals in complete isolation, and most of all scared for people losing friends, family, or their own lives to the virus. It all made me feel incredibly helpless. Tragic things were happening in the world around, and I couldn’t do anything about it. 
A week later my husband arrived, unexpectedly, in the middle of the day, with two monitors in tow. He was required to work at home – another big change, but I am thankful for it.

As the days went by, I grappled with my anxious feelings and came to a few realizations. My primary feeling was helplessness, but I tried to combat that by focusing on the things that were in my control. That I was doing my part by following the CDC guidelines and  staying at home as much as possible. That I could help my children understand what was happening and give them a sense of normalcy. I signed up to give blood, donated to the food bank and relief efforts, reached out to those in isolation, and helped make masks for the Million Mask challenge. We looked for hearts on windows and driveways. I wrote a blog trying to uplift others by highlighting the positive things that people/organizations were doing. At the beginning of the pandemic, even with the terrible situation, there was a great deal of kindness, and people were trying their best to help out. 

But yet, on many days I still felt frozen in place. 

I devoured every article on the virus that I could, and paid way too much attention to social media. I saw people argue in the comments about masks, vaccines, politics, and conspiracies. Some mornings, I would wake up and not feel like getting out of bed. I did get out of bed for my children, and put on a happy face, but inside I felt irritated and negative.

As the months passed, I have taken steps to change my outlook. I disconnected from social media, and limited the news that I read about the virus, while still staying up to date. It’s been easier to get out of bed in the morning and I’m feeling much more positive. We’re all adjusting to this new normal and I have hope that the rest of COVID-19 will be easier to navigate and emotionally process than the first few months.

“Covid and the Big Surprise” by Heidi Exner Larson

I have a lung disease called Bronchiectasis.  The diagnosis came at around the time I turned 70 in February. Since corona virus marched into our collective lives, I’ve been paying close attention to the numbers: how many cases, how many deaths, how many recovered, hot spots, testing, tracing…. I’m trying to play the odds for when to go in for an elective procedure, a bronchoscopy, needed to determine the nature of the inflammation and how to treat it.

Just as Covid-19 cases and deaths were going down in our area, George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.  The scars covering the wounds of historic racial inequality were ripped off by the televised image.  The incident exposed the original sin of the country’s racist underpinnings and unleashing worldwide outrage.  Protests and demonstrations erupted all over the nation. People’s conviction to hold wrong-doing to account overrode the fear of the virus; thousands fanned out in cities large and small to register their anger and sorrow. They called for change in this country in ways that reflect the values of its founding principles, and for abolishing unequal treatment of minorities.

Were it not for my age and health condition, I would have joined the outcry in the mostly peaceful demonstrations in Davenport.  It was a hard choice to stay home. I’m somewhat heartened that there are other ways to join in the movement.  (Writing an op ed for the newspaper and sending letters to our senators are two that come to mind.)

So, I’m back to square one regarding when to schedule the lung scope.  The hospital to which my medicare plan is tied, assures the public that those having elective surgeries are sequestered from Covid patients.  The facility is taking extra precautions to protect anyone requiring their health care services.

Questions still swirl in my head.  What if the doctor performing the test has brought the virus to work the day I go in for the procedure, without knowing he has it? What about the anesthesiologist, the nurse, the intake personnel?  Which, if any of them, are unwittingly shedding corona virus cells that day, before symptoms have manifested?

Lots of “what ifs”.

On the other hand, I can’t put off the necessary scope much longer. And perhaps more urgently, after months of self-quarantine, I need to accept the risks of surgery during the pandemic, just to get out of the house and be with society again. I’ll do it, if only to get a day of human interaction that, while not exactly “fun”, will be social nonetheless. The self-isolation has been lonely and anxiety producing.  I’ve had periods of depression, periods of optimism, periods of paralysis and periods of blissful denial.

But one sure thing has brought me out of my “Covid funk”.  It is the news I got on Mother’s Day: we are going to be grandparents! All the numbers crunching, the “what ifs”, the speculations and angst have taken a back seat to this news.

No matter what happens, it will not alter the facts that we are to become grandparents for the first time, and that our daughter and son in law are starting a family.  What a tectonic shift! 

I’ll take care of myself as best I can to help ‘bend the arc’ toward justice for all, to lower the Covid-19 case numbers, and to become the best grandma I can be.

Addendum: Since writing this piece, I’ve made the appointment for the bronchoscopy.  Maybe the hospital is the safest place in public now.  At least everyone there is following CDC guidelines with personal protective equipment (PPE): N95 masks, face shields, frequent hand washing and disinfectant application, specialty gowns and Nitrile gloves.

“A Time for We not Me” by John Bowman

Four photograph of a 100th birthday parade for Bernie Bettini, a Coast Guard during WWII. “100th Birthday parade for Bernie Bettini, a veteran of the Coast Guard seeing during WW II. Many veteran’s groups, to include the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, organized the parade on her birthday which was also Armed Forces Day. When in times of trouble we get together. The motto of Honor Flight of the Quad Cities is “It is all about the veteran”. We all wore masks and all got together; at a safe distance.”

We are looking at ways to continue this project. Please look for more information in eNewsletter and on our Social Media accounts soon!

(posted by Kathryn)

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