Three paintings by Wren McMillan

Left to right: To Be in a Time of Finals Pandemic (see artist’s statement below); The Time I Forgot Thursday, a “squiggly clock” painted on a paper plate, because Wren McMillan, Class of 2023, was unable to buy canvas while nonessential businesses were closed; and Visine Dreams, about the discomfort of staring at screens. (Artwork by Wren McMillan, Class of 2023)

To be in a Time of <strike>Finals</strike> Pandemic

In a pandemic, how can you focus on anything? A first-year documents her upended life through paintings and essays. 

This article is part of the special feature “A Spring Quarter Like No Other,” which chronicles the experiences of eight College students. Wren McMillan, Class of 2023, spent Spring Quarter living alone in a sublet apartment in Hyde Park.

Admittedly, when talk of COVID-19 became widespread here, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Like many, I thought it was closer to a rough flu than a potentially deadly respiratory disease. I’m young and, because of that, often feel invincible despite that fact that I am quite obviously not. Being a disabled person and knowing that COVID-19 impacts that demographic rather harshly, I found myself in a state of denial; downplaying the seriousness of the disease, however naïvely and ignorantly, was a way of coping.

On some other level, though, I attribute my original reaction to a desire to ignore everything that occurred outside of my little UChicago bubble. I was tumbling quickly toward finals season and, therefore, had a workload that demanded my full and undivided attention. I didn’t have time to grapple with the idea of returning home to a town (but not a family) that didn’t really seem to want me. I didn’t have time to deal with the inevitable lack of housing stability tied to my eventual decision to stay, nor did I have time to figure out how I would pay for said housing. If I was going to maintain the academic standard that I held myself to every day, I couldn’t deal with the potential impacts of COVID-19 as they truly were.

When the announcement came that confirmed my muffled suspicions, I was fortunate. I’d secured an apartment and would be able to remain in this city that I now call home. However, the time that it took to do those things left me in a crunch when it came to my finals.

So, to provide an answer to Where was I? I don’t know. I don’t. My brain was flitting between a billion different places (not an exaggeration) while my physical form sat behind a computer, staring at a blinking cursor, dry-eyed from both staring and crying. Looking back, it all feels like a fever dream.

All the Bad Things/Notes on Oblivion

Do you ever just wake up and wonder if everything’s real? And you take a step back and think for a moment about how the saying “too good to be true” isn’t a lie, but neither is “too bad to be true.”

I know I’m not the only one who’s scared, but being alone certainly makes it feel that way. Connection isn’t connection anymore. Four bars of LTE cannot replace sensation. Touch. Sound as it’s meant to be heard. Wind in the Windy City isn’t the same through windows and windscreens. And what little support I can give feels empty.

Someday, when I can look out the window and recognize the world (whether or not I can look in a mirror and recognize myself doesn’t matter), I’ll not waste that moment. Because there are so many combinations of good and bad things that are better than this.