Last Normal Day Series – Aria Gerson

The weekend I returned to Ann Arbor from spring break, I switched my editing shift for the week with a coworker. If life had gone on as normal, I probably wouldn’t have remembered that; in over two years working as a sports editor at the Michigan Daily, I had switched my shift who knows how many times.

Instead of Thursday — the day I normally picked up, as the only editor who wasn’t 21 and couldn’t go to bars — I’d be doing Tuesday that week. I told my coworker I was fine with it and that I wasn’t busy.

March 10 was a run-of-the-mill Tuesday night in the newsroom, except for one thing: Flights were cheap. Bryan was set to go to March Madness in a week and he’d been checking flights for all the host cities. The prices were dropping by the minute. $200. Even $100.

Last year, when I covered basketball, our flights to Anaheim for the Sweet Sixteen were $800. Each.

I wasn’t going to March Madness — football was my lone beat now — but these were hundreds of dollars our student newspaper wasn’t going to have to pay.

“Check Seattle,” I said.

Michigan was playing a game in Seattle in September. Bryan and I, along with the rest of the beat, were going to go. Labor Day weekend in Seattle covering a marquee football game was my idea of the perfect trip, and I’d been looking forward to it ever since I’d gotten assigned football the year before. If we could score a huge deal on a flight just because people were scared of flying due to a virus, that would be the cherry on top.

Bryan checked the Seattle flights. $400.

“Damn,” I said. “We should check back in May.”

On Wednesday, Michigan cancelled classes for the final six weeks of the semester. On Thursday, March Madness was cancelled. As I laid in bed that night, I remembered that I had been looking at flights to Seattle just two days before. I’m not going to Seattle, am I? I thought. I left the question hanging, not wanting to know the answer.

Like so many other editing shifts my junior year, I spent this one frazzled. I had one paper and the outline of another due in the next week and I was working on a feature for our Women’s History Month initiative. That night, I helped put together The Michigan Daily’s softball preview edition. I marked up features and read through pages. As the night waned on, my stress mounted.

“I’m going downstairs to transcribe,” I told the newsroom around 10 p.m. “Come down if you need me.”

I’d finished all the interviews for my feature on a Michigan swimmer the day before (with the last interview over the phone, just in case I had this new virus), but if I didn’t transcribe now, there was no way I’d get it done by Friday like I wanted. I pounded away at the keyboard, only looking up when one of the softball writers brought a story for me to edit.

When I was done for the night, I walked the three blocks back to my apartment. It was a walk I’d done hundreds of times over the two years I’d been an editor.

I would make it only once more.

The 10 a.m. class I dragged myself out of bed to attend the next morning would be my last in-person class. I had another Wednesday class, at 2:30, but I skipped it to work on my feature, still crunched for time.

That evening, classes were cancelled for the rest of the semester. I spent my Thursday morning in the Union, realizing that now, when it came to the feature I’d let consume the last few days, I had all the time in the world.

I was just starting to write when the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament was cancelled. I was putting on the finishing touches when March Madness was cancelled too. That night — the night I had originally been scheduled to edit — we had a small party in the newsroom, knowing it was the last time many of us would get to see each other.

If I hadn’t switched shifts, I would’ve had to live with the knowledge that my last real editing shift was before spring break, before I had a single inkling what would happen. But since I did, I had to live with the fact that I spent my last editing shift in the basement, so stressed and preoccupied that I didn’t time with people I might never see again.

I still ran the feature, but I wrote two more times in the next month. For someone used to writing four or even five times a week in the fall, it felt like losing a part of myself. One night, I laid in my bed and cried. My priorities had always been writing first, sports second, everything else third. Now, there were no sports, I didn’t feel like writing and I’d wasted my last normal day.

This piece is part of our series, “The Last Normal Day”. This series aims to encourage writers to effectively screenshot their last ‘normal’ day before the pandemic hit. If you would like to write a piece for the series, please submit it under our “Blog Submissions” tab on our website and add a note that you would like the piece to be considered for “The Last Normal Day”.

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