A: This Happened: Stories and Objects
Hannah Cain / Covid Story
I remember the first shift I worked after the first announcement of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. People were freaking out and fighting over toilet paper in the middle of the aisles. I felt like I had entered the apocalypse. The first time I left my house after lockdown it was like a ghost town. I had never seen the streets so quiet. I remember the first time I wore a mask to work after they were mandated, crazy how it once felt so odd to be wearing and hiding behind them and now it feels wrong not to. Putting a mask on has just become a step in our daily routines, as mundane as putting on shoes to go out. I remember the first time I saw my friends three months after the first lockdown, six feet apart and unable to hug, which was once a normal greeting. As an extrovert, I felt so lonely and miserable lacking that interaction. I swore to never again take for granted the power of human touch and connection. My first “return” to civilization was when I started working at the Beauty Boutique again after a few months, and I had a much greater appreciation for customer interaction. Getting to greet customers as they walked in, having brief conversations, and recommending products helped me to feel more human in such a time of isolation. Makeup artistry was a creative outlet of mine, and the pandemic allowed me to rediscover my love for it…
Two years later I’ve started freelancing again and have been hired as a contracted bridal artist. I also met my first love in the pandemic. Despite distance and restrictions, love triumphed, and we have been together now for almost two years. I’m not certain we would have met if not for the pandemic. I realized how much I took for granted the relationships I have with my family; having to stay home allowed us to focus on spending quality time together and getting creative, having Scrabble nights, and going for family walks to get ice cream. The pandemic fostered an environment that allowed my family to put our busy lives on hold and just be together, which really is a rare and special thing. Looking back now, sometimes I miss when, for a moment, the stresses of life and its obligations just stopped, and I had the opportunity to take the time to reflect and improve myself. I learned that I need to make that time for myself more often, no matter how busy I get. Though the pandemic has been tiring, scary and unprecedented, I have experienced and learned things that I likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to if not for overcoming and adapting to the obstacles that came with it. The Covid-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call to cherish and appreciate life so much more, and it has taught me that even through scary and uncertain times, love and human connection can and will always triumph.
Stuart McCulley / Separation
The air bites at my pyjamas as I stand just outside my front door, face-to-face with my best friend.
We haven’t seen each other properly in months. Every time we do meet up, it is never for as long as either of us would like. Take today for example, we are just having a socially distanced chat before she leaves our hometown and heads back to university. Reading week is never long enough.
I can feel the harsh winter chill slowly wears me down.
We used to spend a lot of time together. Back in elementary school, Fridays were normally reserved for us. Our families would get together for dinner, which meant she and I had the entire night to play video games, watch movies, laugh, and just enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes other friends were included, but her presence was always enough for me. We went on family vacations together, spent weeks upon weeks at our cottages, and knew just about everything there was to know about each other.
The sky is overcast. I ask her about her boyfriend. She got together with him at university, I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet. I don’t even think I’ve seen a picture for longer than five seconds. She tells me about his kitten, who died recently. I feel bad, but there isn’t much I can do. I don’t have his number or follow him on any social media. We move on to talking about assignments we’ve recently completed, updating each other on ongoing projects that are taking up a large chunk of our time. That’s the reason we don’t text as often. That and the feeling is not the same as being in person together. We talk about how much easier it would be to have this conversation downstairs in my basement, where we used to hang out. The snow in the garden behind her lifts gently in the breeze.
In high school we joined the same friend group. Suddenly, Fridays were shared with all of us. We would go to movies, hang out at each other’s houses, and relish the company of good friends. She and I would sometimes look at each other across the room during these hangouts. We’d know what the other was thinking without a tangible word passing between us.
The wind gnaws at my bare arms. We do all we can in the short time we have left before she leaves (or I freeze) to catch up on the essentials of each other’s lives. A t-shirt was not the warmest option I could have chosen for the meeting spot.
Of course, we were going to drift apart naturally. Back in 2019 during our first year of university we were each trying our best to cope with our “new norm,” which was no longer seeing each other daily. Meet-ups would be restricted to holidays we spent in our hometown or if one of us made the effort to visit the other at their new school. This was adulthood. But our development into functioning adults was abruptly stopped short.
On March 13th, 2020, I turned 20 years old.
On March 13th, 2020, she came to visit me at school.
On March 13th, 2020, the musical I had been rehearsing for was cancelled.
On March 13th, 2020, everything began to shut down.
The world came to a standstill for an indefinite period, and so did our development. Everything became a means of coping in our new situation. Our poor technological communication didn’t exactly improve, and we lost even more time from being restricted socially, even on holidays. We had to catch every chance we felt safe to see each other, which wasn’t as often as one would think due to the anxiety and paranoia I was working through. Whenever we met, we smiled and chatted about anything and everything. Our smiles always ended up faltering. We would turn to current events, and suddenly everything would become overshadowed.
“Did you hear so-and-so caught it?”
“No… I hope no one else around them did.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t even imagine.”
And we couldn’t. We shouldn’t have had to. We should have been in my basement watching a movie or sitting across from each other on our phones in comfortable silence.
As I stare at her, six feet apart from me, we talk about how nice it would be to hug each other. We don’t. She gets in her car, and I wave as she drives off. I step back inside and can’t help but wish the days leading up to March 13th, 2020, had gone a bit differently. Yet, what happened globally leading up to that day doesn’t change the years I spent beforehand being her best friend and won’t change the years we remain best friends after. Perhaps this is an experience I can learn to live with.
The warmth embraces me as I step inside.
For most of us, when covid-19 hit our world, we didn’t think it would last that long or have the effect that it did. The first couple months were spent at home with my family as we tried to get used to this new reality. Things weren’t that bad, as we spent more time together and deepened our bond, which I know wasn’t everyone’s reality during lockdown. Friday nights were spent ordering take-out and watching movies as a family. We went on more family walks and small adventures when we could and when it was permitted. As the first year passed things got harder as it felt like a lifetime stuck in isolation. The school year was spent in my room struggling to get through the terms that had to be online. The summers were spent working outside, practically the only time I was able to see people outside my family circle. My appreciation grew for the ones that I couldn’t see as much, friends, relatives, and even teachers. When restrictions were lifted, I took every chance I could get to see people or go places while also being safe and following the guidelines that were still in place; always wearing a mask. We all tried to stay as safe as possible as we lived with someone that was immune compromised. We had scares every now and then, but nothing too serious during the first year and a half.
However, as people started to get stir-crazy, they also started to ignore the regulations to stay home or stay six feet apart if they had even the smallest of symptoms. We lost friends to the controversial debate on vaccinations and following the rules in place to keep you and your neighbors safe. We understood that people were mad about how the world was drastically changed. We understood that people were losing jobs and their businesses. We understood that people wanted to see friends and family, and they were tired of being in complete isolation. However, we also understood that the virus killed and ruined many people’s lives. And in October of 2021 our family was struck with misfortune. The immune compromised person, the one we tried to keep safe, came into contact with someone who refused to get vaccinated or follow the restrictions. He tested positive for the virus a week later and after three weeks of fighting in the hospital, he passed away. This event will be the only thing I remember and carry with me from the pandemic times.
Before the pandemic, my family had finally decided to move into a new house after a long ten years in the house we had. Not only did we decide to move houses but move cities as well, leaving behind the place where my siblings and I had grown up and the first place where my parents lived when they first came to Canada.
Lockdown began shortly after we moved into our new house; the pandemic went into full swing for the next two years. In a new city, unable to go anywhere, I started to feel cut off from social life because I had never been one to use social media much. During the summer of 2020, I started to eventually get back into things I hadn’t had much time for during school such as reading, writing, or simply hanging out with my family. Soon enough, I started to get back into playing video games as it was something I had loved during high school and was always something I was good at.
But, even with video games, I played on my own since none of my friends was into the same things I was and they were too busy with their own schedules. Fortunately, towards the end of 2020, I happened to meet someone during my game. Usually, I don’t interact with others online, but I decided why not just this once and I never knew that this choice would go on to be the best decision I would make during the pandemic. This is how I went on to become friends with Shoi who soon introduced me to Justin. It was easy for all of us to get along and we began to talk and hang out every single day whether it was playing games together, watching movies, or just sitting on a call and talking to one another. Over the next two years, I was able to get comfortable with them and can confidently say that they are two of my best friends.
Even though we have never met one another face-to-face or interacted in any way “in real life”, they are every bit as important to me as any of my other friends. I’ve been able to meet a lot of other people because of them and I’ve learned that whether it’s online or meeting people in person, it’s possible to establish relationships that can be meaningful in both ways. I’m grateful to be a part of this online community that I consider a family.
I’ve been busy. My busyness is partially a learned behaviour, and it doubles as a coping mechanism for Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD), a mental health condition that I’ve struggled with for fifteen years.
I like to describe CPTSD as drowning with a straw in your mouth. If you stop struggling you can get a few wisps of air, but it’s never enough to stop the sensation of drowning so inevitably you begin to struggle and flail for more air again.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdowns started in Ontario, I was already in poor mental health. A major relationship had ended months prior in a traumatic way and I was completely alone for the first time ever.
At this time I was just returning from a frantic trip from the US back to Canada. I returned to an empty home and had to quarantine, followed by shutting down the business that I had worked so hard for. It remained closed for a year and a half. I was devastated.
I then experienced one of the most interesting and disturbing experiences I have ever had, unregulated CPTSD symptoms. For the first time, I saw myself as myself. I had nothing and no one to use as a regulation tool and I was suddenly experiencing the unbridled waves of this condition.
Along with intense flashbacks, extreme anxiety, and paranoia to name a few of the long list of symptoms this condition brings, dissociation is among the worst of them. Being in a dissociative state sometimes feels like just waking up from a dream or being far away and watching your life happen down a hallway. There are moments of lucidity but it’s mixed in with all of the other symptoms, so they are heartbreakingly fleeting.
Time loss in these states is one of the most insidious parts. It feels like the panic you experience when you wake up and realize you’ve slept too long. Where did the time go? What did I do? How did that happen? I tried hard to not let that happen.
During a particularly intense bout of dissociation, I fell and broke my foot. I was ashamed of myself. My broken foot made everything harder. I have an eating disorder that requires proper maintenance and I struggled to shop for groceries and make food. Cleaning became an almost impossible task. My knees and back became increasingly sore from crawling my staircase and traversing my house.
I am fortunate and privileged to have a psychotherapist. Luckily, she had the foresight to recommend triple the amount of therapy during this time. I am forever grateful for that.
My life became a series of symptoms, pain, management, sprinkled with flecks of tiny improvements.
The mask I have made represents the pain that I experienced during this time. I used straight pins to represent the depth of pain and sorrow I was experiencing internally. The pins penetrate the mask and create a bed of sharp ends, while the heads of the pins create a colourful mosaic that is appealing and unassuming for any person who would see me adorned in this mask. These pins rest on my face as I read this poem, threatening to cause me pain and some succeeding.
Here I am again.
Every broken bit of me / Every pretty bit of me / Every shitty bit of me / Everybitty bit of me / Here I am again.
Here I am alone again / Faced with all my fears again / Sorrow ripping out again / Living it again, again / Here I am again.
Not sleeping through the night again / Take away my food again / Crying all along again / Drowning in the time again / Here I am again.
I’m circling the drain again / Lost inside my brain again / Barely holding on again / Dreaming of the end again / Here I am again.
Therapy online again / Little tiny wins again / A gleaming ray of hope again / Here I am again.
I wish this was the end again / But here I go again again / Slowly slipping down again / Here I am again.
Time goes by again again / I can’t keep track again again / Make it stop again again / Here I am again.
/ Every Broken bit of me / Every pretty bit of me / Every shitty bit of me / Every bitty bit of me / Here I am again.
This mask was inspired by my personal experience having COVID. I got sick over Christmas break and subsequently lost all time with my family and friends, as well as missed Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Years. I was extremely unhappy and resentful, as I had contracted it from my sister who had been irresponsible by partying maskless. I was furious that she would risk her family like that, especially when my mother is high-risk.
I didn’t speak to her the entire week that we were sick; my mother says that I was so angry that it kept me sick longer than I should have been, and I agree – I was drained mentally, physically and emotionally. So firstly, on the inside of this mask I affixed a small mesh bag filled with food-grade lavender, an herb that is known for its calming effects and aid for headaches, both which would have been very useful to me when I was sick.
In order to distract myself, during this time I reverted back to comfort movies and activities, particularly ones that were nostalgic for me. I watched Disney movies and old cartoons, played old computer games, and even coloured a little. I decided to use my naivete in artistic skill to expand on this nostalgic, childhood theme for my mask, making it look exactly how I would have made it if I were seven. Lots of pink and purple (my mother would dress my sister and I in those colours so people could tell us apart), glitter, and butterflies. I know it would have made me happy as a kid.
Another thing the mask is based on is my cat. We got her late last year and I love her with all my heart – but since she was still just a kitty, and I had seen a Tweet about someone giving their cat COVID-19, I was terrified that she would get sick! Perhaps in retrospect this was a little foolish, but I didn’t want to risk it. At first, I stayed away from her, but I was so upset and I knew I needed to see her. So instead, I wore a KN95 mask for twenty-four hours a day for seven days straight (yes, even while I was sleeping) so she could be around me as much as possible and I didn’t have to worry. However, this was incredibly painful on my ears and left raised welts on my skin, so this mask has an adjustable added strap that clips onto each loop and instead wraps around the back of the head, leaving a much more comfortable design that still keeps it securely around the mouth and nose. I also remember being so tired that I couldn’t play with my cat, but she loves bells, so I created an add-on of a bell attached to some string so we could play together even when I’m too tired to lift my arms.
It Is What It Is was made from the very first mask I bought when the pandemic started up. I messaged a nice old woman on Facebook who was making personalized masks for those who needed them. I told her that I work at Urban Kids and wanted to wear something brighter, less intimidating for when the kids came into the store. I also told her that I have an unusually small face compared to most adults, so I needed something a bit smaller.
She made me a perfect little yellow mask and I wore that thing all the time. But then it got gross on the inside, makeup got on it a few times too many, and it retired to the drawer, never to be seen again. Then this assignment came to be, and I knew just the mask to use! I added the phrase “IT IS WHAT IT IS” because those are the words that have gotten me through the pandemic. Aside from the actual COVID virus, life has been tough. The best way to get through it was to learn how to be comfortable with the things that I cannot necessarily control. It is also a part of my daily affirmations that I remind myself of every morning. I loved the idea of sharing this message. I kept it simple, used a purple sharpie marker to contrast the yellow, and let the text speak for itself.
The mask I made is created with old wires, an old used sandwich bag, and a lot of hot glue.
It shows the other side of pandemic life, everything is online.
Almost every moment of my life past the age of fourteen was spent online. As a university student many of my classes were online whether sync or async. Countless hours spent half paying attention to online lecture or seminars, spending hours typing up the dreadful forum posts and replies for almost all my classes. Even my studio art classes were online, which meant the school shipping art supplies to the middle of nowhere and following along to my professor’s video. (However, I give my art profs high fives because it was still enjoyable.) Despite how much I whine about online classes or how my eyes constantly burn and twitch from staring at a screen all day I still very much enjoy being online. I met my best friend online, playing video games and chatting together almost every single day for years straight. My whole life pretty much revolves around being online. With the mask I made, I wanted to show the transition from being online to the gradual reopening of in-person life. The transition back is hard, I feel like I no longer know how to talk or meet new people. Even now it feels hard to use correct grammar or spell things correctly rather than just shortening everything (ex. rn, idk, cuz) as well I’m used to typing cute stuff with old school emojis like ( :3 :) :/ XD <3). Going back to in-person is kind of uncomfortable when I’m given old tools to express myself with.
Sarah Fisher / Blossoming & Blooming Blind
The mask I have created is representative of my experience and a reflective sentiment of living throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. At the beginning, everyone was wearing cloth/fabric masks. For the mask I made for the workshop, I chose this material to be symbolic of this time, and because my mother at the beginning of the pandemic, made my family and friends fabric masks.
The design I chose is a book and blossoming flowers to represent myself throughout the pandemic. There are two different stories to this mask one when it is closed and the other when it is open (and on the face). The closed “book” refers to 2020 and 2021. The dropping petals/tears symbolize the challenges I have faced: losing friendships, jobs, and loved ones (my grandfather passed in fall 2020). My father is immune compromised (has Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma) and we were extremely careful of who we surrounded ourselves with and where we went outside of the house.
Unfortunately, no matter our due diligence, my family and I contracted COVID in March 2021 through community spread. We experienced all known symptoms and became very ill. This struggle is like a petal falling on the mask. The opened book can be representative of sharing our experiences throughout the pandemic, in addition to having had covid. Specifically, when we were in isolation, there was a negative connotation/stigma around telling others before vaccines.
The opened mask is representative of who I have become since the pandemic. The blossoming flower is reflective of how much I believe I have grown as an individual. Having significant challenges and struggles that negatively impacted my mental health, I recognized that I needed that time with my family to re-centre myself. I chose flowers as it has always been something I have loved, and during the lockdowns my family and I would purchase arrangements from a local florist to brighten up our home. The pandemic has made me reflect on how bad days allow us to appreciate the good ones even more.
For this project, I prepared a mask using a towel, flowers, and leaves. I cut the blue towel into the shape of a mask. The flowers and leaves were attached to the outside of the mask. I chose blue because it is the most common colour for masks. My inspiration for this project was about my nose. I have always had chronic inflammations of my nose, especially in the spring when I wear a mask because of allergies. I cannot smell much with the mask on. Due to Covid 19, everyone has now to wear a mask every day in public. I feel that masks change the way people perceive the outside world. The sense of smell plays an important role, but we lose it when wearing a mask. I have a friend who contracted Covid 19 last year, and one of the obvious things during her illness was that she couldn't taste anything. So she was eating onions, garlic, and other strong-tasting foods every day while she was sick to try to recover the sense of taste. One significant after-effect of Covid 19 is that the sense of taste may change, and the perception of some flavours may be altered. She was very worried that she might have such a problem. Thankfully, her sense of taste returned after she recovered. I think that Covid 19 takes away a lot of how people feel about the outside world. It is as if it were trying to cut people off from the world. But I'm sure people will get over it. So on the mask that I made, I put flowers and leaves all over it. It's just as well that spring is approaching. Hopefully, we can smell nature properly and feel more of the outside world this year.