“PARRRRTAYYYYY….!” My roommates sauntered through the door with three “iced caps” (the signature Canadian drink from Tim Hortons) and a chocolate cake sticking out of their grocery bags. “Can you take a break?” they asked, looking at me expectantly. I had been packing for the last hour trying to decide about leaving, everything strewn about my room, yes, I thought, I can take a break.
The first day that school was canceled was a Friday. In Montreal, whispers of a virus in Toronto reached my friends as we enjoyed a game night. Conversation lilted from classes and exams to COVID. We had no idea that school being canceled for one Friday would turn into an entire semester completed online.
I called my parents the next morning to discuss what I was to do if school was canceled for a few weeks. We both decided that it would be best for me to stick it out, wait for school to start again. After all, I didn’t want to miss classes trying to get back to Canada from Alaska, I didn’t want to miss the Montreal experiences that I had planned.
That was Saturday, on Sunday the president of the United States started limiting travel from Europe and many other countries. Cases in Canada had doubled overnight and deaths in Italy had sky-rocketed. Trudeau’s wife had been diagnosed with coronavirus and the WHO declared a worldwide pandemic. The NHL canceled all upcoming games, so much for Montreal experiences.
Sunday still, McGill college suspended all in-person procedures, including final exams. Concordia communicated in short emails. They assured students that decisions were in the process of being made. By Sunday evening, I took my friend to the airport to say goodbye. Their flight had been canceled and rescheduled twice already.
There were only two other families in line for check-in, the rest of the airport seemed empty. At customer service to rebook the flight, a skeletal staff manned the desks. I called home. But not my mother this time. My ex-military uncle. He was very clear, “Come home”, he said, “this won’t be over for a while and it’ll get worse before it gets better”. I found a flight leaving the next morning for a quarter of the usual price and booked it. I thought the 24-hour cancelation policy would give me time to think about it. Shortly after that, Concordia suspended class for the next two weeks.
Back at the Apartment
When I arrived at our apartment I texted my roommates, explaining that I had booked a ticket to leave. I explained that it would probably just be two weeks, but I am not sure what is going on and my family thinks it will be best if I am home so I am packing. When they walked in the door bearing gifts they asked, “How much are you packing?” “Everything,” I said. As a minimalist, there wasn’t much to pack. As a pragmatist, I packed for the worst-case scenario.
We spent the evening packing and reminiscing about being roommates, with music and laughter and a few tears. I kept saying I would be right back. And I will surely visit again, but as the borders remain closed, it seems unlikely it will be soon.
Our unexpected party became an unexpected parting and in the morning I boarded a plane with only five other passengers. All the way home I wondered if it was silly to leave, not to mention considering the ramifications of bringing the virus home to my family in Alaska. Not knowing how school would be handled, I made the best decision I could. With only a hunch that things wouldn’t go back to normal for a very long time. I felt like the hobbit saying goodbye to unexpected friends that had become dear. But also as if I was embarking on a new adventure, not knowing what was ahead or how long it would last.