The Class of COVID-19 on rude customers, getting fired, family

These small articles were written in just 48 hours by students of Professor Mary Collins, who teaches non-fiction at Central Connecticut State University. It has been edited for length.

Samantha Whitehill

The man I was calling, at least 40 years older than me, was smiling so widely that I could see him under his face mask. He would ask me if I was ok, saying I looked tired. I explained that I showed up at 8 that morning and was working stock up on all shifts, moving 30-pound bags of dog food.

“Oh, are you tired because you have to do your work?”

He looked so arrogant, it shouldn’t have bothered me as much as it had. I’m a liar, I’m not a millennial, I’m not a generation Z. We don’t do confrontation.

“You, sir, have a good day.” I swallowed the reply, not asking for his right to make fun of me when he was buying $4 worth of cat litter that was just sand in the playground.

Rose came down an hour later. Dry sweat made my face stiff. On my way home, I couldn’t get the man’s comment out of my head.

Geely’s work ethic has been criticized for lobbying for a $15 minimum wage. A worker who can’t pull out her phone to check the time without someone taunting, “And you want $15 an hour?” The stereotype is that young employees want to get paid more for doing nothing.

I couldn’t see much of my client’s face with his mask. But I saw his hands when I passed him the change. It was rough, all the nails and scars long healed. The hand of a merchant, a person who graduated from high school and went directly to the job that he would occupy until retirement: plumbing, carpentry, electrician. He may have transcended the part-time era of customer service into adulthood and jumped straight into the workforce.

Why did what he said bother me?

It wasn’t like he knew I had stayed up late the night before because it was my best friend’s birthday and I had already visited her twice to finish homework and work. It wasn’t like he knew the company laid off all of our warehouses and then added an extra truckload on top of the two our employees got.

It wasn’t like he knew I cried a few days ago when I collected my taxes and saw my total earnings for the year because even though I knew I didn’t earn much, seeing her in writing was too much for me.

And it wasn’t like he knew I had gone to work that day and was told I had to finish 15 pallets of product with a pink finish, a task I worked to the point of feeling dizzy to complete but failed to do.

He didn’t know anything about this. Nor did he ask. I just assumed.

Samantha Whitehill from Berlin graduated from CCSU.


Patrick Leahy

The temperature is colder than normal. I take a sip of warm coffee and put my mind to work. I turn off my car and put on my mask. Outside, while I wait to be let in, the cold reaches my arms. Only when I can hardly take more of it do I let in and rest from the heaters. I put my phone and keys in my locker and check my hours and see they’ve been chipped again, until 12 this week. It’s weird. I was in 40 hours a month ago. I grabbed my scanner and headed to the warehouse. It’s a little cooler in there, but everyone is working hard, and we’re all working really hard. He fetched the chests, and was called to HR over the radio. That’s weird, HR isn’t here at five in the morning, I go to the office, and the conversation is short and quick, like splitting a log.

I am fired from my job.

Patrick Leahy of Southington is a senior at CCSU.

front line

John Gavin IV

At six in the morning, I can read the sign from the dimly lit parking lot: “Thank you, front line workers!” It wraps around the overhang on the front door. We are only allowed to enter through the back door.

I’m crammed into a cool, dark room with several other people waiting to beep for our temperature tests. Someone asks us to satisfy social distancing as other employees enter.

At 7, the customer line outside is 10 times the length of the sign. It can be heard through the locked glass doors. “Are you open yet?” “Let’s go in, see you!” “When will this end?” I wipe the shopping carts and pretend I can’t see them, but they surround me outside the glass.

At eight, the doors open and the crowds pour in. Only half of them wear masks. They shout, “Where are the paper towels?” “Is there a limit to sanitizer?” “You should be in prison because you left so many people here!” “I’m buying for my mom, so I’m going to get two!” They hide in our shelves and destroy boxes of bread, milk, vegetables, chicken wings, sweaters, tires and multi-colored pens.

From 9 to 11, the hype is inevitable. Hire more cashiers! “Do you expect me to wait in this?” “This is supposed to be America, not China!” A man stands to the left of one checkout line, puzzled by how many people are there. Four others are lining up behind him. He informed them that he was not in line, and was told to “get angry”.

From noon until one o’clock silence and emptiness prevail. frightening silence. The store is vacant. I miss yelling for a while.

At 2 p.m. I leave just before the next wave. They will have to look for scraps left over from the first risers. My salary is short, because no one added the extra shift you asked me to cover last week when an employee got sick. I looked up and discovered the sign was missing. The wind took him. I don’t see him again.

John Gavin of Plainville is a senior at CCSU.


Amanda Fahey

I can’t say I was surprised when I heard the news. She’s the first responder, a paramedic who saves people every day. Her dealings with IT was practically inevitable.

The first symptom was muscle pain. Then it was the 48-hour “split and headache.” Her words, not mine. Followed by loss of the sense of taste and smell. Finally, she developed a deep, excruciating cough that looked like she had been smoking since birth, which took her breath away and forced her to be hospitalized.

That’s when my mom became hysterical. “I can’t lose her. She cried when my father tried to comfort her.

That’s when I got worried. Not for her health but for her financial sake. She did not have health insurance. She would have been stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Fortunately, her business ruled that she had gotten access to IT while she was working, and that they would take care of her debt.

She was only allowed to communicate by phone and through the window. “Mom and Joe brought me some things today, and I wave them.” Waving to the three-storey car park was the highlight of its day.

She’s back on the front lines. IT hasn’t taught her much because she is well aware of the world we live in, but she has gained a stronger sense of sympathy for the lives lost due to the terrible condition she was in.

Amanda Fahey from Middletown is in her first year of her MA in English at CCSU.


Julia Rodman

The virus came when everything and everyone seemed to be drifting apart.

My sister was preparing to move across the country, my brother was preparing to graduate from college, and my boyfriend and best friends all attended schools thousands of miles away. I felt as if everyone I loved was moving. My parents devoted their lives to working 9 to 5 every day, and when asked why they never took breaks, they said they couldn’t stand it.

I remember the day my mom told me that a box of sheet masks on Amazon cost $300. “We won’t need masks,” I told her with a slit of my eye. Now I can’t get into the grocery store without one.

Once the state shut down, my family had to cancel plans. We haven’t all been living under the same roof since I started high school. There was just something about the pandemic that made all my other problems seem small and insignificant. I can speak for my entire family when I say that we have learned to appreciate how fortunate we are.

I spent my days preparing dinner with my mom and sitting around the table talking to my family. We were busy with board games and movie marathons, activities I would have been begging to do as a kid. I learned things about my brothers that I didn’t know before because I didn’t bother asking them. I know my parents were glad we all slept in our childhood rooms at night, knowing that it probably wouldn’t happen again.

Although there are difficulties in these difficult times, I try to embrace one positive: reviving the family.

Julia Rodman from Southington is an undergraduate at CCSU.

agricultural quarantine

Christopher Caceres

When I moved to New York, I never thought I would spend so much time in my apartment. My friend and I rented a 407-square-foot studio and thought it was a great way to save money. What can go wrong?

Two months later, the state’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed. At first, the stay-at-home orders looked like a holiday, but as the virus spread, so did those with a way to escape. The rest of us are left.

We began to feel trapped in our studio with no end in sight. Life became a permanent groundhog day out of body count and banana bread.

It was in April when we realized we had to change. We needed to figure out a way to live a life that didn’t involve sweatpants, random online purchases, and binge-watching “Shit Creek.” Our only sense of time was hitting pots and pans at seven in honor of first responders.

We started doing the things we missed about our pre-COVID lives in the city. Some nights, our apartment will transform into a four-star Italian restaurant with white tablecloths and fine wines, while others will transform into Broadway (but better seats) with homemade toy bills. One night, we hung up some neon lights, turned on ’80s music, and had a dance party in our living room—our neighbors surely weren’t too happy about this thing. We began to see our apartment as our oasis, not our prison. We stopped waiting for permission to live our lives.

She thought facing the pandemic inside a 407-square-foot apartment would be her own brand of terrible 2020, and sometimes it was, but we realized that people have the ability to adapt — to turn atrocity into less horror. I wonder if I’ll miss my time playing pretend in my quarantine studio.

Christopher Caceres graduated from CCSU and works in New York City.

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