Escape From COVID-19

An alternate version of the "what I did on my summer vacation" essay.

July 15, 2020

I have a confession.

I am leading two lives.

In my real life, I am in Boston in a world of stay/safer at home orders, a raging global pandemic, days of endless Zoom meetings and HyFlex plans in the making for both K-12 and higher ed.

In my escape from real life, I am on Isla Rosa, my Southern Hemisphere island in Animal Crossing New Horizons, a Nintendo Switch life simulation video game conveniently released on March 20, 2020. The tag line: Make friends with adorable animal villagers and have fun creating a world of your own in the Animal Crossing series.

Day 125 of Safer at Home begins…

4:45 a.m. Boston.

  • Check the daily COVID-19 death counts at the Johns Hopkins website.
  • Log the cases and deaths into my coffee-stained gray Muji notebook.
  • Realize that I am running out of pages in this notebook.
  • Worry about how to get another.
  • Shop for Muji notebooks on Amazon and get scared away by sellers with names like Big Mall Treasure! and calmjapan.
  • Realize that I will never have enough pages and wonder if this will ever end …

5 a.m. Isla Rosa.

  • Uplifting music and softly falling snow greet me as I open my perfectly pink mailbox.
  • I receive letters from my fellow villagers, red-beribboned presents from my mother and recent purchases from the Nook catalog.
  • No one is wearing a mask.
  • No one is sick.
  • No one is dying.
  • The sun is bright and shiny and everything is super wonderful.
  • My neighbors walk by, run over, say hi.
  • Remember that I have neighbors and wonder how they are doing …

5:15 a.m. Boston.

  • Walk into the former library/shared office space and current teen gaming room.
  • Pick up scattered dishes, wadded-up paper towels and Diet Dr Pepper can -- remains from an all-night Valorant session with friends (and strangers).
  • He closed his bedroom door minutes before I opened mine.
  • Wonder if this is good for him, if I should make him clean up his own crap and go to bed earlier and then I think … COVID.
  • Remember that we are living in extraordinary times.
  • Remember that New York Times article that said this may be the only autonomy adolescents have -- in the middle of the night when the rest of us have gone to bed.
  • Rationalize that this is the postapocalyptic version of my '80s shopping mall.
  • Wonder how this will impact his generation and the world they will build and wonder what college will be like this fall.

5:30 a.m. Isla Rosa.

  • Stroll into the Resident Services building situated on a red brick square with 24-hour service.
  • Say hello to Tom Nook (he’s a bear) and Isabelle (she’s a dog).
  • Check my balance in the ABD. I have three million bells, and all my loans have been paid in full.
  • Select Nook Shopping and order KK Funk, the latest from KK Slider (he’s a dog), the hottest musician in Animal Crossing.
  • Interrupted by a sudden crashing noise …

5:45 a.m. Boston.

  • Go out into the courtyard.
  • Chase away the raccoons that have moved in over the past few months.
  • Come back in. Check the mouse traps in the kitchen. The mice have moved in as well.
  • Check my Twitter “watch” list to see if what I heard in the middle of the night was fireworks, gunshots or both.
  • Check to see how many people were shot or stabbed in the past eight hours.
  • Read that last night a woman was running from an invisible man and hid out in a local fire station.
  • Reminded of the too many videos of “Karens” refusing to wear masks, licking windows and coughing on people.
  • Wonder if all of us are really “safer at home” …

6 a.m. Isla Rosa.

  • Gather fruit by gently shaking trees. Mostly very bright orangey oranges and neon-green/yellow coconuts.
  • Locate stars on the ground and use my shovel to dig up fossils. Score, a triceratops torso!
  • See a shining light and recover a buried money bag filled with bells.
  • Plant the money bag and sprout a money tree.
  • Run through the gently swaying red pansies and pink cosmos and catch a common butterfly with my DIY-ed butterfly net.
  • Interrupted by the smell of coffee …

6:15 a.m. Boston.

  • Get a second cup of coffee.
  • Review the running list of items needed to replenish our 14-day supply of quarantine essentials.
  • Today’s list includes Centrum Silver Adult multivitamins. The 125-count bottle purchased at the beginning of Stay at Home is almost empty.
  • Log in to Amazon and order three bags of ground coffee, two blocks of mozzarella cheese, a loaf of whole wheat bread, two mangoes, vitamins, deodorant and laundry detergent. They are still out of Scott toilet paper.
  • Wonder how many local stores and restaurants will close this week …

8 a.m. Isla Rosa.

  • Stop into the Nook’s Cranny store and visit with Timmy and Tommy (they are bear cubs).
  • Sell the fruit, bugs, shells and fish collected earlier in the morning.
  • Check out the five items for sale.
  • Buy the candlestick.
  • Put on my pink leaf-printed wet suit, red snorkel mask and yellow water shoes and run into the water (while pressing the A button on my Nintendo Switch) and begin diving.
  • Dive for scallops, hoping to summon my new friend Pascal (he’s an otter) and trade my scallop for one of three things -- a pearl, a DIY mermaid furniture recipe or a piece of mermaid clothing.
  • Yesterday he gave me a pair of sparkly blue mermaid shoes.
  • Wonder if I’ll ever wear “normal” shoes again …

8:15 a.m. Boston.

  • Assess my current “work from home” higher ed wardrobe and find it lacking.
  • Log into the Boden site (again) and peruse all the pretty patterned shirts. In the world of online Zoom meetings, it’s all about the pretty shirts.
  • Place several in my cart but don’t buy any.
  • Remind myself that the economy has tanked and we have no idea what the future will bring.
  • Tell myself that we are Safer at Home.
  • Wonder how long this can last …
  • Wonder if this is the new normal …

Mary Churchill is associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University where she also teaches in the higher education administration program. She is co-author of When Colleges Close: Leading in a Time of Crisis (spring 2021, Johns Hopkins University Press), which details the merger of Wheelock College and Boston University.


Be the first to know.
Get our free daily newsletter.


We are retiring comments and introducing Letters to the Editor. Letters may be sent to [email protected].

Read the Letters to the Editor  »

Back to Top