I have always found it interesting that almost every crime TV show has an episode that deals with a virus outbreak. First two or three deceased are always treated as “died under mysterious circumstances,” brushed aside, until four, five, six, ten more cases pop up, and after the situation rapidly progresses, the world is in the state of a pandemic. The newly discovered virus is then treated as an attack of a terrorist organization, a mysterious biological weapon used to cleanse the society. The world population is in a state of shock, desperately trying to invent the cure, the government is covering up the seriousness of the situation and uses it as a way to manipulate citizens. And every single time that I find myself feeling afraid after watching these kinds of episodes, I contemplate the possibility of this horrible thing actually happening.
And so it happened.
At first, I took it lightly. “Deadly virus? Pandemic? Yeah, right.” I thought. Then the schools started closing. Restaurants and coffee shops, libraries and workplaces. One after another. Paranoia and fear started settling in. They said it was going to be like this for two weeks, at most. “This is not bad, a spring holiday,” every student thought. But the two weeks passed quickly and in front of me were multiple platforms customized for online classes, loads of school work, material and exercises to be reviewed and finished by the beginning of April.
I didn’t notice March passing by me that fast. I was already pretty used to not going out and spending the days at home, especially during winter and spring, since this period of the year is pretty tame and quiet in Herceg Novi. But this time, it hit me differently. Previously, it was my decision to stay at home, I knew that I could go out anytime I wanted. But this time, I was trapped against my will and it made me feel like I was slowly losing my mind.
My friends and I were joking about having mental breakdowns that resulted in dyeing our hair, cutting our bangs, rearranging our whole apartments and counting grains of dirt in our yards, but we were sincerely feeling like that was our only way of coping with the unnerving feeling of fear that lurked in our environment. That amount of fear naturally makes you feel like you’re descending into madness.
April was a month of school work, preparing for the graduation exams, and military officers roaming our (otherwise calm) streets after the curfew. The sight was almost unbearable to watch and soon, anger replaced fear. I am angry that I am finishing school from my couch. I am angry that I have to wait for God knows how long until I see my friends again. I am angry that so many people died, and no one seems to care about the state of health institutions, and providing services good enough to treat the patients. I am angry that so much false information is circulating and people are falling victim to the faulty leaders talking about the “better tomorrow.” May is here, and my anger doesn’t seem to go away.
My graduation is approaching, and I know that I won’t be able to celebrate it the usual way: walking down the stairs of the main square and dancing the traditional dance called quadrille, while the younger students and parents are watching. I was really looking forward to it, as it is a pretty important cultural thing, and a favorite event of every senior finishing high school.
But this virus didn’t affect just that tradition – it changed the whole lifestyle of Montenegrin people. We used to spend the early summer days relaxing on the beaches, grabbing our “first morning coffee” in the coffee shops by the sea and preparing for the arrival of many tourists from various countries. Now I spend my days on the balcony of my apartment, where I have the most similar sensation of being outside, chatting with my online friends. We are all sharing the same feelings, and we’ve concluded that we’ve had enough. It is time to do something positive, and enjoy ourselves for at least one day.
We threw a Zoom graduation party. It was fun to sit down and get our minds off the pessimistic topics. But the very next morning, the same feeling of misery came back, and we were back to square one, until another month comes and goes.
It is June. I graduated high school, I passed my entrance exams – from my couch – and I got into university in Serbia, without crossing my doorstep. I can finally go out freely, visit my favorite bars, coffee places, catch up with my friends and make up for all the days that I spent glued to my bed. Although there are no new cases in my country, and the airports started operating again, there are no tourists yet. It is empty, quiet, and unusual. At least I can give myself the luxury of feeling at ease. July is soon to come, and my summer can at last feel like a proper summer – minus the foreign visitors and numerous concerts and gigs of the local bands. My mind is clearer, my mood is lifted, and once again, I can see the positivity around me. Soon, I’ll be moving to another country, for the sake of attending university classes, but hopefully, this global situation is resolved by the end of the year, and we can all go back to our previous lives that we forgot we had, before COVID laid its hands on them.
Valentina Jovanovic age 18, Herceg Novi, Montenegro