A New Normal by Amanda Morgan Fann

Change. I have never liked it, but I know I cannot stop the inevitable, only adjust and grow from it. When I first heard the word “Coronavirus” in January, I never fathomed it would outbreak in the United States, much less shape the entire way we live our everyday lives. Colleges closed across the nation; being an Undergrad student means my senior year as I know it has been ripped from under me. How I learn has to be altered to an online format, and the friends I have come to know and love can only be seen through a screen. I am a creative communicator and most importantly storyteller, and this pandemic has not changed that. Although times are dark and confusing, we will see a brighter day, but until then, we can find hints of light breaking through the dark clouds as long as we keep our heads up and look. The following 3 weeks, I will share my quarantine stories in Chattanooga and Dunlap, Tennessee: the dark, the light and the inbetween. Here is my New Normal.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Journal Entry #4 After the Storm

Tucker Richardson gets an “at-home-hair-cut” for Easter pictures, from his Aunt, Teresa Fann in Dunlap, TN on April 11, 2020.

There is this unsettling quiet after a storm. Maybe it’s nature’s way of extending an olive branch  or showing regret after a tantrum. Either way, I am not sure I like it. Sometimes the quiet seems mocking, acting like nothing ever happened, but it did. With one massive storm comes a severity of loss weighing heavy on people as their lives are changed forever and communities learn to rebuild.

Teresa Fann tries to comfort Fileder Richardson when he panicked after feeling the scissors graze his neck on April, 11, 2020.

Easter of 2020 was extremely different. The day before, Fielder Richardson and Tucker Richardson came over to see the Fanns since Covid-19 terminated our extended-family’s celebration. Their mom decided  both needed a trim for Easter pictures, so the only logical route was to have my mother, with an expired beautician’s license of 28 years, cut their hair. Tucker Jude took it like a champ, while his big brother had to be coaxed and tricked onto the chopping block. Once he felt the scissors at the back of his neck, we lost him. While he screamed and mom rocked him, I just stared in disbelief at his uneven, unfinished do and laughed.

The only normalcy I could grasp was egg dying and basket hunting. I found delight in the eggs’ beautiful pastel colors and our traditions like laying out a plate for the Bunny. But there is no substitute for what I had to miss: my large 34 member family fitting inside Gramma’s house, My Aunt jo inevitably getting covered in yolk from the egg toss, the kids in full sprint to win the egg hunt, or my uncles and older cousins giving me a hard time.

This was the first Easter of her life, Mom was not with her Mother. We Facetimed Gramma and Mom spent an hour talking to her. However, I know it was not the same because Mom’s sad cry came shortly after the call. We planned to drive to her house and talk from our cars, but the storm warnings came earlier than expected. We prepared for the worst in Dunlap TN, but the worst did not come for us.

Teresa Fann and her children wish her mom a happy Easter through Facetime on Sunday, April 12, 2020.

That night I received several texts checking I was safe and not at my Chattanooga apartment, just five miles from my second home, a tornado had touched down. 

It was not until the morning after, that I learned East Brainerd was hit the hardest. I saw the wreckage in videos and was saddened by the devastation of my city. I panicked that those I love in the East Brainerd area were hurt, then was relieved to learn of their safety. However, I know not everyone was so lucky. 21 people were hospitalized. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Meadows family, who lost their 4 year old son, Grayson,  and all the other families affected. 

I was in a terrible mood the morning after, sad for those that lost so much and upset that this pandemic made me feel helpless. The world seemed dark and unfair, like everything that could go wrong, did.  When Rian Scott asked me to chalk with him, I somewhat rudely declined. He went anyway, and from the window I watched him create a little light in the dark, and some hope in me. My brother spent an hour writing messages like, “Everything is going to be alright,” “Never Give Up,” “ChattanoogaStrong,” “We will get through this,” and more all over our driveway. He never ceases to surprise me. And he is right… everything will be alright. Chattanooga will rebuild. Just like our nation will rebuild after this COVID-19 storm, as long as we do not let the quiet cause us to forget the severity of this historical moment. We need to always remember and grow from the storm of our New Normal.

Rian Fann steps back to admire his final chalk message, “NEVER EVER GIVE UP.”

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Journal Entry #3 My Essential Worker

Brian Fann hangs up his medical mask on his work van’s rearview mirror after a long day in Dunlap, TN on April 7, 2020.

The headline “Tennessee Gov. Lee signs an order requiring residents to stay at home” pops on my phone screen Thursday evening, April 2, 2020. 

Fielder Lee Richardson practices making the letter “b” by scribbling in shaving cream in Beersheba, TN on April 3, 2020

I am in awe when I see it. So many questions run through my mind: What does this really mean? Will it be enforced? When will I get to see the boys again? I look over at the innocent faces next to me, the 1 ½ year old scribbling on his pages, the 4 year old practicing his letter “B” during the homeschool lesson, not a care in his world other than connecting the little b’s hump to its line.

* * *

When Dad told me two weeks before that he received his official letter of documentation to be allowed to travel in case of a “stay at home mandate” or “martial law,” I laughed because it seemed unbelievable, like a part of the storyline of a post-apocalyptic/ dystopian movie, but definitely not the year 2020 in the United States. Little did I know this was our reality.

His letter of clearance reads, “The bearer of this letter is providing emergency communications restoration support to critical communication infrastructures to respond to COVID-19.” Dad supplies phone and internet service to businesses in the Tennessee Valley, this includes nursing homes, prisons and hospitals. He is considered an essential worker because it is critical for everyone to stay connected during this time, especially for emergency responders and 911 communication.

Brian Fann takes off his gloves and mask after arriving home from work on April 7, 2020.

Every evening he pulls into the gravel driveway in his work van, steps out with a facemask around his neck and sprays down with a sanitizing chemical mixture provided by his work. He has to strip off his clothes on the front porch and put on the new clothes mom has sitting out folded, all before he comes inside. Every day he does this just to be on the safe side, because every day he is out where the virus is lurking.

I worry about him. A few of the businesses he has helped have reported cases of the COVID-19. If he works at the hospital, he has to have his temperature checked before going back to his office.

 I am grateful my father has a job as the unemployment rate continues to increase in this country, but I can’t help but fear one day the silent monster will attack him. I can see the tiredness on his face from having to work extra hours to keep up with the demand, but he never complains. He takes pride in doing his part in all of this. He inspires me to do my part, to stay at home and stay positive.

* * *

I left the boys house that next day sad, not knowing for sure  when I would see them again. They could not understand why I was sad. But when Tucker followed me to the door to  wave and blow me goodbye kisses, I felt an overwhelming warmth in my heart that gave me hope. I live for all these feelings: worry, warmth, pride and hope. This is my New Normal.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Journal Entry #2 Why are You Crying Amanda Morgan?

Rian Scott Fann presses his homemade sign that reads “Help been in Quarantine too long” against his front porch window in Dunlap, TN on March 25, 2020.

“Why are you crying Amega Morken?” I hear a small voice from the top of our den stairs. I look up and force a smile behind the salty tears sliding down my face, trying not to worry the little four-year old staring at me with concerned baby blues. Fielder Lee walks down the stairs, climbs into my lap and with a sticky finger, wipes the remaining tears from my face. The only words he says are “It’s okay, you can hang up the next one.” 

Fielder Lee hangs Christmas ornaments on light switches on March 30, 2020.

While rummaging around our house during his visit, Fielder Lee came across some Christmas ornaments. Since he couldn’t find a tree to place them, we began hanging them on light switches. That observant little boy thought I was crying because he didn’t let me hang up the last ornament when I asked. That of course was not the reason, but you can not fully explain stress and fear and the severity of our national state to a four-year old. And if we are being honest, I do not know if I could really put into words why I was crying. So I simply responded, “that would be awesome. Thank You!”

Almost a week before that, I was at my Chattanooga apartment gathering the books I need for the rest of my online semester, watering the plants and packing some clothes. My 14 days were over and I was free to leave the house. I was only gone for a day because I had to be home to celebrate Dad’s birthday. But just that one day left alone with our mother, must have been hard on Brother Bear. When I stepped on our porch I was greeted by my brother pressed against our giant front window holding a sign with the scribbled words “Help been in quarantine too long” with all the dogs surrounding him, and Teresa’s out of key singing to Kenny Chesney in the background . I laughed so hard my sides hurt. Leave it to my brother to be able to find the humor in a bad situation. 

But do those six simple words not perfectly sum up how everyone is feeling right now? Are we not so sick of seeing the same walls day in and day out? Things I used to take for granted or may have viewed as a task before, I would jump at the opportunity to do now. Like buying a birthday present for my Dad. He’s always been hard to buy for, but this year I didn’t even get to accept the challenge and go look for the perfect Brian-ish present. Instead I had to order it online (which has taken over a week to get back instead of the standard 2 days because everything is so backed up. Daddy didn’t even get it on his birthday). However, there are things still to be grateful for, like being at home all day gave Mom time to make Dad’s favorite— a layered yellow cake with whip cream and strawberries, something we had not had since I was a child. It reminded me of a simpler time, a happy time. So although the circumstances are scary and terrible, these moments with my loved ones (the birthday celebrations, Wii tournaments, nights around a fire) are all small happy times that I know will turn into great memories.

Brian Fann celebrates his 51st birthday with his family from his house in Dunlap, TN on March 25, 2020.

My boys really got me through this week. Brother’s sign gave me a much needed laugh, Fielder’s sticky fingers taught me to dry the tears, not get stuck in worry, and to create fun out of whatever I can. They reminded me that through these times we have to remember to laugh at the small things because as soon as we lose our humor and good spirits, we lose our ability to see the light, and nobody likes the darkness. We decide what our New Normal will be, so make it a good one.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Journal Entry #1 Medical Masks and Flips

Alivia Jade Fann slides on latex gloves and a medical mask after she comes home with a cough on March 25, 2020

The Bahama waves were crashing, a coconut in my hand, and close friends on both sides of me. Life was perfect in that moment, but little did we know life as we knew it back home was coming to an end. 

The service on the ship was non-existent; Headlines from news apps would pop up on my phone, the titles worsening every day, but I was unable to read the stories. We were fine and in our own little bubble on the ship, but fear they would not let us off the boat at port was always in the back of our minds. We were one of the last Carnival cruises before the cruise line shut down for a month.

We made it home safe and sound, but paranoia had already crept in our small home towns. Those who knew we had gone on the trip, kept their distance. I was pushed by my family to self-quarantine for fourteen days at home just to be on the safe side, and I have been stuck in my house ever since. Today marks day 13.

What was at first all jokes and memes about millenials vs boomers handling the situation, turned out to be a very serious problem of people traveling and spreading the virus. The pandemic has led to mass frenzy, leading to empty store shelves, panic bought toilet paper, and medical mask covered faces. 

We are now living in a time that a cough can send someone over the edge. As the infected account rises to 8 in Hamilton county, people have taken serious precaution. My mother, the super hero of cleanliness, has started lysoling the house three times a day. When my sister came home with a sore throat and cough after spending time with a small study group in Chattanooga, the family would not let her enter the house without a medical mask and latex gloves (turns out just to be allergies easily fixed with a Claritin).  

Although not being able to go to classes to actively debate in intellectual conversation with my friends has been challenging, reconnecting with my family has been the brightside. Spending days at home with my little brother and mother has been the comfort I needed. I find myself never knowing where my phone is, because it is useless when Brother Bear and I are on our outside adventures, hosting flipping competitions on the trampoline, or playing Wii bowling. Social-distancing has allowed me to have time to enjoy and appreciate all the things I have not been able to do in years. It has allowed me to be a kid again. Although my future is uncertain, I am comforted by the fact that my present is full of health and love.

Meet the Storyteller

Amanda Morgan Fann is a photographer, graphic designer and writer, pursuing degrees in Communication and English at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is the Assistant Photo Editor and a staff writer for the University Echo. Her passion lies in storytelling and her community as she constantly works at being the voice for people who may not feel they have one. Amanda has a love for performing and dances on UTC’s hip hop majorette team, The Ladies of G.O.L.D. If you have a story you wish to share or want to know more about me email me at srn924@mocs.utc.edu

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