A New Normal by Marielle Echavez

As a senior, this pandemic has affected my life in more ways than I ever imagined. My college experience has been abruptly cut short. I am now self-quarantining in my Chattanooga apartment, grateful that I am not one of the many students who were forced to move out of their dorms. My graduation ceremony scheduled for May has been canceled. I planned my last ever semester of school to involve as much creating and opportunities for projects as possible. I have a passion for all things videography and photography, and my fellow communication classmates and I had some amazing projects in the making. But we move forward; Here is my new normal.


Journal Entry 4 – In The Eye of The Storm

Over the last few weeks of quarantine, life hasn’t felt real because of our rapidly changing society. With so much happening at once, it has been hard to grasp the reality of this pandemic… until Monday, April 13, 2020.

I woke up to phone calls and messages from friends and my family who are 300 miles away.

“Are you okay?”

“How are you and John doing?”

“Call me when you get the chance.”

I knew it was storming hard from the night before. My boyfriend John and I prepared for a power outage that never reached my apartment. When I woke up the next morning, I felt so ignorant for not realizing that a tornado had touched down and devastated my city.

I checked on many friends who were near the devastation. Some without power, some without cell-phone service, some without internet. Some with damaged cars and damaged homes. It is so heartbreaking that because of this pandemic, we’re unadvised to visit these areas of town just to simply help our neighbors.

And in the midst of this mess, I got another phone call from my roommate.

“Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I tested positive for coronavirus.”

Reality hit. The virus that has killed over 120,000 people around the world has found its way into my tiny apartment in Chattanooga.

Because we were exposed, we received calls from the TN Health Department about precautions and procedures to stay home and quarantine until Monday, April 27, which includes no walks in the park or trips to the grocery store even with masks. 

This has been my view for the past week, and one more week to go. 

Even though we were exposed, John and I weren’t mandated to test for the virus, but this past weekend (Saturday and Sunday, April 18 through 19), Tennessee offered free drive-through covid-19 testing in 33 locations across the state. We decided to take advantage of the free test because we thought it would be best just to know. Hamilton County wasn’t on the list of locations, so we tested in Coffee County which is where John works and was the nearest county over. 

John and I got there one hour early, and there was already a line. Nurses and National Guard Medics were at the site running the entire process. 

Double-layer gloves. Full-face plastic masks. Full-body medical suits. It felt like I was in a dystopia.

As I looked around in other cars, most everyone else was elderly. I didn’t see a single young person. I am so grateful that so far my roommate, my boyfriend and I have remained healthy through this pandemic and that everyone I know remained safe through the tornado.

A quote from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath says, “I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” 

And in the eye of this storm, I recognize that the reality of the pain and the impacts of this pandemic is very real, and as I sit here, quarantined in my tiny apartment, ‘in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo,’ I am grateful for my health and safety and am deeply wishing for healing for those who have been affected by this pandemic in terrible ways. For now, all I can do is stay home.

Full slideshow of images below.


Journal Entry 3 – Privilege

April 8, 2020

Local Chattanooga ice-cream truck driver stops by Rise at Signal Mountain apartments and smiles on Monday, April 6, 2020. Photo taken by Marielle Echavez.

It’s my 23rd day of self-quarantining. Thankfully, I haven’t had to experience this isolation alone. John Mathis, my boyfriend, and my pet guinea pig, Pancake, have been with me at my apartment since March 15th. I truly don’t know if I would have the mental strength to conquer social distancing without a companion; for that I am so grateful. 

They keep me sane and entertained, but it feels like I am slowing down. I am running… out of things to do, out of snacks in my pantry, out of motivation to do work. It is so strange that I haven’t been able to sit down in a restaurant or invite friends over; everything seems kind of like I am in a dream. 

I am constantly questioning reality even after 3 weeks when some countries like Italy and China have had to deal with this virus for months. But right when I feel like I am in a huge slump, the ice-cream man drives uphill to my tiny apartment on a dead-end street. I have heard of him passing through other complexes but never mine. 

As soon as I heard the nostalgic music from my bedroom, I quickly grabbed my camera and ran to my front porch to snap an imperfect photo. He sees me, and we exchange friendly waves. As he drives away, he leaves me with a smile and a thumbs up. So on my 23rd day at home, I know that it’s a privilege to sit in boredom and have the opportunity to walk out of my front door to enjoy the little things like ice-cream.


Journal Entry 2 – A Personal Perspective

March 22, 2020 – April 1, 2020

Ascension Living Valley Residents post a sign saying “Heroes Work Here” outside of their building on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Photo taken by Marielle Echavez.

Connection. 

305 miles, 4.5 hours, and COVID-19 separate me from my family in my hometown of Dyersburg, Tennessee. This last semester of college has made me feel like a home-body, and I am typically okay with that but not when I have no other choice. COVID-19 has touched base in the two places I call home, Dyersburg and Chattanooga. 

As of April 1, 2020, Tennessee is the 17th state in the US with the most cases with a number of 2,239 reported cases and 24 deaths. Dyersburg/Dyer County has had 3 cases and Chattanooga/Hamilton County has had 51 cases and 3 deaths.

But there has been a recent discovery in medicine research that hydroxychloroquine also known as Plaquenil is helping treat victims of COVID-19. It is an incredible break-through in research to know that there is medicine out there that may end this pandemic. But there is already a shortage. This medicine helps treat lupus and arthritis patients across the world, including my mom, who has both.

I had been worried for my mom for many reasons. Aside from her health and the coronavirus in general, she is around different people all day as a physical therapist who works in both a hospital and a nursing home. 

I talk to my family often, despite the distance, and last week, I got a phone call from my dad as he offered advice on what foods to prepare, what necessities to buy, and gave updates on what the world looks like on the other side of the state. This is when he told me about how my mom’s pharmacist told them about the situation and gave my mom a 3 month supply of medication before there was an extreme shortage. I am so grateful for this stranger.

The only people I see in person nowadays are my roommate and my boyfriend, whose family is also on the opposite side of the state. This pandemic has affected them in a way different than others because he is from a family of educators. His mom, dad, step-mom, step-sister, brother, sister-in-law, and he himself are all part of the education system. Many people don’t get to say that about their families.

They have all missed being in the classroom with their students, and I get to witness the teacher-perspective because of that. My boyfriend says that he feels weird not being in school. “It doesn’t feel real. It feels like I am on a break and that I should be going back to school. But I’m honestly not sure if I will ever step foot in that classroom with them again.”

This entire pandemic has put me at a loss of words with constant thoughts spinning in my head. With all of these things happening in the world, my safe space has been at my tiny desk in my tiny apartment – just creating. Being silly and positive on social media makes time pass by quicker, but this entire situation has just been hard. It’s hard trying to find the balance of keeping up with the news without feeling insane. It’s hard trying to find the motivation to study and get all my assignments done. It is hard to stay positive when you know there are people who are sick, who have lost their jobs, who can’t hug their family or friends, or who have lost their loved ones. 

The one thing that hasn’t been hard is creating art. When I am feeling down, I light a candle, choose my canvas and just paint away. Through the chaos, this one quote brings me into a positive headspace, and I am grateful.

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal. And when the danger passed, the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

Kitty O’Meara

Journal Entry 1 – The World Around Me

Sunday, March 22, 2020

  • Gas Updates:
  • Sunday, March 22, 2020 – $1.73
  • Wednesday, March 25, 2020 – $1.65
  • Wednesday, April 1, 2020 – $1.49
  • Tuesday, April 8, 2020 – $1.38

Here is what my world looked like on Sunday, March 22, 2020.

Gas was $1.73 at the BP gas station on Mountain Creek Road. This is the lowest I have seen in a very long time. It’s an eerie feeling seeing a rare opportunity for cheap travel, yet we are unable to leave our homes. As I write this today on Wednesday, March, 25, 2020, prices have lowered even more to $1.65 per gallon. We haven’t seen prices like these since before the early 2000’s. Typically, I would feel excited and grateful for something as simple as a cheap price on a gas station sign, but right now, I feel desensitized to it. There are bigger problems in the world. People are self-quarantining in their homes in social isolation. In recent weeks, people have hoarded toilet paper during this pandemic creating an outage in most convenient stores across the United States. This last Sunday, toilet paper was finally restocked but limited to 1 per purchase in the Signal Mountain Walmart. It is so outlandish seeing how the world is reacting to this pandemic by panic-purchasing toilet paper in excess. There are no words to express how it feels to be alive in a time where things are changing so rapidly and as history is unfolding in front of our eyes. But even though the world seems chaotic, spring is still in full-bloom.

Flowers have bloomed, and Spring has made its presence midst the prior rainy season in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Sunday, March 22, 2020. Photo taken by Marielle Echavez.


Meet the Storyteller

Marielle Echavez

Marielle Echavez is the head editor of Rising Rock. She is both a staff writer and photographer for the University Echo but is most passionate about videography. She is a senior studying Communication and Psychology and plans to pursue video production post-graduation. Some of her work is displayed on @mariellejaimedia on Instagram and can be contacted at wcb788@mocs.utc.edu.

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