One of the most recent trends going around on social media is people sharing “before” pictures: The last picture in their camera roll before coronavirus hit. For so many of us, life was completely normal, and then it wasn’t. There was no time to prepare: everything just changed in an instant. With a single email, text, or news report, everyone’s lives would never be the same.
This is the last photo in my phone from before quarantine. It’s my girlfriend, my son and our dog after a particularly stressful night at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. That Monday, March 9th, my son woke up feeling sick so I kept him home from school. By the late afternoon, he was crying in pain. We rushed him to the emergency room, and when we got there, they took him immediately. His lungs were so tight, it was like he was having an extreme asthma attack. After hours of steroids and breathing treatments, he was admitted. It was the first time since he was born that we stayed in the hospital, and of course, coronavirus was on everyone’s mind. At the time, we didn’t know what it was doing to kids. And no one knows if this was a symptom or just a fluke reaction to a regular cold.
That Friday, we received notice that school was closed, and Los Angeles was putting its stay at home order in place. They’re now saying it’ll likely be at least another three months before things start to re-open.
Below, some of my friends shared their last pictures, along with the stories behind them.
Lila from NY:
“My dad and I traveled to Millerton, NY to get our taxes done. We have an annual tradition of getting our taxes done and then going to the Harney and Sons tea cafe there. It was really a lovely day — and if it had to be my last one out it was at the very least a good one. Went to the little book shop in town and bought a few books. It’s weird to think these places you went to only a few months ago might not be there when you can finally go back… but man I hope they are. I think I’ll have to go more than once a year now.”
Michelle from WA:
“We had a mommy-daughter day when she was out of school for spring conferences. It was March 12th and the last time she was in a public space. The next day school was canceled and we decided not to send her brother back to preschool. It’s the last time I felt comfortable being in public. The next day the reality of how serious everything is really set in.”
Lisamarie from TX:
“This was taken March 29th. The stay at home order started April 2nd although many places had started closing already. Our son had spring break from March 9-13 and was supposed to start again on the 16th but schools closed ‘until further notice.’ It hit hard for us. After months of working to get him ready for the school transition and getting him to a place where he had adjusted to the new schedule, it was all stopped! Because of his ASD, schedules and routines are what he needs most. One month into it, we found a new normal for him, but we’ve definitely had some very hard days.”
Kat from MA:
“This is the last picture, when the cat tried to go to school in Graham’s lunch. I almost miss packing lunches, which was my least favorite thing. It made me strangely sad.”
Cam from Seattle, WA:
“This was my last day at my bar before we closed down. I didn’t know it was my last day when I snapped this selfie though. I was complaining about putting shipment away and had just mixed drinks for two of my regulars (Long Island — no tequila and a double tall Captain and Coke), both of whom I’m still in contact with. We have a group chat.”
Julie from MI:
“My son turned 18 in October and on March 10th we went out and voted in the Michigan primary election. The primary is thought to be one of the main reasons Michigan is being smacked so hard by COVID-19. We are lucky in that our polling place is small and rarely busy, but a lot of people weren’t so fortunate. The right to vote isn’t something I won’t take for granted anymore.”
Katie from TN:
“It was my first outing with all three kids. I finally felt like I could handle it. We had the best day at the zoo, and I was vowing to take them once a week because it worked out so beautifully. I even had a stranger take our photo so I wouldn’t forget how great it was. Little did I know, the world would shut down days later. Two and a half months later, and this is still the only time I’ve taken all of my children anywhere alone.”
Rita from OH:
“My second-grader’s last basketball practice, and I was so tired from working a full day, then scrambling to get dinner on the table before getting him to the rec center — I had no idea that it was about to come to a screeching halt. I honestly don’t miss the obligation of shuffling my kids back and forth to their extracurriculars … but I do miss seeing the sheer joy on this face as he dribbles around the court with his teammates.”
We don’t know when things are going back to “normal,” but there’s no denying that things will never be the same as the before. Having these pictures will be a time capsule — a way of remembering that yes, there was a before. Some of them capture the mundane parts of everyday life. Some preserve the joy of the last special occasion as a group. Your last “normal” picture in your phone tells a story of the old way of life. A life we’ll likely never live again, at least not in the same way.