My first day back to campus, and six minutes before my appointment, I arrive at the gymnasium and take my place in an orderly, socially distanced queue. Like most of my colleagues, I pass the time nervously eyeing the instruction signs and rubbing sanitizer into my hands. While concerned that we’re about to endure the infamous “brain scraper,” the tests are actually simple nasal swabs. The PPE-swathed attendants diligently instruct us that the swabs need to go far enough to tickle, which is unpleasant, but not traumatic.
As we leave, there is a table with a roll of stickers announcing that “We’re in this together!” with a picture of Old Main on it. It seems a pleasant enough way to encourage responsible behavior, so I take one and slap it on my breast pocket.
Another test, and another sticker. This one has a pile of crimson and golden autumn leaves with the “We’re in this together!” slogan, and it once again goes directly on my breast pocket.
I don’t plan on bothering with a sticker today, but it has a picture of Monty the Mastiff being even more adorable than usual—he’s shaking his head, but all the slobber is being captured by his face mask—so I can’t resist.
No dispenser today, so I leave without getting a sticker. Around two o’clock a little voice starts up in my head: “Are you absolutely positive the dispenser wasn’t there? I’m pretty sure you could have gotten a sticker if you wanted one. I guess you just don’t care…” YouTube videos of marble races I’ve already watched before drown the voice out enough for me to get some work done, but I will be more careful next time.
The sticker dispenser is there as always. I take a sticker that says, “Smile if you’ve been tested.” Its smile is pointedly not directed at me.
I inadvertently leave the sticker on my shirt while I wash it. As it emerges from the dryer, the sticker is displeased and tells me that I will do better in the future, or I shall suffer his wrath.
I’ve forgotten to make my reservation this week. I explain the consequences the sticker has planned for me if I don’t pick it up, and the man working the check-in desk graciously allows me to take a slot that has gone unfilled. The sticker features a cornucopia of autumn gourds, including a cucumber. I can’t help but take this as a threat.
I apply the sticker to my breast pocket as usual. It immediately slips off. I pick it up and cradle it in my palms, silently wondering if anything can restore the trust that has been lost, or if the threads that hold us together can never be re-tied once they snap.
The sticker’s glossy surface reflects not the light, only its intense disappointment in me. But I realize its behavior is starting to bely its claim that “We’re in this together.” As the university is a proponent of inquiry-based learning, I engage with the sticker in a spirited, but ultimately fruitless, debate.
I carefully take the sticker and place it on my breast pocket—upside down, in protest of the sticker’s behavior of late. It refuses to respond.
Today’s sticker, a yellow smiley face, catches on the edge of the table and is slightly folded. It is the most beautiful thing I have seen, and I am inspired to fold again, and again, until a glorious visage emerges: The Great Old One Hastikur, whose limitless powers will raise me to glory.
Have I erred? Perhaps this obsession is unhealthy. Many people have commented on the fact that they hear me saying, “Stabby, stabby, Mister Sticker Man,” under my breath. On the other hand, Hastikur never says that, because He is Love.
No, I realize Hastikur is not Love. He is evil and I WILL RESIST! Into the underwear drawer with you, Hastikur!
I am a free-thinking patriot who does not bow to the need of any earthly Covid test swag sticker. Instead, after I use one of the stickers printed on the information sheet to label my sample vial, I peel the other seven, identical labels with me. They shall form the basis of a brand new society.
It’s the fucking autumn leaves sticker again, even though we are clearly entering winter. This enrages me, and I crumple it with the rage of a thousand suns. Seeing what I have wrought, I feel badly, and attempt to resuscitate it, but I do not recall the proper number and timing of breaths, so I can merely gently caress its curved edges as it shuffles off this sticker coil.
Still wracked with grief and guilt, I take seventy-four stickers and place them all over my body, in hopes of somehow undoing the heinous act I have committed. I also take off my shirt and put on a fur hat and horns, so I may better run through every building on campus.
Indefinite administrative leave pending termination hearing.