As the pandemic continued to dominate everyday life, Prudence sank further into the abyss known as the Internet. She spent so much time online that she skimped on self-care measures and interactions with her family and friends. She had gotten into YouTube stories based on situations gleaned from Reddit. Pru had been a bit disillusioned when she discovered that some YouTube channels wrote their own outrageous stories. How many stories could there really be about nasty mothers-in-law who insulted young wives, sisters and friends eloping with fiancés the same day as the wedding, and mom friends expecting that someone else will pay for their high-priced meals and vacations?
Eventually, Prudence figured out that the most unbelievable stories were fake, so she stopped watching those videos and went instead to videos based on Reddit posts. She soon ventured into Reddit, where she read stories about a mixed bag of topics, from the revenge of jilted lovers to the histories of obscure comic book heroes. Although she had heard that Reddit users could be brutal, she made an account, read anecdotes, and made a few comments.
One afternoon, Ellowyne sent her an invitation to FaceTime. Prudence ignored it because she was immersed in a discussion of open relationships. Later, she disregarded Lizette’s request to FaceTime, and paid no heed to a text message from Amber. Frustrated and concerned, Ellowyne texted everyone in her circle to join a Snapchat meeting and try to convince Prudence to participate.
The next day, Ellowyne invited her to the Snapchat group but again Prudence didn’t respond. Undeterred, Amber, Lizette, and Rufus tried to get in touch with her but were unsuccessful. Finally, Penn sent her a message and implored her to converse with her friends. He even offered a one-to-one interaction but she paid no heed. Stymied, Ellowyne decided to discuss her concerns about Pru with their friends. “I am so worried about Pru,” she started. “She’s cut off all contact with me. And Rufus.”
Rufus spoke up. “Prudence and I have always been good friends. She was supportive when my folks died, but I can’t figure out why she ignores my texts.”
“I’m afraid I’m part of the problem,” Lizette said, chagrined. “I told her about Lawrence some time ago, and I haven’t heard from her since.”
Ellowyne tried to soothe Lizette. “Prudence isn’t the kind of person who would be jealous of a friend’s happiness.”
Rufus responded, “Yeah, but maybe she’s worried that we don’t have time for her anymore. I mean, I’ve been so preoccupied…”
“Oh, Rufus,” Amber replied. “You’ve had so much going on. I don’t think anyone could begrudge you the time and space you need.”
Ellowyne stated, “I’ve been so wrapped up in my relationship with this guy that I haven’t given my friends the attention you all deserve.”
“I haven’t kept in touch with Pru, either. These 12-hour shifts that turn into 15 or 18 hours are killing me. Even worse, I don’t get a lot of time off, and I’m always exhausted,” Penn admitted.
“I think everyone understands why you’re socially out of the loop. “I mean, you’ve been so busy and worn out with work that you haven’t even had time for us,” Amber explained. To her chagrin, she immediately realized she had revealed her secret relationship with Penn. “Oh no. I’m so sorry, Penn. I didn’t mean to tell anyone about us.”
Penn wasn’t thrilled that Amber said anything about their relationship, but he assured her that it was okay and their friends would find out anyway. “One of the reasons we haven’t been forthcoming about…us…is that we didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. Rufus and Ellowyne hadn’t gotten together yet, and when Lizette and Lawrence got involved, we were about to say something to all of you. But then we decided not to because we didn’t want to make Prudence feel left out.”
Ellowyne shook her head and replied, “Maybe Prudence feels left out of life. The pandemic has changed everything. We used to get together all of the time, usually several times a week. We saw each other at college and had lunch together. But the isolation of the pandemic, maybe that’s what is getting Prudence down. She doesn’t see us or her teammates.”
“She probably isn’t as active as she was before COVID. No yoga classes, no Zumba, no Pilates. The rugby season is cancelled so she’s missed out on practices and games,” Lizette suggested.
“With all classes being online, she didn’t have to leave the house to go to campus,” Amber said. “Then again, none of us have.”
“And none of us got to walk for our diploma,” Rufus pointed out. “We got our degrees in the mail, and we understand why we didn’t have a real graduation ceremony. But it sucks. We worked hard and missed out on a truly happy day of our lives.”
Penn stated, “Several of us will have other opportunities to walk for graduation. Amber, you’re headed to law school. Lizette, veterinarian college. Rufus, a PhD in engineering. And Prudence will get a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree. Ellowyne, you and I are the only slackers not going to graduate school right away.”
Ellowyne smiled. Penn had always said he wanted to get an advanced nursing degree so he could become part of a medevac team. And she made plans for her own further education but hadn’t even discussed them with Rufus.
“The thing is, we have to admit that the pandemic has been terrible for all of us. But we’re strong and will get through it. Prudence is our good friend and we’ll all just need to take time to make sure she knows it,” Ellowyne remarked.
“I think if we try to treat her the way she would treat us, we won’t go wrong,” Amber suggested.
“She was so caring when my parents died,” Rufus said. “All of you were—and still are. But maybe we need to focus on Prudence, surround her with positivity, and just be there when she needs us.”
“Prudence is going to get through this,” Lizette remarked. “But we need to be patient and let her know that we love her. No matter what.”
The truth of the matter was that Prudence, for the first time in her life, was clinically depressed and in need of professional help.