Look at the World, So Close and I'm Halfway to It

When my university announced that our campus would be closed for the semester, I, like many other students across the country, felt devastated. Although I had been relatively chipper throughout my isolationist summer, I had pinned all my hopes on being an RA and living in the dorms, even if my classes were online. But, when I lost my job, I didn't have the funds to pay for an apartment of my own, and I had to make the difficult choice to stay home for the semester, far away from my friends and my life at school. Being home for the last month of school has been really difficult for me, so I made a last-minute plan to go visit my friends who have decided to stay in off-campus housing for the semester. After a week with them and a week at home, I feel like I have a little taste of what it would be like to actually live and study in my own space--but, seeing them holed up in their apartments and doing their best to socially distance in the confinement of their shared rooms also made me grateful for some elements of being an at-home student this semester. 

    I don't think I realized until I visited my friends near campus just how much they actually got to interact with their community. Even though all of them have been (and still are) safely socially distancing, by virtue of being near one another in shared apartment complexes and local haunts, my friends still get to interact with a few members of the student body on a pretty regular basis. (And even if they don't go out, they still spend all day long with their roommates.) Although I recognize that this never-being-alone aspect of apartment living poses significant challenges for my friends, as they are constantly having to battle it out for Wi-Fi connection and have trouble separating their own lives from each other, I also got the overwhelming sense that having a friend around must bring them a kind of comfort and support that I simply can't have at home. I can complain to my mother or sister until I'm blue in the face about what I'm going through with school and my friends and my (many) extracurriculars, but the only people who would really understand me are my fellow students. Watching them be together felt like hitting a soft bruise you didn't know was there--I didn't know that I had been hurt until I saw it, but the wound had been there for a long time. 

As I continued to stay with my friends and watch them go through their daily routines, I also felt an ache for something I've never really had before--for the first time, I actually felt the desire to have an independent life. As an RA, I had my own room last year, but it was still in a dorm, which meant that in many ways I was limited in what I could do--for example, because my room didn't have a kitchen, I had to take all of my meals at the cafeteria. But watching my friends do things that I feel like I can't do at home without explaining myself or asking permission to do, like sleeping late, missing class, or leaving (in a mask) to get some fresh air, pushed me to imagine for the first time what a blessing some actual adulting would be for me. In years past, I've been too worried about money, safety, and my own fear that I couldn't 'make it' on my own to ever allow myself to envision a truly independent life. I don't know why, but there was a block in my mind that had always made me shy away from the possibility of living on my own, a little voice that whispered that such a thing was "not for me."  But watching them have the agency and autonomy to make their own decisions, big and small, has finally allowed me to move past that block and make a concrete goal for how I want my life to look like after college and beyond. 

As a relatively (extremely) busy senior with lots of classes, work, and other things to balance, I've been able to distract myself from the weirdness of isolation until now, but when I saw how easily my friends sat in each other's lives when I saw how easily they made choices without feeling judged by their families, I felt an ache to have that same level of autonomy. At home, I feel like I can't have that quite yet, as I'm in the constant company of my parents, and feel an almost instinctual need to make them proud, even in situations that are small.

When it came to choosing where I had to live this semester, I made a choice that felt like the only option--I chose saving money and to live in comfort, far away from my college life. I've tried to make the best out of a bad situation, as so many other students have--but I know now that when this ends, or even before it does, I am going to get to have lives like my friends have. Watching my friends live their lives together might have been a little painful, but I think it was important for me to see them successfully navigating this world because it's given me the kick I needed to ignore my own anxieties and myself push forward. 

If you, like me, are feeling alone and downhearted this semester because you're trapped at home, my message is this: you and I are doing the best we can. It's okay to be disappointed because this isn't the semester we planned for with so much love and anticipation. I know that I am still feeling the pangs of this loss every day, and even though there are far larger and more tragic problems plaguing our world, you're still allowed to mourn the things you had at one time eagerly waited for. I know that it is hard to try to do this all from a place that limits your freedoms and alters your lifestyle, but if you're at home like me, I make this promise to you: we will get out of here together. Someday, you and I will live in new places, and new cities, and make friends and go to expensive coffee shops. We will sleep in and miss class and not feel bad about it. We will get our lives back, and when we do, we will be braver and kinder than we were before--and when we do, it will be all the sweeter for the wanting.