The two of us sit at the dining room table, reading for class. Around 10:40 p.m., I turn over my printed art history reading and scrawl, “And what if one day, we look back on this time with an idyllic gaze, and miss the closeness of confinement?” I don’t show anyone, just myself. I am getting used to this.
This morning we cook breakfast together. I fry the eggs (she likes her yolk runny), she toasts the toast (she knows I don’t like mine very toasted). It’s the little things. The routine. The small details we silently learn about each other, the small details we remember. She fills a glass with water for me, and fills my need for social closeness. Ever since she moved in, I hardly notice the distance.
2008, I overhear my neighbor say, “We are living in the worst state.” I don’t know if they are referring to a state of being, or the state of Michigan itself, but I think to myself: If I ever run for office, I’ll use this story in my campaign.
I guess it was an election year after all, now that I think about it, so maybe that would explain why my eight-year-old mind was working in that way.
It’s an election year again, and people are talking about 2008. And I’m not running for office but I’m thinking of that line. And as I FaceTime a professor from my bedroom this morning (something I never imagined doing) there are two points in the conversation where I think I might cry. Before spring break, I couldn’t even recall the last time I shed a tear.
I write with a new obsession. On paper. But this morning, I am barely awake, so I open the notes app on my phone instead. “I’m glad Angus convinced us to go to Acrop at midnight, even though we had so much work. I’m glad we went to Olivia’s, and stayed long enough for all of the laughs, even though we were only going to stop by…” the list continues, reminiscing, maybe documenting, the events of the last two weeks of normalcy. We unknowingly stocked up on moments that, at the time, seemed easy to postpone. Screenshot. Send.
Fall semester, a friend and I spend time together every Monday evening. One specific Monday in October, we pause our aimless stroll around campus. Cross-legged on the bench between Cushing, Kenyon and Blodgett, we talk about how everything can change so quickly in this uncertain life. She tells me quite sincerely, somewhat out of nowhere, that she will always be there for me, and to let her know if I ever need anything. Time slows down, the gravity of the statement is palpable. I say it back. I genuinely mean it.
I switch my laundry from the washer to the dryer, hyper-aware of how the last time I did this, I was in the Joss basement.
The bench conversation floats into the forefront of my mind as a different friend and I drive another loop around the old neighborhood, with nowhere to go but the car. I point out the frayed yellow rope as we drive past the house where I grew up. “There used to be a tire swing,” I tell her, “I wrote about it for a class.” As I speak the words, I remember how it felt to sit in the Sanders 111, how I tried not to see the comments in the margins as I read, how I moved seats because the sun was so bright I couldn’t see at all. Maybe I’ll show my “new housemate” what I wrote one of these days, now that time is in abundance.
When you have friends on a rapidly emptying campus who can’t go home home in the midst of a global pandemic, the “Lmk if you need anything” text takes on a new weight. I send the message, and within twenty four hours my friend stands outside of Domestic Arrivals Pick Up 1. She will live with us until the end of May. The end of May might as well be forever. My perception of time is out of whack.
The moment my friend steps foot in the house, she joins our home. We share meals, fears, and emergency protocol plans “just in case.” She is not a typical guest in typical times.
This morning I walked behind her computer screen during her 9 a.m. anthro class. At 1:30 I walked by art history. At 3:00, we both Zoomed from my computer for the seminar we share.
I might as well be double majoring in sourdough baking and going for walks, with a correlate in Sanjay Gupta.
In the seminar, my professor makes a comment about how difficult it must be to live on an island at this time, then adding that everyone probably feels like they are in their own isolated island. Sitting at the kitchen island, it feels more like Vassar than I could have imagined, two faces in the same Zoom screen.
Today, we ordered our first take-out since quarantine began. My mom wore a mask, handling the familiar styrofoam containers from Sy Thai with alcohol-soaked paper towels, as if they contained toxic waste. A comically horrific scene. If me from two months ago were to stand outside the kitchen window, peering in on the scene illuminated by the warm glow of lights and the sporadic bursts of laughter, I would not even begin to comprehend what I witness.
I lack the vocabulary for this breed of uncertainty.
And what if one day, we do look back on this terrifying time with an idyllic gaze, and miss the closeness of confinement?
That wouldn’t be the worst thing. In a way, I already sense that I will.