Dear Class of 2021: On having been and being

Jessica Moss/The Miscellany News.

I have been thinking about inheriting, holding paper and emptying shelves. I once had pages and plastics scattered about my desk, strewn open for a quick reference, some blanketed with dust. They were stacked completely out of order and blocked the wide window to my right. The white light from a cold January afternoon magnified through the glass, flitting across headlines of new anti-smoking regulations, 2008 elections and a moderately offensive crossword from the 80s. 

I have been thinking about The Miscellany News’ office, which has been the office of many. I have been thinking about beginnings and ends. One of my first tasks at the Misc was organizing the old pages scattered about the office and moving the stacks into the lounge just across the way. I selected favorites from the past and curated a small wall of front pages for inspiration: a snapshot of the few histories I could stomach, the centuries turned to wallpaper.

I have been thinking about ink and time. Every page was ink etching out our histories, each dangling participle capturing a moment of fingers dancing on keyboards—that was a weary Sunday afternoon I just touched. That was Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, that one caused an argument. I could slide my hours into my backpack and carry them with me, minutes ticking by while my latest idea drafted in between my ears. I could file the hours away in my dorm room, the small wooden trunk tucked behind my laundry basket. Each week, at least one stack was reserved in the office, a record for those who will come.

I did not think that February 27, 2020 would be the last Thursday morning I would hold a history I helped chronicle, a chronicle of my history and yours. I spilled coffee on it—I’m careless, talking with my hands. I wished I had had just one more second with it. 

It is autumn, and as I lay in my campus apartment at night, I imagine last year, and pretend it is today. 

Back then, I lived in the dorms; I would throw the door wide open to first-years on their first week looking for company or a map. I would beckon with visible white teeth and an ungloved hand; the dining hall is on the other end of campus. I’ll walk you. Room key in my pocket and phone in hand, we’d wander in endless chatter, me and my small bombastic gaggle, close enough to smell minty breath. 

Now, there are windows between us, ghosts of smiles behind bandana masks. I walk alone, hurried, past bodies that seem nothing more than the noxious air they offer. I count my breaths up the front steps. I time my dining hall visits to the ebb of my fellow students’ appetites, when I will confront the fewest passersby. My room spirals into clutter and odor, and I pretend to release the smell at night when the air is less a vector for neighbors’ breath, and more a patient stillness waiting for the next sun. 

One morning, I overfill my mug, hot liquid splattering across the island in my kitchenette. I grab the first makeshift towel I can get my hands on: a stray issue of the Misc stuffed in a box with my fragile glassware. I mop up what I can, and promptly forget about it. Hours later, I return from my Zoom class, thoroughly spent for the day. There it is: the stack of paper, ink swimming, a viscous mess of drowned words. At the top, I glean the date. February 27, 2020—a testament to the hours that come and go as they please, indifferent to the things of which they deprive us.

It is a Friday morning and the light is a balm in the humid air. The Times sits in the driveway, baking in it to kill off any residual virus. My dad insists we leave packages and deliveries outside for several hours. He sprays down the counters, the lids, asks my mother to wipe down the boxes and bags with a soapy goop. When my sister brings the newspaper in in the morning, my dad asks why she brought it into the safe zone. Words have become unsettling, the pages their vessel. 

Record-keeping at home is different. My bookshelf is lined with stories I never finished. I could never keep up with my diaries, strewn about in my drawers. I still struggle to keep up with social media. I never cared much for records, I remember. I resisted the material clockwork dangling above the dining room table—the picture of me, wearing a helmet—or the preschool art projects lovingly filed in the living room shelf. There are records of me everywhere—of a me who is sloppy, heavy handed—and they can’t be stacked away.

However, I grew up on list- keeping. I keep lists everywhere: There’s one on the chalkboard beside my bed, one in my notebook to demarcate my next day, or week, or month. I have no trouble adding to them. My list is my future record-keeping, and I hold onto my lists, my records of the past futures I needed or need to keep. When you dip your fist in ice water, sometimes it feels like it burns.  

Dear Class of 2021: This is my last page for you, after four years, after 1,268 pages and just shy of 2,700 articles.

How do we chronicle this history we’ve shared? The beginning, the middle—the sloppy, uncharted middle—the backwards and forwards, the back-then-but-not-now; the end?

How do you capture the loss of study abroad, the scramble home to “Zoom university,” the anti-gathering regulations, and this final, ceremonial beginning, end? This is our last day here before we go there, a hundreds-strong gathering of full-toothed smiles, both sinister and warm after all we’ve seen. Here we all are for the first time this year and the last time for a while, holding the final arc of a history we chronicled together: our losses human and experiential, and, yet, into the balm of summer, the beginning of healing. 

Time moves on. By next year, things will be radically different yet again. But nevertheless, this first-and-last will be frozen in our lives for years to come. There will have been, and will still be. 

 

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