Seasons of Transition: One College Student’s Pandemic Experience (Part 1/2)

As a SoCal native who moved to Boston three years ago for school, I’ve developed a fixation with seasons. Compared to the eternal, listless, dry heat I grew up with, the drastic changes in weather are fascinating to me. My favorite seasons in Boston are Fall and Spring, which The GLOBE Scientists’ Blog describes as “seasons of transition” that “[hold] onto memories of the season before while providing glimpses of the season to come.” Usually I spend these seasons enjoying the mild weather and preparing for the harsher months to come.

But this past year, these “transitions” meant something entirely different. In Fall 2020, Boston was looking back on a summer with extremely low COVID-19 cases, while the worst spike was just around the corner. In Spring 2021, over half of residents were fully vaccinated and the city was heading “back to normal.”

Note: These pieces were written in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, and reflect my emotions and experiences of each time period. Many things have changed since then, and I wanted to acknowledge that every “pandemic experience” is different due to factors like age, location, and privilege. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy!

FALL 2020

We walk to the Prudential Center, where Eataly’s empty patio looms in the damp air, and a giant randomly placed ornament lolls on its side. That’s kinda depressing, one of us says. On the news we hear of a sad, scraggly Christmas tree being taken down in Brighton, Faneuil Hall isn’t getting a tree this year. Facebook mommies cry, please, that tree is the one good thing we get this year, please, for the Christmas Spirit, please for the love of God, please. A cute, tiny, baby owl is found in the Rockefeller tree, and Facebook argues over whether it’s a symbol of human destruction of nature, or hope and optimism for the new year.

We step quickly into the revolving doors, and for a second as we’re jostled inside to warmth and light it feels normal. But only for a second; I remember not to touch the escalator banister and wobble a bit as I catch my balance.

Being inside a mall reminds me of the impending public health crisis of Black Friday.

Every morning, shortly after I wake up, I tap on Safari and type “cov” into the search bar. I click on the first suggestion, “covid-19 massachusetts.” I see the little graph looking like a little Richter scale and glide my thumb over the jaggedy line. I check April, June, August, November as if the numbers will change.

Friends graduate silently, slipping away from campus alone. Friends slip into depression, gripping the edges of their office chairs because there’s nothing else to hold onto.

We plan for next year with a series of “ifs,” heck, we plan for next week with “ifs.”

Every Sunday before church we walk to the testing center, two of us walking briskly ahead, ponytails swishing, two of us lagging groggily behind. Open, place, open, insert, rotate, remove, insert, rotate, remove, insert, break, close. Have a nice day, I say. My friend Erin, the redhead, works at the testing center and is doing a crossword printed on computer paper every time I see her. I love your glasses, she says this time. The testing center fills me with a strange comfort and anticipation — the fast-moving, organized queues, the garbled voices through plexiglass asking for my date of birth — I almost stick my hand out to receive my “It’s My Birthday” pin.

I tell my therapist that staying in so much is making me anxious. He asks if I’ve been interacting with people enough.

I tell my therapist that seeing too many people is making me anxious. He tells me that staying in and staying safe is the right decision.

My therapist asks if his Microsoft Teams background is too distracting. No, I say, fiddling with my AirPods case so my hands have something to do. It’s a bright yellow silicone happy-face thing that I found at Urban Outfitters for maybe nine dollars. As I remove the case and put it back on again, over and over, as I talk, its smiley face gloats up at me.

Bright yellow square AirPods case with smiley face decal
My beloved, eternally happy AirPods case.

I take long walks alone around Boston, savoring the city with Noah Kahan blasting through my ears. I clutch at the grey fence surrounding a community garden, I run my hands along a brick brownstone wall, I caress a sequin-y dress meant for a NYE party I wouldn’t even be invited to pre-pandemic. I touch too many things. I am afraid they will disappear, or become meaningless, which is irrational, I know. I’ve been reading too many post-apocalyptic novels. But they are solid in a world of ambiguity and mush. I anchor myself to these things, this infrastructure and consumerism, human-made things that I know won’t save me.

Brownstone buildings and a high-rise at sunset
A picture I took on one of many walks around Boston. (Newbury Street, around dusk)

On my flight back home to LA in March 2020, I kept touching my face accidentally, compulsively. As it happened I felt my anger toward myself grow like a pressure cooker.

I’m still simmering today, angry at my human flesh yearning for those awkward handshakes or bear hugs I would give friends up and down Comm Ave, angry that I’m ungrateful and unhappy back on campus, angry that the weight of so many that I’ll never know suffering knocks me out from time to time, rendering me useless.

I’m angry that I’m angry at others, angry that I am human.

Moments of joy fall through the cracks — unexpected belly laughs, the slap of cards on plastic folding table as my suitemates play Nertz, the fresh smell of fall leaves and new books that I can still catch through my mask, sudden inspiration to write at 2AM and the damn dam of writer’s block finally breaking loose, a floodgate opened.

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