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

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!

SPRING 2021

I still take long walks through the city, stopping on random benches to feel my body sink and relax, my feet dangling, not quite touching the ground. Did you know that everyone in Boston lives a 10-minute walk away from a green space? My friend Camryn told me that recently. I started using the Headspace app this semester, in addition to my walks, since moments of joy and peace are harder to find. I self-soothe, self-create.

Spring in Boston!!! So pretty but so fleeting. (Charles River Esplanade)

I got vaccinated at the beginning of April and suddenly all of the things that once seemed improbable seem cautiously possible again: eating out with friends, traveling, hugging my grandparents.

I no longer wake up three hours too early, heart pounding and all senses on high alert, trying to detect some elusive symptom. I have stopped checking the COVID rates in Massachusetts every day.

It’s spring, and I feel the beginnings of hope; the light is here. I can feel its warmth. But I’m scared! I feel like I’ve been stuck in a “cycle of despair” for so long, that to hope seems naive.

Because of the pandemic, I am met daily with the simultaneous curse and blessing of my existence: how heavy and overwhelming life can feel, yet how lucky I am to be alive. If I let myself hope, I’m afraid I’ll become unaware, ignorant, too blissful to care about others or to know what really matters in life. Maybe I will forget who I am, lose myself in the joy of freedom and lose my sense of purpose in the process.

But hope, as it does, seeps in anyways.

Here in Symphony Park, where I am perched currently, the birds are chirping and cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Kids that definitely are from Berklee rush past me (I can tell from their haircuts and vibes and bulky instrument cases). A couple strolls by; the girl is wearing bright pink alpaca pajama pants and they are walking a dog (maybe a jindo?).

I overhear them making silly, indulgent, lovely future plans.

“After you get your stuff together, I’ll go get my PhD, and then we can make love.”

A few months ago, Existential-Dread-Alyssa would have scoffed at these plans. The world’s gonna end before you can do that! But now, I smile at them from under my mask. I hope it works out for them.

A sign at Symphony Park that partially inspired me to write this piece! Hahaha.

In the window of the apartment complex across the street, a man’s head bobs up and down, KN-95 on; he is running on a treadmill.

Before I might have been angry at the running man for being in a public space and increasing his potential viral load by his heavy breathing. But now I’m happy for him, that he’s being safe and working on his health.

A couple floors up I see a large stuffed bear peering out of a different window.

A few months ago I might have said that the bear looks sad, he’s trapped, trying to get out, but now I find him endearing. I hope his owner loves him and is comforted by him.

In the park, a Nai Nai walks by, her cane making dragging sounds on the pavement. She wears an oversized blue coat, worn slippers, and large rectangular sunglasses. Her grey-white hair is thin; you can see her scalp. For some reason I cannot take my eyes off of her; we make eye contact a few times as she circles the park over and over again. I wonder if she has family who begged her to confine her walks to the park, after seeing elder after elder get plowed down in the streets. Or maybe she lives alone, and has no relatives to worry and fuss over her, or maybe they all live overseas and haven’t seen her in over a year.

I see that the cane is worn down on one side; she must drag it whenever she walks. This reminds me of my own grandma: carrying a cane but too proud and stubborn to use it. As she stoops to read a sign, I resist the urge to get up and grip her arm as I would with my Nai Nai.

I remember the time that my grandma fell while walking alone, and after reluctantly telling us, insisted that she was okay and that it wouldn’t happen again.

The rest of my family disagreed.

“You can’t walk alone anymore, it’s not safe!” we shouted. “ At least use a walker, or bring Ye Ye.”

But now, as a newer appreciator of alone time, specifically solo walks, I have a deepened understanding of how she felt. How important it is to disappear from the world for a bit, carried by nothing but your own two legs. To remind yourself that despite everything, you still own your body and your mind.

So I stay where I am seated, letting the Nai Nai shuffle along. After a while, I get lost in my thoughts, and pull out my Notes app to jot them down. Later I am startled back to reality with a sharp gust of wind — it’s getting cold, and I should head back. The Nai Nai is gone; I can only hope that she made it home okay.

Maybe sometimes the only thing left to do is hope — and let God or the universe or human nature or whatever take care of the rest. Hope might be naive, but it is necessary. So I’ll let myself feel hopeful, at least for today.

@gr9onionpancake on Twitter :)