Toronto — To close out summer, I spent a week reordering my room. Boxing up piles of Duplo figurines I’d cast in various stop-motion animation projects over the years, I was reminded of Toy Story 3. There’s a scene where Andy finally lets go of his toys and gives them to Bonnie, a younger child, before driving off to college. But unlike Andy, I’m trying to move into the next phase of life without actually moving anywhere, as I prepare to start as a college freshman from my childhood bedroom.
I find myself waffling between two extremes: thinking that I have total control over my life or that I’m completely powerless. The reality lies somewhere in between. None of us decided to experience this pandemic. Though it has profoundly altered my college experience, it hasn’t taken away my ability to choose.
In late August I attended a close friend’s backyard birthday party. My friend didn’t check the weather, so in a physically distanced circle, we ate wieners in the rain. At least we didn’t freeze and turn into pixelated versions of ourselves mid-sentence. Suspended in the air was the feeling that it was a “last” of sorts. Even though nobody is leaving town for college, there was the tacit understanding that we will soon go down different rabbit holes, with our own screens to attend to, possessing their own sets of demands. Next time we get together, we’ll be “high school friends” instead of simply “friends.”
I met my friends almost by chance, plopping down beside them in my first class of high school or sharing the subway car home. Gradually, through countless unplanned interactions, these bonds turned into friendships. Now, how will I develop new relationships? In Zoom orientations and icebreakers, my fickle wifi deserts me as I pour my heart out about my favorite ice cream flavor. Being unable to share spaces with friends, especially in asynchronous classes, how will I stay motivated?
Being on the East Coast, three hours ahead of my school on the West Coast, I don’t know if I’ll be able to maintain attending synchronous classes lasting until midnight or 1 in the morning. I don’t know if draining my parents’ retirement savings to watch Zoom call recordings is the right thing to do. I don’t know if, by the end of the term, I’ll have become a full-on hermit, with no one to turn to but my mostly boxed-up, long-neglected childhood toys.
Trying to make a good first impression when messaging new people, I’m often paralyzed by my own neuroses. Is one exclamation mark enough? Do two make me seem fake and overzealous? Should I swap out this “lmao” with an “lol” to seem less extreme?
What’s ahead forces me to put more on the line with greater uncertainty about how things will end up. But I’ve accepted I just need to plunge into this new reality and remember that having a space with access to my own internet is a privilege unto itself.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that the quality of our communities depends on the actions of us all. Just as I’ve accepted that I need to stick my neck out to forge new connections, I’d be grateful if others would do the same and reach out to me. Interactions like these are what build communities. Online school, with all of its compromises, is ultimately to protect the most vulnerable. To understand and accept this is a choice and a first step towards navigating our new reality. With so much out of my control, these choices are mine to make.
Freeing myself from the clutter of my past, I have done what I can to prepare myself for the future — to welcome it with an open mind. And, for now at least, a clean room.