There seems to be a misunderstanding going around about what it's truly like to be living on a college campus during this time. And by misunderstanding, I don't mean to imply that people are assuming it's great. I just don't think they understand how much it truly is.
Here's a typical day:
I wake up around 8:45am. No need to wake up any earlier. I start my Keurig, put on my mask, and venture down the hallway to use the bathroom. By 8:55am, I'm logged onto my computer, fresh cup of coffee in hand, ready to click on the Zoom link for my 9:05am class. I spend the next 50 minutes struggling to keep focus while my professor fumbles with trying to teach a class over Zoom. Bless his heart—it's just not working.
I have an hour break before my next class, so I usually get a shower. Mask back on as I venture down the hallway again to the bathroom. Maybe afterwards if I have time (oh wait, I do), I'll head over to the Commons (masked once again) to grab some breakfast. I don't usually eat breakfast besides coffee, but these are strange times and I have nothing else to do—so why not?
I wait in a single file line, alone. I swipe my card, greeting the dining hall worker from behind plexiglass. I try my best to smile (behind the mask) and say "thank you" to each worker I meet as they pile food from the buffet into a styrofoam container for me. I don't know how they do it—working in the dining hall right now just seems impossible. I hope they know how appreciative I am of the work they're doing. The person at the end of the assembly line puts my container into a plastic bag so I can take it out. It's carryout only, because all of the tables have been pushed to the side and closed off to the general public.
I make the trek back to my dorm. We've been blessed to have such sunny days here in State College so far this semester. I take a few extra moments to bask in the sunlight. Maybe, if no one is looking, I'll remove my mask quickly to get some fresh air. The fresh air reaching into my lungs is refreshing. I look down at my watch—I must have lost track of time and my class is happening soon.
Back to my room. Back to my desk. This class doesn't require me to have my camera on, so I can eat while I take it. I sit down to eat, forgetting that I'm still wearing my mask. I remove it, setting it down somewhere where I'll probably forget it. My room is quiet—I forgot to mention that my roommate never showed up. Actually, both of my roommates never showed up. The first one told me pretty quickly that he wasn't returning to campus, so I thought I would have the room to myself. Then, after I moved in, I received an email from housing telling me that someone else was moving in.
The day said person was to move in, I received a quick text saying "Sorry, no longer moving in". And I've been alone ever since.
Class goes well. No one really talks. I try my best to help with conversation. It's one of my comparative literature classes and the reading is interesting. After class wraps up, I look at my planner to see what's on the agenda for today. It's 12pm and I'll probably be awake for another 12 hours. I do some reading, mostly theory and plays for my other classes. Sometimes, if I need a change of pace, I'll get some work done for my computer spreadsheet class.
Usually I have music on in the background. I have Spotify Premium, so literally I can listen to anything. But I still listen to the same playlist over and over again.
By this point in the day, I've probably had 2 or 3 cups of coffee. I try my best to savor it; my coffee supply is running low and I'm going to need to drive to Wegmans to get some more. Thankfully I have my car on campus this year, so it makes it convenient to take a drive whenever I want or need to. Sometimes if I'm feeling restless and need to get out of my dorm, I'll just go for a drive. It's nice.
After a few hours of reading and analyzing, I realize that several hours have passed without me realizing it. I look through social media, seeing pictures of friends who are all off-campus in their quarantine bubbles. They must be having at least some semblance of a "normal" semester. They're not alone at least.
I sit at the windowsill, basking in the afternoon sun as it pours into my room. There's a breeze most days, so it's nice to get some fresh air in the often stuffy room. It's getting to be later in the year, so the sun goes away sooner. I try to sit in the sun for as long as possible.
A friend usually calls. I try my best to just talk on the phone, but usually they want to FaceTime. I don't have the energy for it—being stuck behind a screen all day does that to you. I just want to hear their voice. I wish they were with me in person—honestly, I wish anyone was with me in person. I've tried making friends with some guys on my floor, but we don't have anything in common really other than the fact that we're pretty much all upperclassmen and stuck in the same situation.
Sometimes I forget to eat dinner, so I usually have to quickly mobile order something from the dining hall to go pick up. It's mostly really unhealthy things like chicken fingers or fried chicken sandwiches. Always paired with French fries. I mask up, head over to the dining hall, pick it up, and come back to my dorm. My desk has truly become my desk, my kitchen table, and my classroom.
The days when I have rehearsal are the best. I log onto Zoom and meet with my cast. We're doing a reading of my play in a couple of days, so I get to work with them to craft their characters and the story we're going to tell. It means a lot that they've all taken a chance on this new work and are giving it their all. I wish I could see them all in person and give them a big hug.
That's what I miss the most, I think.
Nothing sexual. Just a simple hug.
By the time rehearsal finishes up, it's usually around 9pm. That's when it's the worst. Sitting alone in the dorm, darkness outside, quiet all around. This is when I usually put on sneakers, mask up yet again, and head outside for a walk.
I walk the entire campus some nights. Other nights I go to the garden by the alumni center and just sit in the gazebo. I stare at the stars, trying to remember a time when Penn State wasn't like this. When the world wasn't like this.
I've tried to cry. I want to because I feel like it would just make me feel better. But, it's no use. And that's a little frightening because I know eventually I will cry and it will be over the most mundane thing. Friends on Facebook will remember my coffee cup incident in April—I spilled my coffee, damaged my parents anniversary photo album, and had an entire episode where I shot tears into the kitchen sink like I was the faucet.
I shouldn't go to the gazebo. It's where my ex and I shared some pretty awesome moments. All it does is make me think of him. But it was my place before it was ours, so I have every right to go. I don't want to get back together, but it doesn't mean I'm over him. I don't think people understand how getting dumped in the middle of a pandemic is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to someone who lives alone. That security blanket, that person to lean on - they're just gone. No warning. It's like you're mourning the death of someone who is still alive.
I can try calling your parents. God love them, but they just don't get it. No one really does. It was one thing to quarantine with them last spring - at least I was with people physically. Being locked away in a dorm - it's damaging. My mental health is quite possibly the worst it's been - and it was bad last fall.
I put in my AirPods, scroll back to that playlist that I've listened to probably hundreds of times now, and just sit. Eventually, I head back to my dorm and climb into bed. I set your alarm for the same time to wake me up and fall asleep.
It sucks. It's lonely. I'm done trying to be an optimist about the situation. Please don't try and tell me things will "get better" or just "toughen up". No one, and I repeat no one, understands what it's like to be living on campus during this time unless you are also living on campus during this time.
So please, just make the space for me to grieve. Grieve what though? I don't know.