Now, a year out from when the pandemic shut all of our lives down, I’m not where I expected to be. No shit, are any of us where we wanted to be? I’m home now. Really home — not my apartment in Binghamton. I had been staying close to school during the fall, but a housing issue sent me back.
I miss it. I miss seeing my roommates at the kitchen table, I miss the limited human interaction I got outside of my home. Even on the days where I didn’t leave the house, I still always had the option to walk a block over and have a cup of coffee with my friend. It’s odd not having that choice anymore. The truth is, I don’t hate working from home. I love my little setup on my desk. Keyboard, laptop stand and all, it makes my life a lot easier. It’s tough that everything I do is online now. School, work, my internship and even Pipe Dream are all entirely remote. Doing all of that in the room I’ve occupied for nearly 12 years is weird.
In my house of five people, there will be days where I don’t see anybody for eight hours. My parents both work long shifts, and there is a separation of physical space between me and my siblings. If I didn’t want to, there would be days where I wouldn’t have to open my mouth until three in the afternoon. Drop my mom off at work, silence, then pick up my dad from the train station. I love my family, and being with them is fun, but I’ve still felt, for lack of a better term … bad.
A while back, those hours alone led me to something I realized was more than a bad feeling — it was grief. I was feeling a loss for a future I was hoping to have.
The summer before my freshman year of college, I had a concussion from a rollover car accident that knocked me out for almost 30 minutes. Shock aside, there would be days where, out of the blue, I would just start crying. Ironically enough, my dad, who we all joke isn’t the most emotional human being, asked me if I was OK. I said that I wasn’t and that I couldn’t understand why. He looked at me and said, “You’re not sad, you’re angry. You’re angry that you’re missing time.” He suffered a brain aneurysm long before I was born, and he said, “I’m missing a week of my life where I was on an operating table, in and out of surgeries, and don’t remember anything. It still makes me mad.” Weirdly enough, it’s kind of applicable now.
I have always been determined and, dare I say it, relatively smart. I tried so hard in school with the promise that now, I’d be happier and well equipped for my oh-so bright future. And yes, I experienced some dips in my productivity in high school and the inevitable anxiety and depression that would follow. But looking back on myself, I realized I have always been a “listener.”
Maybe it’s naivete, or maybe I just wasn’t independent enough, but I listened to those around me. “Do well in school, it’ll get you somewhere.” “Don’t waste too much time on anything that won’t help you get to college.” Yes, I got a taste of the parties and fun once I got to college, but I still feel the phantom pain of missing time — a lot more time than I initially thought.
I have made major life decisions with everybody’s opinion in mind but my own. And in these moments where I just wake up and feel nothing but anger, I want to throw my textbooks out the window. I wanna rip up my academic awards and I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “I did everything ‘right!’ I followed the rules, I did everything by the book, why am I here now? Where did I fail?”
There is no easy or right answer. There never will be. I expected to come out of this pandemic — and the end isn’t even in sight — a more well-developed and confident and happier me. I’ve had moments where I haven’t felt this sad since I was in high school. I don’t know where I’m going from here, and it all feels so unfair. But what I’m starting to realize is that fairness isn’t a part of the equation. It’s my priorities. I used to think, “Well I just don’t want to bother anybody. If I go out of my way to take care of everything, it doesn’t hurt anybody!” But when I put myself last, it hurts me. I am someone.
In these moments of complete utter solitude, besides chatting with my dogs, I had to be comfortable with myself. I’m not really used to that. I’m used to picking myself apart, constantly trying to make myself better before I just inevitably fall apart, only to start all over again. I think a lot of us do that without realizing it.
I don’t know how to explain to my parents that, even though I am the first in my family to receive a bachelor’s degree, it doesn’t make me proud right now. I don’t know how to tell those around me that I’m not miserable, there are just moments where I don’t feel anything.
I realize now that I was very wrong when I thought to myself, “You are exactly the same as you were in high school.” I’m not. There is one key difference. Where I once used to fear being alone, or solitude, I feel a strange sense of comfort. Instead of constantly seeking out the validation of others, hoping for praise or even just feeling like I was being seen, I have been existing just for myself lately. I know there are so many awful problems in the world right now, but I encourage you to try and confront those same feelings. You deserve to find any peace you can get during these insane times.
Regardless of what happens after this year, if I’m working just to get by, in school or even working in a field that I love, I’m still going to plan to do what I want, no matter how crazy my dreams may be. I will try everything I want to try because we all survive somehow. I will still have bad days, weeks or more and it’ll be okay. I’ll be fine, I’ll make it through, like always. But it will be for me now. I’m not so scared of being alone or relying on myself in the future anymore. I almost like it. Being alone with myself isn’t so bad — I am surprisingly good company.
Elizabeth Short is a senior majoring in English and is Opinions editor.