April 10, 2020 – May 13
Caroline Gardner- Age 22
It’s been exactly one month since I opened my email to read a message from Georgetown University.
On Wednesday, March 10th my phone buzzed with an email message from the office of the President. It was 9:09 in the morning, and I turned over to wake up my friend and one of my roommates, who was sleeping in a twin bed next time mine in my friend’s house in Florida. It was our Spring Break.
"We are moving all classroom instruction for all of our schools to virtual learning environments. Beginning Monday, March 16th, we are suspending all in-person, face-to-face, on-campus classroom instruction. This will continue until further notice. We will communicate updates regularly and will provide additional information on an ongoing basis.”
“They called it,” I said to her.
Two days later we received a final call from the university, in an email titled “Extending Virtual Learning Environment through the End of the Semester.” I was on the beach with 12 of my closest friends, standing with our toes in the ocean. Our phones all buzzed at once. My face grew hot and my eyes started to fill up with tears. I stepped away from my friends, most of whom had a similar look on her face. On the other end of the line my mom told me that this is what she expected: she is a professor for graduate students at Indiana University. She told me that while this was a super scary, sad situation, she knew that my friends and I would handle this in the best way we could. She said that while college as I knew it was over
After two weeks in Washington, I packed up everything in my house. These almost four years in Washington, D.C. bouncing from dorm to house to dorm were some of the most fun, challenging and productive of my life. Since my mom and my dad and I drove from Indiana to Georgetown in August of 2016, I hadn’t been home to Indiana for more than two weeks. I had four years of ticket stubs and t-shirts and books and notebooks. I had dresses that I wore to sorority formals and costumes I wore for Halloween, New Student Orientation or the occasional themed party.
I am extremely well practiced in the realm of social distancing. A punch to the head in a bar in early September that left me severely concussed; unable to school work, socialize, or be anywhere with light and sound.
It took me weeks of anger and stress and resentment toward this man who made a mistake to realize it as that: a mistake. This stranger didn’t mean to punch me, I told myself over and over and over. For the first two weeks of lying in my room, feeling my heart beating in my head I was devastated. Then, over the next few months, the pain in my head healed, as well as the anger and frustration in my heart. In the weeks after my concussion, It took my two weeks to do a puzzle for a five year old. I turned in an assignment that took me 8 hours, only to get every single answer incorrect.
I came to that realization slowly. The anger for this man who hit me doesn’t help my head. It doesn’t make my eyes work properly again (that is tribute to weeks of physical therapy to learn how to use my eyes again), and it doesn’t allow me to keep up in conversation. There was so much I couldn’t do: hang out with my friends at the Tombs, attend classes, watch movies with my roommates or visit crowded restaurants. They were too loud, too bright, too much for my head.
The most difficult aspect of this, was that I was alone. My friends would go to dinner, and I would eat in the dark, alone, listening to a podcast. The pandemic is different because this time, I have a relatively healthy brain that is able to grasp what is happening. My friends are here with me, inside, missing normal life. This isn’t what I wished for when I was alone, I wanted to join their world, not to have them join mine.
In late March I convinced my older brother to drive me to Indiana with a carful of all of my belongings. College was over, but my work was not.
School seems extra difficult when I am far away. I miss the library, I miss group projects and I miss the independence one has when they live on their own with friends, instead of with family.
It’s difficult to feel sorry for myself in these situations when I know someone from high school living with his dad who drinks too much and yells too loudly: every snapchat message from him causes my jaw to clench and my eyes to sting as he describes just how trapped he feels. He sends me funny TikTok after funny TikTok, trying to balance the content that bounces from my phone to his.
It’s difficult to feel anger for losing beautiful afternoons laying on Copley lawn when I know he’s hiding in the closet, afraid. His dad just lost construction job, meaning things are looking worse, instead of better.
My dad takes conference calls in the living room. He’s a doctor and his calls are from the hospital. A few minutes after the calls, he smiles at us and joins me for yoga sessions my friend teaches on Zoom, but I know he’s reflecting on the system of ranking people for who needs ventilators and who should get them: tiering off people by age, by health outcomes and by need.
The news makes my head spin. It’s a balance of the best and worst of humanity. I see people protesting in state capitals around the country, and I see teachers visiting their students outside of their homes 6 feet apart, drawing math problems on white boards.
My friend posts videos of her singing and playing her guitar in her bathroom sitting on the edge of her bathtub while other people I know post videos of them with others, definitely not 6 feet apart.
I like to organize my thoughts in lists, so to wrap this up, I want to articulate a few things I miss about Washington, DC and my time there.
1. I miss hearing my five roommates laughing downstairs, playing Mario Kart
2. I miss the conversations before and after class with acquaintances:
a. “Was there reading?”
b. “How was your weekend?”
c. “It is so nice outside!”
3. I miss watching class friendships turn into real ones over coffee, late nights in Lau or beers at The Tombs
4. I miss hearing the bells in Healey Hall ring, even though they remind me that I’m late and 8 minutes will never be enough time to get from my house on the corner of 35th and N Street to St. Mary’s
5. I miss grocery shopping with one of my roommates or a friend – no mask, no gloves, no worries that I might not be able to go back again tomorrow
6. I miss planning my next visit with my grandma who lives in a “college for older people” in Maryland. It’s close by Metro, and even closer when I convince my brother to drive me.
7. I miss grabbing ramen in Chinatown after a basketball game at Capital One , a happy hour in City Center, or a talk at 6th & I with friends or alone.
8. I miss showing up to club track meets completely unprepared to run, but completely prepared to cheer on my friends and teammates
9. I miss my jobs – partly my paychecks and partly the joy and purpose they brought
a. I miss the small white dog Belle that I walked every weekday at some point from 12-2 while I listened to a podcast, played music or called someone (mostly my mom, my grandma or one of my four best friends from high school).
b. I miss hosting Trivia at Tombs on Tuesday nights- picking the music and writing the questions and trying not to get overwhelmed talking on a microphone in front of 100 people
10. I miss giving my friends haircuts on my front stoop or sitting on the edge of my bathtub
a. I don’t miss my roommate yelling at me for clogging the drain, again.
11. I miss walking to and from yoga with my roommate for the first three years of college and I miss the way she spins me on the dance floor whether that’s at 3am during a dance break on a long night of studying or at a crowded bar
12. Oddly enough, I miss walking home from the library in the middle of the night – Healey Hall lit up by the moon (or on the rare occasion the sunrise)
13. I miss my one of my roommates trying on six different outfits to go to the same bar we go to with the same twenty people, only to choose the same black shirt she wears every other weekend
14. As weird as this to say, I miss the anticipation for what I thought my senior spring would bring
a. The traditions
b. The bucket list that I was determined to win, regardless of the public embarrassment required
c. Dancing with friends and my family in Union Station for Senior Ball in the royal blue dress my family gave me for Christmas
d. Standing in front of two organizations that have meant the world to me giving my senior sendoff speeches I’ve been reflecting on since August
15. I miss the yelling and laughing outside my window and the voices and faces that became familiar
16. I miss grilling on the front stoop using a blue grill that we took from the side of the road
17. I miss my independence – living in the city where I didn’t need a car to go to the grocery store, a friend’s house (in a distant memory), or a park
18. I miss sitting in class and fully engaged and amazed and impressed by the information my professor is telling us.
19. I miss that feeling of leaving a class that seemed to go on forever.
20. I miss runs around the city, familiar smiling faces on the way to class and my patient, impressive and inspiring professors.
This is not the way I thought college would end. And I’m not embarrassed to be cheesy when I say that Georgetown really was one of the best experiences of my life. Eight years of Jesuit Education, and it would have failed me if I didn’t reflect on what a meaningful experience this was for me. To be a woman for others, I have to look forward and realize the gravity of what the world is experiencing right now and find my place within it. This means extra patience as I readjust to living with my parents for the first time since I was 18, this means spending more time on the phone with my Grandma and really listening as she tells me what movies she’s watched. This means helping my sister with her homework and listening to her talk about her worries and excitements about starting at Boston College in the fall (finger’s crossed). Cura personalis means care of the whole person. This was painted in big maroon letters above my locker in my high school hallway, but I am just starting to understand the gravity of this. To care for all of the parts of myself, I have to acknowledge that this is not how I wanted to end my time at Georgetown. I have to acknowledge that finishing school work that would have been easy at school feels like a feat. I have to acknowledge that I am so lucky: to be safe, to be healthy and to be (hopefully) graduating with a degree from my dream school. And, I have to acknowledge how great it is to look forward to the next part of my life. This part, hopefully concussion and pandemic free, involves lots of hugs for my friends, crowded dance floors, financial stability, and the freedom that comes with the “normal life” I’ve been missing for so long.