~ Submitted by Brooke Shamon
I’m a planner. I like to know what comes next. But when something as big as a pandemic strikes, plans seem to go out the window and it instantly feels as though you’re spinning out of control. So as I prepared to return to my college campus (Marist College) in February 2021, I clung to my plans.
In the weeks leading up to my return to campus, I was a bundle of emotions. Much like my freshman year, jitters were ever-present. I was anxious, excited, curious, and full of anticipation for what would lie ahead of me. But this time, however, I felt more prepared. It was like taking the SATs. I had already taken the practice exam so I knew what the layout was, sample questions were already present in my head, and all I had to do was go in to take the exam. I planned for my return in the same way. I started at the very beginning of every wall I had ever built up, every memory that still haunted me, anything that felt like a wound that never fully healed and worked on it. When I made the decision to come back that spring, I felt better prepared, I felt ready, I felt refreshed. I had a plan.
When I saw my friends again for the very first time in eleven months, true happiness poured over me. Screams and racing through the parking lot to embrace one another before my car even stopped. I was happy to find that the people I had believed were my true friends, really were. Tears and smiles filled our room as the day unfolded until the three of us ended up in a pig pile soaking up the sister-like energy we had missed for months.
But just when I started to feel a hint of clarity, circumstances around me started to change again. One of my roommates, like me, had opted to stay home for the first semester of our sophomore year (September 2020); others had elected to go back to campus and had made new friends and connections. She and I had long talks about how we felt and how difficult it was to readjust when it felt like everybody else had already made their transition. I kept reminding myself to stick to the plan and above all to not get Covid, which was frustrating when I saw others participating in things I felt I should stay away from. I slowly learned that it didn’t matter if I was staying away from the activities that would be considered high risk if someone else close to me was doing those things and bringing Covid home. I was bound to get it, we all were. And a month in, we all did.
Covid hit us in waves. Two days after our symptoms began, we had to move to a designated off-campus quarantine site. To complete the already nerve-wracking experience, a welcoming white van pulled up to take us away for the next 10 to 14 days. When you’re away from home and sick the next best people to be around are your friends. Everybody was worried about us. Our moms got together and talked on the phone every day while we were sick. If one of us didn’t check in first thing in the morning, the mom group chat was on it and we would receive a “can you have so-and-so check in with her mom? She hasn’t heard from her yet and she’s worried.” It was in that moment where I remembered what it was like to have met your soulmates. This group is more than friends, it’s family. We like to say “We’re here for each other. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly.” And so we were…through the sweaty nights and the burning-up fevers, the dropping oxygen levels, and trips to the health center.
During my two-week quarantine, I hit a wall. I spent a night crying it out and writing in my journal, spilling my thoughts over four long pages. When I started, it was light outside and when I finished I was lying in the dark. For weeks, I had been trying so hard to be okay, to stick to the plans, to make my life back here on campus…perfect. I learned at that moment that what I needed to do was just let it go: the plans, the walls, everything. By the time we started to get better, the only plan I made for myself was just that: to let it go.
Once we finished our quarantine we were free. After my post-Covid check-up, I was speaking with one of the nurses and started asking her how this would all work, knowing the virus would be in my system now. I had a million questions: could I still pass it on somehow, when could I get vaccinated safely, and on and on. Before I left, she said to me, “You did your time. You’re not gonna hurt anyone. Go out there and live.”
The last week I was on campus I had an essay to write. I made yet another plan to get my work done but every time I tried putting pen to paper, my mind didn’t know where to start. Just as I was about to open up my computer and force something out, one of my roommates stepped out of her room with a handful of water balloons.
“You coming?” she asked.
“We’re gonna go get the boys back. Come on, you can finish that later, come have fun,” she said.
I debated it for a moment — I had just dried and straightened my hair and showered. I wanted to get to bed early that night and finish my essay. I dropped my laptop and lifted my hand. “Let’s do this!”
We filled up as many water balloons as we could carry and raced out to the green, ambushing our neighboring friends. My hair was soaked, my clean clothes drenched, and we were running well into the dark of night tossing freezing cold balloons at one another. Slipping in the grass, bugs coming out…I look back on that now and recognize that on most days, I’d have run back inside shivering and grossed out. But for the first time in months, nothing else mattered to me. We were just kids being kids. And it felt so. darn. good.
You can have a million different plans. You can write down a schedule and try to stick to it, frustrated when you inevitably don’t. You can prepare, prepare, prepare and still feel like you’ve failed. You can stick inside the walls and no matter how hard you try to build them up, something (Covid or other), will always break through if it’s meant to. Life has a funny way of getting people to open up and color outside the lines. To let go. I’ve found that it’s within those small risks that the best of friendships are created, the most impactful memories are born, and lessons that you never thought you’d learn, you do.
My plans lately have felt like they’ve been tossed up in the air and scattered across the bedroom floor. I’ve spent a lot of time rushing around trying to pick up each piece and put it all back together just the way it was, careful not to damage the edges or re-arrange the pages. In that process though, I found myself trying to make space for things that simply didn’t fit together anymore. Sometimes letting it all go and allowing the pieces to come together the way they’re meant to leads you to the happiest of moments and the best of friendships. It’s something I am still very much learning and allowing into my life and I only hope I’m able to keep that going as I enter my junior year at Marist. So pick up the pieces and scatter them around your bedroom floor. See where life takes you, for it is all too short. You’ve done your time. Now go out there and live.