As pandemic-era April spring sunk into summer, weeks continued to drag on in a quiet repetitive stupor. Locked in our small California apartment, my parents and I were attempting to stabilize within a restless and tired unknown. My mother typed away daily at her laptop in the corner of her room next to a cracked-open window while my dad sat day after day perched by a computer monitor in the living room, waiting to hear whether or not he still had a stable source of income in the fall. I constantly refreshed the news in hopes of some sort of nonexistent and impossible information that might provide respite from a tiresome state of the unknown, signing up for school courses that I was not sure I would even be able to attend, sinking under piles of blankets and scrolling aimlessly through my phone, losing large chunks of memory each day, passing hours and hours so uneventful that my brain deemed them unworthy of encoding. The arrival of the pandemic-era summer was a freewheeling mental battle between appreciation of health and stability, and an almost selfish disdain for a locked-in, isolated life that I had never imagined I would have to experience.
I began a remote summer internship in mid-May. Ironically enough, the position I had managed to secure, an editorial intern at a prolific New York City fashion magazine, was one I would have categorized as a “dream job,” the exact sort of position I had hoped to secure for the summer of my junior year. When I had fantasized about a position like this in the past, I had always seen myself in the thick of the bustling city center, strolling through crowded streets to catch the subway to a glassy downtown high-rise, sleeping each night on a mattress of a shoebox apartment I could barely afford. Instead, my New York City summer took place entirely on my computer screen, with only a little green dot on Slack to signify that I was actually present, in some ways, in a different world all the way across the country.
On the last day, I said goodbye to the magazine editors via Slack messenger. It felt bizarre, knowing I had never actually met them in person, but had worked diligently alongside them for four months. The goodbye made me strangely emotional, forcing me to evaluate exactly what it was that connected a group of people who had never gotten the opportunity to interact face to face.
Each morning was more or less the same. In the cold light of my California apartment, I would brew a pot of coffee in Pacific Standard time, slowly catching up with the New York City light, where the Eastern sun had already been shining for hours. I would log onto the magazine’s online platform, exchanging quick messages with editors, supervisors, and interns, whose faces I only saw once a week, via spotty, half-disconnected Zoom calls. The night before my first day of work, I changed my laptop background to a sun-soaked photo of the city skyline, and when the saturated leaves of the tree outside my bedroom lost light from covering clouds, I would stare at the picture and remind myself of a different reality.
Online work was, inevitably, strange. Perhaps it was the knowledge of what the summer could have been if the pandemic simply did not exist, but day to day, I was infused with an overwhelming sense of the lack of true human interaction. I was unfailingly thrilled with the content of my job, the overwhelming day-to-day journey of producing content for a magazine, the satisfaction of completing tasks, and seeing my name in print. But despite being entirely invested in the position, I was constantly nagged with the loneliness of days spent alone with a screen, and the inability to interact truly and connect with others. What bothered me most was the ability simply to close out my computer at the end of a long day and find myself in the exact same position that I had started in the morning, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Days at work usually ended with aimless strolling, leaving my bedroom to take dry summer walks under cracked palms as the California dust caked my shoes. It was always the same rocky, sun-soaked road two blocks past my family’s apartment complex. By the end of my time at home, I had committed the exact distance, miles, trees, stones, adobe houses, and steps that it took me to reach the highway underpass and back home again.
Mid-June, my parents and I loaded up our small car to the brim with overflowing boxes and suitcases and set out across the west, driving through empty mountain towns and rocky stretches of pink deserts and sinking salt flats. I returned to my apartment in my college town of St. Louis, and finished my internship there. A feeling I am sure many people can relate to in quarantine is a desire to simply move or change location, to break the stagnancy of the same repeating routine. However, once that shift is truly made, the nature of the pandemic inevitably leads to the formation of new repetition, and the refreshing feeling always wears off. I spent the next two months rolling out of bed minutes before my days began, cracking open my laptop for hours then crashing in exhaustion as soon as the day was over.
On the last day, I said goodbye to the magazine editors via Slack messenger. It felt bizarre, knowing I had never actually met them in person, but had worked diligently alongside them for four months. The goodbye made me strangely emotional, forcing me to evaluate exactly what it was that connected a group of people who had never gotten the opportunity to interact face to face. Without a daily routine, with weeks to go before my (almost entirely remote) Senior Fall, a new leg of the summer shifted into focus, I found myself in a bit of a spiral. The desire to do something was in constant battle with a notion that there was truly no reason to get out of bed. Days spent under covers with drawn curtains would suddenly shock me into an overpowering need to engage in some sort of activity. I spent money I did not have on crafts I would never do, food I would not eat, hours drinking wine aimlessly with my roommates, and wandering the residential neighborhoods behind our apartment complex at dusk, only to part at night and do it all over again the next day. I reread old books, and filled my apartment to the brim with plants I could not take care of, watching the green slowly fade until the leaves and branches were brittle.
My summer was an unnaturally isolated one, a stretched-out path of days locked away in my various bedrooms, adjusting myself to a new sense of social connection that relies entirely on electronic communication, all with a sense that the most integral element of human interaction is simply not present. With stilted, intertwined memories of my summer stacked up in my mind, looking forward to the upcoming school year is unnerving. My internship was an incredible experience, but one that forced me to appreciate and understand the nuances of human connection in an entirely different light. Comparatively, I imagine semesters that were once filled with sunny days on the quad, bleary-eyed library evenings, and overflowing lecture halls as a lonely juxtaposition, just me and my laptop and the four walls of my bedroom.
Although this is not to say that the pandemic is in any way positive, acknowledgment of the sanctity of human connection is forever instilled in me because of it.
However, the unwanted arrival of a new online reality is one that all students are facing together. And as summer comes to an end, we are all facing a continuation of this current state. Looking back, I found myself appreciating small moments with my internship staff, kind little messages, face-to-face calls, social media follows, with an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude. Calls with friends, quiet late nights with roommates, distant little interactions with strangers have become for me the most important moments in these past months. Starved of social connection, I and many others have started to appreciate these little moments in ways we never would have before unless the bigger moments had not been ripped from us completely. Although this is not to say that the pandemic is in any way positive, acknowledgment of the sanctity of human connection is forever instilled in me because of it. This is the heart of the message that I plan to take into the school year, one in which the smallest moments of connection hold the biggest importance.