I began writing this from my childhood bedroom, where I was in my third day of isolation following potential exposure to COVID-19. This is not where I thought I would be after graduating college and before moving to start a new job in Washington, D.C., in August. But, almost exactly thirty days before my first day of work, there I was.
That was one of the most exciting, and terrifying, things that happened to me since I fake-graduated from Washington University in May. I returned home to Louisville in March, a couple of weeks after Washington University transitioned to remote learning. Since then, I think my life could be characterized by equal parts of monotony, fear, and hopelessness—a devastating recipe for people my age, supposedly on the precipice of a great new stage of our lives.
I want to get something out of the way: I am one of the lucky ones. My job has not disappeared. My parents have been able to adapt—and keep—their jobs in this new era of coronavirus; I do not worry that we will soon become one of the millions of newly homeless Americans. As a White man, I do not worry about becoming a hashtag at the hands of the police; I also am less likely to contract, and less likely to die from, COVID-19 simply because of my whiteness.
But the fact of the matter is this: my life in the pandemic has largely been consumed by nothingness. I wake up, scroll through the news on my phone, make breakfast, read a book on my phone, eat lunch, FaceTime a friend or watch Netflix (both … on my phone), eat dinner, and go to sleep. People ask me how I pass the days, and I equivocate. Not because I am embarrassed at my lethargy, but because I legitimately struggle to remember how exactly I passed the hours between sleeping in the past couple of days.
I want to get something out of the way: I am one of the lucky ones. My job has not disappeared. My parents have been able to adapt—and keep—their jobs in this new era of coronavirus; I do not worry that we will soon become one of the millions of newly homeless Americans.
There have been some highlights! I moved out of my St. Louis apartment over the course of several trips, taking my time instead of rushing to move out after in-person commencement. I open-carried an alcoholic beverage on Art Hill, and enjoyed a car-free Forest Park. My girlfriend came to visit me in June, and we went on several hikes around the region. Early this month, I drove nine hours to Washington, D.C., to help her move into her new apartment. These—along with my COVID-19 scare—have broken the monotony of my daily routine. Other than a trusted few, I have not seen friends; I am too afraid of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to my parents who, in addition to working full-time, also function as full-time caretakers for a disabled member of the household.
So, instead of seeing friends, going out to restaurants, and drinking in bars as I might on a normal trip home, I stay at home.
In May, when Jeannette Cooperman spoke with me for her article in this journal, she asked me how I perceive accusations that people in my age group do not take coronavirus seriously. Back then, I countered by saying that many of the unforced errors in policy that had gotten us to that point were made not by teenagers, but by government officials who should have been made wise by their years. Back then, “unforced errors” meant one thing. Now, as I have watched federal, state, and local officials consistently make stupid and reckless mistakes, I have become even more disappointed, angry, sad, and hopeless. The question of “where does it all end?” now has no answer, in my book. The resoluteness with which we faced the early days of coronavirus can only last so long; I think coronavirus can last much longer.
And, above all, I am fearful. Immediately, I am fearful of contracting COVID-19 and spreading it to my family. I am a bit of a neurotic person, and I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a few years, so those fears do not stay in the immediate realm. I fear waking up one morning to an email from my employer that my position has been downsized; I fear not being able to find an apartment in a new city because I cannot go apartment-hunting in person; I fear my brother or another family member catching COVID-19—bad. I fear. Whether I am back in St. Louis, on the road to Washington, D.C., hiking in southern Kentucky, or doomscrolling through the news one morning, I am constantly fearful. It sneaks up on me: I realize all at once that my shoulders are hunched and my heart is in my throat.
The question of “where does it all end?” now has no answer, in my book. The resoluteness with which we faced the early days of coronavirus can only last so long; I think coronavirus can last much longer.
I have painted a picture of my life thus far that is stark. That is largely because—in this current moment—I mostly feel this way. However, that is not to say there have not been bright spots. Although I could not celebrate with friends, I celebrated my twenty-second birthday with my family. Although I am afraid of coronavirus blowing up my family, we are lucky to not have had that problem yet. Although I live a monotonous life right now, I am optimistic about the next stage in my life.
For me, coronavirus has, at once, been a complicating and simplifying factor. The pandemic certainly complicated some aspects of my life. It has complicated relationships: I said goodbye to people for spring break not knowing that I might not see them for over a year, if not longer. It has complicated my post-graduation plans—and, for that matter, my graduation plans. It has complicated the way I wanted to prepare for the next stage in my life.
However, it has also forced me to simplify. It has stripped my life down to the bare bones. I was supposed to run the St. Louis Half Marathon in March. After it was canceled, I ended up running “virtually,” clocking 13.1 miles around my neighborhood in Louisville. Whereas I might normally be worrying about FOMO (fear of missing out), I am now content going for walks in the neighborhood, or bike rides through the parks, or simply just reading on the back porch. Coronavirus has forced me to slow down, to appreciate my days and my activities, in ways that I never did while I was at Washington University. And that has given me some hope.
My life in the era of pandemic has, I can say safely, been dominated by monotony, and the routine of fear and helplessness. But there has also been hope, and optimism, and some personal growth. So there is something to be said for that, too.