Hugging my friends on a Saturday morning in the Prosser third floor hallway, I had no idea that I probably wouldn’t see them, or anyone besides my immediate family, for months. Even driving away from Muhlenberg, with most of my room packed into our trunk, it hadn’t really set in that I was driving home to the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, New York City. Since I’ve arrived home, I have not left my apartment building. I haven’t gone outside at all. My family lives on the seventeenth floor of a twenty-one-floor building that is part of a four building complex housing older people, families, and doctors from the hospital across the street — long story short, the amount of ways for us to be infected or possibly infect others was, and is, numerous. As such, lots of things in our lives have changed.
Right now, we don’t feel comfortable going down to our laundry room to do our laundry, so every two weeks we disinfect our bathtub and wash five people’s laundry by hand. I never realized how much I took for granted the three-floor walk down to the Prosser laundry rooms and the easy access to sometimes-available washers and dryers! And let me tell you, wringing dry that much laundry gives you more of a workout than that three flights of stairs.
My mom (a total superhero) works overnights editing news footage, and five nights a week, from 10pm to 6am, her “office” is also my bedroom. I’ve never lived without a roommate, but I definitely couldn’t anticipate how much I initially felt my space was being invaded, or how much I have valued her presence since and miss her on her nights off. Along with my sister, we watch the 80’s reboot of “Supermarket Sweep” at midnight and shopping has never seemed so exhilarating.
After three weeks of eating what my family had bought from shopping trips before I came home, we finally caved and placed a big order of food—canned or fresh fruits and vegetables (whichever format is easier to disinfect or “quarantine” for two days), boxes upon boxes of almond milk and shelf-stable tofu, fourteen pounds of popcorn kernels (to fuel my family’s popcorn addiction), and six bags of pretzels (who knew how important snacking would be now that I’m never awake for breakfast?). During the past month, food has become a big point of contention for my family; we argue at the dinner table, we go back and forth about wasting food, and we wonder if we’ll ever feel comfortable eating our vegetables without washing them in soap and water first. But food has also been a site of connection; helping my mom cook dinner (and desserts, with a wide range of success) many nights is some of the best time I get to spend with her.
So many of my experiences from this past month, good and bad, have centered around my family, but without nearly nightly Zooms with friends from Muhlenberg I’m not quite sure how I would be able to stand my family or myself. Even though I feel physically and mentally isolated a lot of the time, having that lifeline to Berg has kept me grounded and allowed me to still feel like the college student I was and will continue to be once the world is able to recover.
My friends, both from Berg and from home, have asked me how I can function without ever going outside. My older sister would say, “We’re inside people,” and that is partially true. But, as frustrating as it is to see the occasional person strolling through the garden outside my window, and as much as I would like to walk down the block to go to our fruit stand and our Rite Aid and buy our usual milk, eggs, and bananas, I know that I can deal with this. And if being cooped up like this means that we and others can stay safe, I will happily stay inside.