Two days ago, I marked the end of another spring semester. Normally, I feel a ripple of excitement down my spine as I enter grades and set my out-of-office email. For me, summer typically means a few precious weeks of alone time. After a year of classes and grading and student meetings and grading and, also, grading, I look forward to a little mental rehabilitation. Time to read for pleasure, to write for writing’s sake, to take long walks, and to drink my coffee while it’s hot.
But this year was nothing but alone time. But also never-alone time. Thanks to Covid-19, my husband, son, and I worked and schooled from home. At first, the three of us huddled around our dining room table, the dog wound around our feet. As the months of pandemic wore on, we scattered to different floors of our home. My son staked out the kitchen. My husband hunkered down in the storage loft. I set up an office in a guest bedroom, where the dog would recline on the bed and aggressively lick herself while I taught online. Each weekday, since March of 2020, I logged into Zoom to enthusiastically greet a screen full of black boxes. I can’t blame my students. Showers were negotiable. Class met in bed. No one wants to be recorded spooning a pillow. Despite working together for months, I never saw most of my students’ faces.
Some of those students will graduate today. No sports stadium ceremony. No balloons or handshakes. Instead, this year, they will be celebrated in a Google slide show. It must feel terribly anticlimactic. No pomp because of the circumstance.
This schoolyear is not so much ending as it is slowly dissolving. By this time in May, I am usually peeling out of the campus parking lot, windows down, radio up. This May, I am flipping through commencement slides on my laptop in my guest room office. In lieu of the radio, I listen to my husband’s conference call. Downstairs, my son is arguing with a second-grade classmate about salamander habitats.
We need closure: my students, me, everyone. I find myself longing for the cloying smell of cherry vapes and cheap cologne that lingered around the guys in the campus smoking area. I miss the thumping bass that rattled my classroom windows when the Hispanic Student Union held dance-offs on the quad. I miss the library, littered with crumpled essays and crumpled water bottles. I miss the one kid, always late to class, sprinting from building to building, his backpack thumping against his back, yelling, “Yo, lady, hold the door!” I miss the peals of obnoxious laughter coming from the women’s restroom. I miss the endless line in the coffee shop and the bad cafeteria food. I miss not missing it, all of that beautiful, messy life.
I’d like to say that everything will be different when we return to campus in the fall. That the cologne will seem less confrontational and the library less desperate. Wouldn’t it be nice if everything were painted with a post-pandemic sheen? And it will be, for a minute. Just a minute. But that’s okay. Reentering the world means reveling in the pomp, despite, or sometimes because of, the circumstance.