I wake up to my first day of work. Today is the first time I set an alarm in the past month and a half.
I scroll through my emails while brushing my teeth. Nothing besides the ordinary Robinhood Snacks newsletter and spam emails from various places I forgot to unsubscribe from.
I have my first meeting. My brain feels fuzzy, and I’m looking forward to making an oat milk latte.
I finish my call and go on a walk. A minute outside in the Houston heat has already turned me into a sweating mess. I breathe in the fresh air, grateful to be able to escape the suffocating place that has housed me for the past three months. The smell of grass makes me sigh.
I start troubleshooting my computer, brewing my coffee, and making breakfast.
I let my coffee cool down when my phone pings. The subject line says “Campus Message.” My eyes widen, and I read the contents.
My heart slowly peruses the initial paragraphs: certain words pop out. Their tone immediately gives off a sense of danger, urgency. I feel a sinking sensation. This does not sound positive or hopeful.
I can’t help it. I hurriedly skim to the bottom, looking for the news I’d struggled to avoid thinking about for the past three months. The thought of this verdict had given me actual nightmares. It snuck like the Grinch into my conversations with friends. It poisoned my mood whenever I thought about it. For 14 weeks, I’d tried different methods to quiet my anxiety. Now I can finally see how successful I was with de-attaching to any decision.
For 30 seconds I feel nothing. I do nothing except reread the words, over and over again.
My messages start exploding. My group chats fire up with sad face emojis. My besties lament about our senior year. My closest 2020 graduates text me asking if I was okay. I respond with silence.
11 a.m. — 5 p.m.
I go through a full day of my internship like any college student who’s forced to “work” remotely. Switching between tabs. Nodding intermittently. Surfing the web. My first day, which I had eagerly anticipated since finding out I had gotten this job in October, is utterly ruined.
I spend most of the meetings searching for Airbnbs in different U.S. locations instead of watching my Zoom screen. I research other countries' travel bans, thinking maybe I can fly to Japan. Nope, they don’t want any Americans. Okay, what about Korea. Alas, I am not a citizen and can’t speak the language. Taiwan? How about the United Kingdom? The Bahamas is opening up. My mind fills with so many thoughts of how to escape.
At some point, I realize that I am acting selfishly. How can I think about buying a ticket to leave this mess of a country, when so many people are losing their U.S. visas? Because of the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy, so many young people are terrified about where they will be in the fall, not knowing when they can even return to the States. Many can’t even afford to travel out of their state, let alone their own home. Here I am acting like a child facing a hard and seemingly insurmountable mountain — I am refusing to look at it. I am trying to turn back. I am trying to run away.
I know my anger is not going to change things. Instead, I try searching for answers to my question on the Official Princeton Instagram page. What are the reasons behind Princeton’s final solution?
After digging through numerous comments and thinking on my own, I close my computer. I plug in earphones, jam up the music, and dance outside in my neighborhood. I dance to soulful Christian tunes that make me want to get on my knees to weep. I listen to the “Good Vibes” Spotify playlist, hoping it will boost my mood with its upbeat rhythm. I let out my frustration to rap, punching the air and stomping my feet with an anger I did not know was inside me. I dance and sweat until the sun sets.
I see the beautiful red and pink and purple behind me as I dance, and I think about the warm sunsets that spray over Poe Field. The ones that reflect on Lake Carnegie and wrap themselves like blankets around Firestone Library. I think about the leaves changing colors during my favorite time of the year. The part that makes the long, cold New Jersey months worth it for a Southerner. I wonder, instead of defrosting in front of Cap’s fire or with a warm Terhune apple cider, pouring into my books in my Spelman common room, feeling the cool breeze on my neck as I walk home from the Street, or getting into snowball fights outside Frist, what will I be doing this winter instead?
I eat dinner. I talk with my parents about my work, my meetings, my day. Finally after plates were cleaned. I tell them about Princeton’s decision. They are shocked, but they listen. They hear my cries. They give me space and time to vent. They are supportive. They are open to ongoing conversations on how to make home more suitable for learning. How to give me more independence, as well as quell my loneliness by possibly letting me stay with friends if the situation is safe. I feel grateful for the position that I am in. I know others are not as lucky. I have a comfortable home. I have loving parents. I have parents who can work from home, who make enough to pay for food and rent. I have reliable WiFi. I’m safe. I’m loved. I technically have everything I need.
I scroll through Facebook and find a petition for a new system in granting gap years. I’d almost forgotten the option of a gap year! I had already taken one for mental health reasons. Could I take another? But I keep reading and realize Princeton had not promised that those taking a gap year this fall would be allowed back on campus next fall.This new knowledge gets me thinking, is it really that wise to take a gap year then? I keep reading, ruminating, and reflecting.
I sit down. I start to write. I start compiling and organizing my thoughts. What am I feeling? How am I going to cope? Am I going to take a gap year or not? Is Princeton’s decision fair? Why did they decide to make it this way, instead of an all on-campus virtual learning situation like Cornell? What am I missing? What do I still need to know to be able to move on? Can I move on?
I look at what I write. I decide there’s still much more to address. To process. To express.
Grief does not end in a day. Sometimes it doesn’t ever go away. I know it will surface again sometime in late August, and October during Halloween, and November in the weeks leading up to and during Thanksgiving. What will I be thankful for then?
I’m writing this so that when those waves of sadness catch me off guard, I will be ready. I will stand my ground, I will have evidence for why my response to the University’s 2020–21 decision was the right one.
Reinhold Neibuhr said, “Wisdom is knowing the difference between accepting the things I cannot change, and having the courage to change the things I can.”
But college is not all about wisdom. It’s about making mistakes — lots of them. It’s about still trying to do the right thing, even when the results don’t come out the way you want. It’s about owning up to your mistakes and learning from them. Sometimes, college is about not knowing. And being okay with that.
Or maybe that’s a part of me trying to be wise, to cling onto some glimmer of hope that all is not lost. But, the other part of me tonight does not want to be wise ...