This is how my Tuesday went down. I woke up to go to a voiceover recording session for my thesis film. Was almost late to my seminar on Walter Benjamin where I presented a piece titled “Left-wing Melancholy.” Ran to a talk I was excited about only to find that it had been canceled. Noticed a sign on the auditorium door saying that some exam had been moved online. Didn’t give it much thought and walked back to Zeus.
So around 5p.m., I was sitting at a table with a friend mindlessly scrolling through my phone. A link that previewed “University Statement” popped up in one of my many group chats and I opened it, somehow having a bad feeling about it already.
We all know what was in that statement.
“What are we gonna do?” I asked my friend. He hesitated for a second, then told me he needed to call his parents.
The confusing part was how the message started circulating in private texts about half an hour before it got sent out as an official announcement in email. In some of my group texts and a Cornell subreddit, a few were questioning the credibility of the statement, which only added to the already heightened sense of uncertainty. But everyone started reacting nevertheless — the table next to us joked that they could probably stop cramming for an impending exam, a lot of people pulled out their phones and started calling families like my friend did, another friend yelled at me from across the atrium, “Ruby!” His voice was full of the usual excitement, “we are fucked!” I squeezed out a smile and waved back.
Above him, posters advertising various Arts and Sciences events rolled across the big screen in Klarman. Someone was quietly sobbing into the phone on a corner bench. I looked at her, then around. For a moment I felt so completely lost that I thought of this dream I had been having since I was a child. In the dream, I am on this giant ferris wheel just lifting off the ground, but I am by myself. Everyone else I care about – and the people change over the years – are staying behind. I scream their names at the top of my lungs, but none of them can hear me.
“You good?” My friend had gotten off the phone. “Yeah.” I excused myself because I was late to a group dinner, and on my way there I called a close housemate who’s off-campus this semester. They sounded completely content with life and told me about an evening date. How lovely. I got to the restaurant. There seemed to be nothing else to talk about but the recent announcement, and someone at the table made a joke about how our generation can take over when all the old people die off from the virus. I felt disgusted and interrupted her. The rest of the dinner was a haze. I left early to go to a film and on my way to the cinema ran into a group of friends, all of us seniors. Hugs were deemed too risky and we bumped elbows. I learned that the Cornell Fashion Collective show this Saturday, which I was supposed to model in, had also been canceled. I texted my designer asking if she was okay.
At the cinema we watched American Psycho, a perfectly absurd film that should’ve taken my mind off of the subject. It didn’t. Screenwriter and actress Guinevere Turner gave a wonderful Q&A that was witty and insightful. People were laughing at her jokes all around me, but messages kept coming in on my phone. I whispered to the friend sitting next to me, “I might start crying.” He put his hand on mine.
By the time all was finally over and we were out in the cold again, I felt exhausted. Pretending that we can keep business as usual is just not quite possible anymore. Things will have to change; how we feel, how we interact, how we move around in this world. Many of the memes and news articles and opinion pieces have already pointed out the myriad implications of the new policy. I am incredibly saddened, both by the tangible threat of COVID-19 and the political malaise in this country and beyond. For me, an international student, a graduating senior with a film thesis and a member of a coop which is technically campus housing, things are to be figured out for sure. Yet I do NOT think this is an overreaction. Despite the still murky logistics, it’s important we care for each other as a community, and that means taking into consideration the more vulnerable populations, including those that are immunocompromised, disabled, pregnant and elderly. Please, let’s not dismiss valid feelings of anxiety and fear, and put the community’s well-being above minor (and in some cases, major) inconveniences.
I had a half-finished column about experimental cinema, but publishing something so socially irrelevant felt somewhat wrong, a sentiment my fellow columnist Andrea Yang had mentioned at an earlier stage of the crisis. Just know that this is not to spread the sentiment of melancholy which Benjamin acidically attacked as “tortured stupidity” but to say, to quote an email I received late last night, “know that I am with you.” Years down the line we may still remember this day. I hope the kinder gestures are what stay with us.
Ruby Que is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Escape runs alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.