This Friday, my friends and I held a going away celebration for one of us who was leaving. He ended up having to leave campus earlier that day, so at night it was just us, celebrating alone. The party ended in the only way it ever could’ve: tears. We cried gracelessly on the floor, as much about the uncertainty of our futures as about the nostalgia of our pasts.
This weekend has been filled with so many goodbyes. At many of them I’ve cried. Other times I do my best to hold it together. And once or twice, I’ve even managed to make my exit with a smile. I still don’t know if I’ve fully registered that I’ve walked out of my friends’ apartments for the last time, or that we’ve had our last hugs. I don’t know when I will.
Recent events have reminded me of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” After Tuesday’s and Friday’s announcements, it’s as if we’re all now listening to the tolling of the ebony clock. We’re passing our hands over our brows in meditation. Even the happiest among us are growing weary. Though we may try to make light of our anxieties, the fact stands that a lot of people who’d been intent on staying in Ithaca before Friday afternoon are now leaving early Sunday morning.
Likewise, I’ve spent the past few days on the phone with my mom asking her questions: Should I come home now? Will she be alright? How do I pack up four years at Cornell in one weekend? And for one of the first times in my life, my mom doesn’t know any of the answers. Neither does Cornell. Because there is no right answer. None of us know really what we’re supposed to be doing or who we can lean on.
Now, for the past few days, I’ve found myself praying for guidance like I used to as a child. I’m praying for my grandmother, 92 years old, living in Oregon. I’m praying for my dad and my stepmother near Seattle. I’m praying that there will be enough food and enough resources for everyone who needs them.
Because the coronavirus pandemic has made me feel so powerless. The half-full bottle of hand sanitizer outside of our apartment and the sign asking everyone to wash their hands won’t keep it out. And with our one bathroom and one stove, when one of us gets it, all of us will get it. I want so badly to help others, but it’ll be hard enough to help myself.
Virginia Woolf writes that, in illness, we are finally able “to look round, to look up — to look, for example, at the sky.” I think a lot of the world is looking up at the sky right now, and it’s terrifying. Whatever is happening is bigger than we can adequately process.
This week, I’d been intently applying to jobs because it kept me thinking about a future. My future now is much more limited. I’m going to wake up tomorrow, head to brunch with one of my closest friends, hug her tightly and then cry as I watch her drive away. I’ll call my mom and ask — for what feels like the hundredth time — if I should start packing my things and looking for a flight back home. I’ll write a message to my grandma to help her pass the time. I’ll head to dinner with another friend, lament on lost time, mentally steel myself to say goodbye to him and probably end up crying regardless.
When will the full pain of these goodbyes finally knock the wind out of me? Tomorrow? The next day? When I’m finally on my own way back home, and I have to say my own goodbyes? When I see that this column has been published, and I realize that everything I’m writing about has already become a memory?
I don’t know how to be brave anymore. All the walls that I’ve built at Cornell to keep myself alive are crumbling to ruin. Everything feels like it’s slipping through my fingers.
I don’t have answers or advice to give to my readers. I’m only 22 years old. The only thing I encourage is to give yourself the time and the space to experience your feelings for what they are. Listen to the ebony clock. Look at the sky. The musician Björk sings: “Don’t remove my pain / It is my chance to heal.”
In a world where there are currently no right answers or perfect solutions, all we can do is the best that we can.
Colton Poore is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Help Me, I’m Poore runs every other Monday this semester.