A strange but very obvious fact of life that nevertheless catches me off-guard every time: as soon as I leave a place everything I did there—my many lives and heartbreaks and loves—begins to feel like a dream. Even if I can still taste it on my lips. Even with the memory of it yet wrapped around my wrist.
I’m in Singapore now and while I could say being here is strange, the greater truth is that I can’t believe I’ve been anywhere else, and it’s California that feels strange, even though it’s just 24 hours in my past. I expected the humidity to catch me off guard when I stepped out of the airport but instead it just felt like an inwards breath, slowly drawn. Like that’s the way it’s always been.
When I say I’m in Singapore now I mean I’m in a 21-day hotel quarantine that began this morning, when the strangely empty SQ flight disgorged three passengers and shuttled us across the island as the sun rose behind us. We talked as the bus drove: our last conversations with a person in front of us for the next three weeks.
I don’t say any of this for pity; I have enough of that for myself to go around. But this last year has taught me a lot—about myself, but also what it means to name a thing and give shape to it. Names are powerful. Words are powerful. This year has slipped through my hands. I am grateful for every grain of it that has lingered a moment more than it needed to. But most did not and even now I can feel the sensations fading. So I am writing this, once again, to mark a milestone for myself: here’s where I stand, now, a rising junior in college, three weeks from seeing my family after nine months away, more than a year deep into a pandemic I thought would last a month, an ocean away from some of my friends, a few streets away from others.
At this milestone I am a declared biology major, concentrating in ecology and evolutionary biology, and vaguely meandering along the path towards a computer science minor with no real attachment to it. I am a writer. I am a friend. I am a student. I am a researcher. I am a leader. I am a follower. I am a runner. I am a bad dancer, a worse singer, a horrendous navigator, and not even a driver. I am thinking about time and place a lot.
I spent a lot of the last year waiting for things to get over, because I was sad a lot, and bored some of the rest, and certain everything was just about to change in the remainder. I learned when change did come it came without warning. Sadness and happiness both: sadness a wave when I biked down the street in the rain, coming back to my dorm and wringing water out for what felt like hours, or a physical push in the stomach while I splayed in the sun, wanting to replace the weight of an entire country on my shoulders with the bright clear light. Happiness jumped out at you; I had to open my mouth to let it in, let it lick my lips wet, the apricot from the garden, the sunrise over the city. The moon on the rooftops.
And I’m waiting again, now, for what lies at the end of these three weeks: my dog’s hair in my nose, an awkward hug from my brother. But I want to make something of it. 21 days feels like eternity but eternities are rarely that long; all objects are closer in the mirror than they appear. Alone, in this hotel room, I am surrounded by mirrors. I count at least six in easy reach. And in front of me unspools the city I—for better or worse—grew up in. Somewhere behind me, a nighttime’s flight, is everywhere I was, everything I learned. I don’t want to forget.