When the pandemic first “started”, March 2020, as I waited in the airport to fly back home, I scrolled through Instagram. All of my classmates were posting panicked, confused, reflective recaps of freshman year and plans for the future, though no one was quite sure whether it was the end or not, whether we would see each other in two weeks or two months (or, as it turned out, maybe two years). Nearly everyone’s predictions turned out wrong, except for one person’s.
In these next few months, she said, we need to learn to live with uncertainty as we never have before. Invite it into our homes. Walk hand-in-hand. Not shy away from it. Understand it will not go away any time soon. Reading it made me a little angry because I wish I’d thought of it first.
So I woke up today ready to celebrate my halfway point through my 21-day SHN period. But by noon, it turned out I was wrong. At midday today the government reduced the mandated quarantine back to its original 14 days, affecting all travellers currently in SHN too. So three weeks has become two. Instead of getting out on July 4, I’m going to taste fresh air this Sunday, June 27, pending a negative COVID test. This is uncertainty that has worked out in my favor. Four days till I scratch my dog, four days till I hug my mother, brother, father. Four days till sky around me and the ability to walk more than twenty meters in any direction. Four days till I’m not just pressing my face against my window to feel a little bit of the air outside but so it actually submerges me.
There’s only a difference of a week, but 21 days and 14 days mean very different things. When the quarantine was extended to three weeks, I cried for a day. I called my mother and told her I wasn’t coming back home. This was too long, I couldn’t do it, I said. A month in a hotel room? Was coming home worth it? I could spend the summer with my friends, I could move to campus, I could do research. I could do any number of things that did not mean sitting in a hotel room for 21 days, spending money and wasting time and staring longingly at the outside world without actually getting to do anything about it. I had spent so much of the last year being lonely, I told her. I didn’t want to go through it again.
My mother put her foot down: you don’t have a choice, she said, and booked my flight tickets. It’s just a week more. Stop being a baby.
But it wasn’t just a week more; the difference between the two, I felt, instinctively, was one of commitment. Fourteen days is long enough that you repeat a bad week twice and it’s getting painful by the end of it, sure, but if you just stick it out for a couple more days it’ll get over. Twenty-one days cannot be dismissed so easily; you cannot live twenty-one days continuously dreaming of escape. It’s the difference between passing through somewhere and inhabiting it, living out of a suitcase and filling the cupboards. For fourteen days, it’s possible, though smelly, to go without washing your clothes. For twenty-one days you cannot.
I washed my clothes yesterday. My mother had laughed at my plans and told me she’d just send whatever clothes I had left at home rather than go to the hassle, but I insisted. It would be an adventure, I told her. I filled the bathtub with water and laundry detergent and mashed the cloth around, feeling like I was brewing some particularly noxious stew, and marveling at how the water browned: nothing I was washing had left the hotel room; where had all the dirt come from? Then I laid everything out to dry on every available surface in the bathroom, which, though spacious, did not have as many racks as I thought it did. Afterwards I carpeted my room with the soggy shirts, using books to prop them up on the windowsill. I planned for how I’d wash them again next week. Maybe I could ask for a hanger or something to make the drying process easier.
After I got over my crying back in San Francisco, I started planning for the 21 days. I outlined the revival of this blog and the additional resurrection of several long-abandoned writing projects. I began volunteering in meetings for tasks and projects. I’ll have time, I said; I’m going to spend a month in a hotel room on my own. I would make the space my own, I vowed; this wouldn’t be a bland hotel room. I would put my drawings up on the wall. I would make improvised elaborate meals out of my microwave and kettle alone. And I told people over and over about my plans till they got sick of it and till the idea settled firmly into my mind: three weeks of my life on my own. It would be okay. I would make it okay.
And it has been okay: surprisingly, happily, refreshingly okay.
So while I am going to gain so much I never thought I would—a whole week with my family and friends, a week spent living instead of waiting—I also cannot shake the vague sense something’s been taken from me, too. Not a large thing, for sure, but the proof, at least, that I could have held up to myself at the end of the three weeks, something I could have looked at and said, see, see, you didn’t think you could do it, but you could, you could all along. But I’ll let the knowledge be enough for now, and take the change, and welcome it home to my bones.