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The acuity of affection in the apocalypse

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In the days ticking down to our departure from campus, I saw a lot of posts about “shooting your shot.” With spring quarter going remote and everyone scattered to different corners of the world, there was no more reason to hold back, the logic went. If things went well, you could buckle yourself in for a budding romance via Zoom. If not, you now had a buffer of time and distance to avoid the failed object of your affections; or, if you’re a senior like me, you could just never see them again.

What I’ve been thinking about, though, are the other affections we don’t express enough. Like yes, there’s that cutie in chem, but what about the friend of a friend you think you would have vibed with, or the underclassmen you wanted to see flourish for another 10 weeks? The classmates whose discussion comments and writings you’d admired from afar? It’s these missed connections that I’ve mourned the hardest because they’re so closely tied to physical life on campus: repeated run-ins at parties, serendipitous conversations in the lounge that are hard to manufacture online. The acquaintances whom I hoped that, with another quarter of quality time, could have become friends.

During my last days, I scrambled to cross what I could off my Stanford bucket list, marking some as a wash (so long, Bay to Breakers). In the midst of checking off one of these items — locate and leave a book at Encyclopedia Cave — a friend told me about his operating systems class. Specifically, time-slicing: when a machine jumps rapidly between processes so as to give the illusion they’re all running simultaneously. I felt it most acutely when I went to Office Depot to buy boxes and packing tape later that week. In one moment, I was cursing the rain; in the next, I was laughing as Clara and Joe scrambled to get under my umbrella. Huddled in the backseat as Joe rolled his window down and blasted “Country Roads,” I alternated between sadness and overwhelming gratitude.

The thing is, I would have felt all these emotions anyways in June during graduation — though, sans pandemic, the happiness quotient would definitely be higher. There’s honesty in endings, whether we anticipate them or they’re sprung upon us. The adage goes, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” The other side being: I know exactly what I have. Most days, I’m just too afraid to say it. I’m terrified of being labeled as annoying. Particularly, it’s the implication of neediness that gets me; somebody is annoying because they make their presence too felt, usually through some desire for validation. And it’s true. There always lives in me the fear of being forgotten. Coronavirus gave me an excuse to check in on everyone, from the one-night stand to the childhood best friend, because the disease’s spread exposed just how far our webs extend, how tightly we’re all interwoven.

On my last night, I started a list of people I appreciated and people I feared I wouldn’t see in person again. I wrote messages to as many of them as I could, and it surprised me how easy it was, once the words started flowing, to articulate so specifically what each one meant to me. Whether it was someone’s catchphrase or laugh, my irritated fondness for their antics, my admiration for the way they took care of others — it all bubbled to the forefront as I laid on a friend’s mattress, her room dark for the first time that year, her golden string lights packed away.

In a few months, maybe I’ll scold myself for being weepy and overdramatic. Maybe, against all odds, I’ll be in Main Quad for Senior Dinner and someone will tease me, saying, “Hey, remember when you sent me that long text as if the world were ending?” Some people haven’t responded to my rambling messages, and that’s alright. Life isn’t reciprocal, and none of the milestones I took for granted are guaranteed. But if the community mobilization of resources and outpouring of support for those in need has shown me anything, it’s that we have so much to give each other in times like these. There are things we hoard that would be better placed in other people’s hands. Affection is one of them. 

For more spring quarter thoughts or a new friend in “Animal Crossing,” contact Katie Mansfield at [email protected]

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