Halloween had arrived to no avail. We had the decorations in our front yard: the pumpkins, the webs, the hanging skulls. Even though I was not in a costume, I wore a shirt with an outline of a pumpkin and pulled my hair back in an orange headband to celebrate the holiday. The get-up, despite my best attempt to be cheerful, did not match my mood. I had never felt so disappointed on Halloween in my life. The holiday, which is usually an occasion to go out and spend time with others, was different this year, just as everything was. New COVID cases would be 3,422 by midnight in California. The Central Valley, which normally felt cool during this time of year, was warm after a period of no rain and the fires that scorched the earth and changed the sky. My Halloween evening’s agenda consisted of a Charlie Brown movie with my Apple TV free trial.
The last time I saw my friends feels like it was an hour, day, month and year ago — all at the same time. Then, I was mostly to myself, a comfortable routine, still waking up at 5:45 a.m. every morning, at school before 7:10 a.m. and home by 3:00 p.m. I had time for friends, lunch periods and walking from classes to talk. I had things to do after school, like writing club, badminton and Spanish club. During our study hall/IB Extended Essay class, where we had just turned in our projects and major assignments, we now daydreamed about prom, graduation and college acceptances. As the first generation in our families to pursue college, we had plans to take pictures for future photo albums and go on a summer trip to celebrate our hard work in the face of adversity. After March 13 happened, “an extended spring break,” we would never be in the same place again.
For months leading up to March 2020, I spent most of my energy on myself and my grades. Turn that in, get that paper done, don’t have fun unless it is a commitment. Read the books, finish those applications. Organize, plan, prepare. I didn’t feel isolated, though. One more paper and you can go back to having fun. One more book and you can watch a movie with everyone else. One more event or one more meeting and you can go back to normal.
On March 12, 2020, the last day before a lockdown was even mentioned, I didn’t have badminton practice, so my friends and I went out to eat at a fast food restaurant. I rode with my friend, who had just turned 18 the day before, and we took the long way around. We laughed, played Harry Styles’ “Fine Line” album obnoxiously loud and arrived there before everyone else. Soon, we ordered our food and picked a table outside under an umbrella. The cars roared by on the street as we sang happy birthday to our friend and ate our food. I had left early, though; like always, I had something to do, for some reason I can’t even remember. I made a choice to leave early, and I regret it to this day.
Once to myself, I longed for human touch. I craved the life I had and the moments I missed, and I stressed for what would come next. I fell out of routine for school, spending my time during the first part of quarantine playing video games and escaping into the fictional worlds of TV shows, movies and books. College admissions came and went. So did graduation. Soon it was summer, and not a moment later I was starting my first quarter at Stanford. As time went on, my wish for socializing deepened, yet the connections I had became harder to keep intact.
That Halloween morning, before the online events that some Stanford students would put on, I received a text from my friend.
Are you home?
I stared at the message, the blue light glowing on my face seemingly brighter in the dark room. I eagerly typed back, hoping for any clues of interaction.
Her reply came soon after:
Just wanting to know.
Later, she came by and gifted me a box of donuts decorated with candied eyeballs and fake vampire teeth. Both of us wore masks, and we talked from a distance, our conversation stalling at some points as we complained about college and worried about what the future might hold, what would come next, when this would all be over so we could get back to our lives. We shared a side hug, and, for the first time in months, my skin brushed against someone outside of my household. She waved and left, and I was alone again with nothing but the donuts to keep me company.