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Izzy Iliff


These days my mind is a jumble of philosophical and religious tenets, worming anxiety, pointed regret, words unsaid to friends and family. I didn’t know that that seemingly ordinary Thursday at school would be the last day of my junior year that I’d see my professors or classmates. I didn’t know that celebrating my 21st birthday that weekend with my family would be the last time for months that I’d be able to squeeze my young cousins in a tight hug. I didn’t know that any of the things I did that week would be “lasts” – goofing around at band practice in the music building’s auditorium or lazy afternoons spent studying at my best friend’s dorm.


I flick open an unread text message to find a meme that hits a little too close to home - “woulda hugged the homies a lil tighter if I knew it’d be like this.” I respond in the group text with a sobbing emoji that can’t lighten the weight of what I’m feeling.


We didn’t know – none of us did.


I’m thinking back to when we first heard of coronavirus in China, like a distant overseas war that I only knew about from the news. Not my world – not my life. I’m thinking back to mid-March when it first impacted me by the cancelling of classes, when the announcement came through on my school email just like any other missive from a professor. I wanted to cry at the feeling flooding my chest, that panicky realization that I was no longer in charge of my own life. But I didn’t cry, because I was at lunch with friends who just groaned at the thought of the inconvenience of having to move home. I didn’t cry because then I was with another friend, talking her through her breakup. I didn’t cry because then I was begging some of my friends to hang out just a little longer that night, because deep down I knew nothing would be the same for a very long time.


Later, when I was alone, I cried.


Months later, the world has completely shut down. Everyone other than essential personnel is sheltering at home. 94,000 deaths in the United States - and the number keeps climbing.


It feels selfish to be so sad. It feels selfish to tell my friends or professors how I’m really feeling when they ask me how I am. “Some days are better than others,” I reply. “But at least I’m safe at home with my family. At least I’m healthy. Not too much to complain about.”


Some days, I’m drowning.


Lately I feel like the universe, God, whatever you want to call it, is letting me down. It’s happened before – things I wanted so desperately falling through, disappointments, losing sporting matches, underperforming on tests. Through it all, I could still see through to the other side. I got stronger, trusted myself more, came to realize that I can and will survive whatever is thrown at me. One thing after another, I got through it all. But it was one thing after another. One pain at a time, still orderly, small enough to maintain, to relegate to a back corner of my brain while I kept living. Now, it’s like someone has lifted my world map and erased every marking I’d ever made on it.


I’m questioning everything. I’m questioning my choice in study, in my major. I’m questioning the path my life has taken to where I am now. Still, I write. I pour words onto paper again and again and file it all away into folders where someday, some of it might see the light of others’ eyes. But it’s hard to see the point in being a writer, a poet, a creator of entertainment or art, when what’s deemed “essential” are the jobs of those out there every day, risking their health and their lives to provide medical care, distribute food or keep infrastructure together.


When everything you hold constant is wiped away in one grand sweep, you question everything.


Above all, regret fills me. Regret for the days I spent holed up in my room studying for hours because anything less than 100% is failure in my eyes. As I text my friend advice about her love life, I type, “it’s usually the things we don’t do that we regret in the end.”


As my senior year approaches in a world now rife with uncertainty, I wonder how many opportunities I let slide past me in my first three years of college, all because I wasn’t completely prepared, wasn’t completely in control. It was only in this past semester that I really started living. I told people how I felt about them. I stayed out late and sometimes regretted the lack of sleep, but never the moments of laughter and togetherness. I procrastinated homework because I was hugging my friend in her dorm as she cried or as we talked for hours about life and what we want out of it. I don’t regret those moments – in fact, now, so distant from all of them, I grasp my memories as proof that I can live that way again. I imagine the day when all this fear and danger lifts from our world and we emerge with a renewed sense of what matters. I hope, so deeply it hurts, that when all this ends, I won’t forget and take it all for granted again.


~


“There is pleasure in the pathless woods.” - Lord Byron


After taking a series of questionnaires for my psychology class, it’s confirmed – I’m a grade A pessimist. When things go wrong, I start spiraling, unable to see a way out or, on an even deeper level, a thread of purpose. As I move further into my adult life and keep forming my worldview, I want to remind myself of all the things I’ve gained from the times of the most pain, the most struggle. The things that I value most didn’t come from any of my easy experiences. Finally placing second at the B group level in a squash tournament wouldn’t have meant so much if I hadn’t lost in the first or second round for years in a row, if I hadn’t dug down and found the drive to work even harder instead of giving up. Winning the Lemonade Stand Entrepreneurship Competition at school for a business I started wouldn’t have filled me with such pride if it wasn’t for the hours and hours of hard work, stress, and panic-induced breakdowns I had to go through that semester to get me there.


Right now, whenever my mind starts to spin out of control, I remind myself of what I’ve gained from this global pandemic. I have a newfound appreciation of the littlest things that matter the most. Those moments I took for granted - laughing with my friends over stupid jokes, hugging each other when we were happy or sad or tired or anxious, just connecting because that is what we as human beings are made for. In the past few months, I’ve lost connections with some people who drifted further and further away. But I’ve built new ones with the people who have stayed – the people who keep texting back, who make time to set up video chats and with whom I’ve made new inside jokes to replace the ones with people I’ve lost. The people who I play stupid online games with, spending hours on online Pictionary, Cards Against Humanity and D&D, laughing so much that my cheeks ache and I forget for a short while that we’re all separated by a computer screen, not sitting beside each other.


I’m ready to build a life worth living – one that when I’m old and grey, I can look back on and really say that I lived without regret. I want to tell people I love them and stop worrying about being judged because it's not “cool” to be vulnerable. I want to create wildly and paint the world with words, knowing that my contribution matters.


I want to live like there’s a point to all this, because there is.

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All images other than author photos and artist artwork ©Matthew Batt 2020