Growing roots during unprecedented times

Quarantine was a time of uncertainty that has affected students’ lives across the nation; one student, Khushi Arya, reflects on her experiences navigating the waters of quarantine

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Campus life was completely different for returning and entering students for Fall 2020 as restrictions and precautions changed the way campus functioned.

Khushi Arya, Staff Writer

Packing up my bags every few weeks, walking down airplane aisles and befriending strangers in new cities — life as I knew it. Until it wasn’t.

March 11, 2020. I was eating Jell-O in Miami while taking pictures of my friends obnoxiously posing on a boat and stepping on the glass window the captain told us specifically not to step on. The sun’s glare made my phone’s screen almost impossible to see, so I walked down the steps to read the inevitable email from Wake administrators.

“We have decided to suspend all in-person classes, both in Winston-Salem and Charlotte, until further notice.”

Suddenly, the Jell-O in my hand wasn’t so sweet. We all saw it coming, but being in denial had been a comfortable crutch.

“What in the world are we going to do now?” said Amy, my friend who was on spring break with me. “I can’t go back to Illinois without my winter clothes!”

All four of us went back home hoping to come back to campus after a week or two. Of course, the weeks turned into months, and months turned into what felt like an eternity.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March 2020, which was followed by nationwide lockdowns, travel restrictions and social distancing guidelines across the world. In the United States, stay-at-home orders and quarantine mandates drastically changed everyone’s life.

Summer quarantine was unlike any other. Instead of looking up hotels and tourist attractions to make extremely detailed travel itineraries for my trip to Hawaii with my best friend, I was writing down an elaborate morning routine in my planner to pass time in suburban Michigan.

“Wake up at 7 a.m., brush my teeth, go on a run, watch three Coursera videos and write in my journal.” One day simply rolled into the next. There wasn’t much to do during a global pandemic. As an extrovert who gets energized by constantly being surrounded by people, life was strange, all alone in the guest room of my aunt’s house. The empty white walls seemed to taunt my loneliness. The only sound in that room was that of the creaking fan, which I was convinced would fall on me one night. There was nothing I wanted more than to be with my people again. The only place I could imagine myself calling home.

Then the day finally came: against all the odds and I got to move back to campus in the fall. People were dying, economies were crumbling, yet I found joy in the personal victory of not being alone anymore. I moved into a big suite with seven other girls that quickly became my safe haven. A constant stream of human interaction was all that I needed.

There is never a dull moment in Dogwood 409: someone is always laughing, crying, stressing out, or dancing in the living room. Our decorations are just as diverse as our personalities. There is a framed Wake Forest collage that Celine found in the trash, a giant teddy bear named Joe, random plants by the window, Hanna’s old discarded tarot card tapestries and two soccer balls that we hope to eventually play with.

What we are most proud of, perhaps, is our wall of fame. A wall of sticky notes containing the funniest things we have said in the suite. It all started when Anna said, “my brother has an addiction to laxatives.” We just had to commemorate that somehow.

Without even realizing it, we became a family in isolation, replete with traditions and routines that are now second nature to us.

In the midst of a global pandemic, we cultivated our bubble of happiness.

Snuggling up on our couch to watch Harry Potter movies on a small laptop, going to the pit at 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, singing along to Taylor Swift in red LED lighting, discussing childhood trauma outside the north pit, walking down the poorly lit paths on the Reynolda trail at night and going to soccer games and heckling the opposing team have been the highlights of my year.

There are days when I miss late-night street shopping in Bangkok, but I guess going to Hanes Mall in Hannah’s Prius and spending two hours at Forever21 is a close second.

I have always thought of home as a warm feeling that I associate with the people I love. Maybe the idea of home being a physical space as well as the people in it isn’t mutually exclusive after all. A suite in a beautiful building with a custom brick color (deacon blend) on a 340-acre campus isn’t too shabby for a home.

Every night at around 11 p.m, I have a person to talk to about the “craziest thing I read in ‘The Culture Code’ by Daniel Coyle.” My roommate Hanna nods her head in response, then resumes watching Tik Tok videos that are apparently more interesting than the team-building strategies of the U.S. Navy SEAL.

The new normal is more than anything I could have hoped for. I am no longer afraid of setting roots somewhere. I no longer have the urge to constantly displace myself to find new places, people, or experiences.

“Anything can be taken away from you at any given moment,” Hanna likes to say. “If you lose every material possession, would you be happy with what you have left?”

Turns out, there is happiness in the ordinary. I have realized that, for me, it all comes down to cherishing the memories I make with the people I love. As the world slowed down, for the first time, so did I.