On Plumbing the Depths of Quarantine
By Amy Wang
Isolation. Before this year, when taken as a word on its own, it brought to mind separation, loneliness, a figure waiting alone in the wings of an empty stage. Isolation wasn’t something we were all familiar with, a foreign concept of singularity that few had been through because in the past it was hard to be completely devoid of social interaction. But now, because of social distancing, it’s something we’ve all been through, a collective experience of a magnitude never before seen.
Even now, it’s still hard to gauge just what kind of effect quarantine has had upon this generation. To be cut off from school, friends, and basically any kind of in-person interaction is hard to deal with by itself, but without any time for preparation it’s something infinitely more calamitous. Those of us struggling with our mental health, especially younger teens who filled empty hours with friend groups and clubs, have tilted, on the edge of a precipice in no one’s control.
In my own experience it’s been a struggle to keep talking to school mates because the spark that might have existed when you’re face to face disappears completely when there’s only the cold, lifeless text of an instagram direct message. Group zoom calls were awkward, because is that really how I look on screen? The few people I tried to talk with were stilted, every single one of us hanging onto the rungs of a ladder we couldn’t see the end of. My conversations tapered off in the first few months of our self-imposed separations, warded away by the loosening concept of time, the absence of a reminder that they were even there when the people I was trying to talk to were themselves unfathomably far. Nevermind the fact that it’s hard to keep in touch when you’re distant, friction also occurs when you’re too close with people. At the beginning of quarantine I brushed up uncomfortably against my family members. Going from seeing a person for half a day at a time, to being face to face every hour of the day was difficult, a transition that came with significant growing pains.
But as sobering of an experience as it might be, quarantine has brought with it a cupful of joy, even if the taste of it is slightly bitter. With time has come familiarity, and if I wasn’t at first predisposed to be with my parents and little brother for every single hour of the day, I am now. We’ve worn grooves into each other, our daily interactions becoming more common, easier to understand and comprehend. Conversations have started up again, and this time they’re with people that aren’t stilted, people that I cared enough about to reach out to and people who cared enough to reach out to me. We’ve carved out our own little spaces in the wall-like mass that is isolation, whether that’s with new online friends or in starting up clubs and literary magazines. Given the time to do so we’ve become more focused, given the space to do so we are. I can’t even count the number of literary magazines and online tutoring organizations that have started, and it’s almost astounding just how much we can do when we aren’t constrained by school. As summer came and online school ended, we’ve become, in my view at least, more productive, the elasticity of a self-arranged schedule melting into the blanks that going outside once occupied.
We’ve all learned, and grown, despite how painful it might have been, from this experience. Our collective consciousness, despite the upheaval that it’s experienced, is stronger for what we’ve been through as a generation. It’s always said that the ties that are forged through fire are the strongest ones, and having been through something as unsettling as this with the people I care about leaves me thankful. Thankful for those who have been here for me. Thankful for the time that’s been given. Thankful that we’re now on the other side.
As states reopen, however, and we go back to the societal norms that we once had, isolation and all the implications of it are fated to fade away. While some things will probably forever be changed by COVID-19, others, like in-person school and the reappearance of a thing called social interaction are inevitable. It would be a boon to us all if we remember the things we learned in quarantine when the time comes for us to leave it.