• Tatum Jenkins

I'm Still Mourning

My normal college life died on June 10, 2020. Any sense of normalcy or stability vanished from me once I read an email divulging Emerson College’s plans for the fall semester. I knew this was coming, and I knew, no matter what the plan was, that there would be no “normal,” even if we were able to return to campus. Of course, I understand this is for the greater good and I want what’s best for my peers and the world. That thought doesn’t make it any easier, however. I have been mourning for that part of my life – my pre-COVID college life – since March, but June 10 felt especially difficult. I’m still mourning, and it’s a grief I find I’m having a hard time processing.

When I say “mourning,” I do not mean it in reference to America. I’m happy to watch the old systems burn as other, better means of accomplishing things rise out of the ashes. I’m very willing to partake in the burning and the growth – even if it means I get burned in the process.

When I say “mourning,” I mean I miss my old life; the one that exists in a space not so far away from this one. Those beautiful six months of my first year of college. Those six months remain the most vivid – and now haunting – memories of my life. Where high school seemed to be steeped in a sort of groggy mediocrity, college bloomed and spilled out color in places and people I never expected.

College was the first time I’d ever been myself in my whole life. I joined an ultimate frisbee team – people I now consider family – and they allowed me to be myself in a way that took up space I was previously uncomfortable with. It was the first time I never had to work to be loved, because they saw the real me, no matter how much I tried to lie. I think I cringe at some of my memories from those months because I never lied to them; I never hid myself in favor of another version who might appear “cooler” or “more desirable.” All I had to give was me, and that was enough.

I’m now mourning that self. To this day, I feel stuck in that moment; that day in March, when I called my best friend Tori, crying, and kept saying over and over, “I have to go home...I have to go home.” But what is home? Because it certainly isn’t my town in California. I now drive for miles and miles searching for home, for answers, yet I don’t find anything because there is nothing to be found. Loss and emptiness are everywhere.

Everything reminds me of what I lost. The most cruel part is that I cannot blame anyone for my losses. Instead, my anger boils up and becomes tears that violently burn my eyes as soon as they leave my body. I don’t know the difference between anger and sadness anymore; they feel the exact same.

Attempting to justify the situation, my friend once proposed, “Maybe after this we won’t take things for granted.” That statement enraged me. I never took anything in the previous six months for granted because somehow I knew that the end was coming. I knew it from the first party, when I sat sober on the couch, and looked upon the very people I would grow to love with my whole heart. I knew it with every song I listened to throughout those six months– my favorites embedded with lyrics like, “It might be over soon” and “Hope it never ends” and “I never wanna waste a second of our time.” I would have panic attacks and cry and text my best friend Kate late at night, citing these episodes as a result of the stress brought upon from her and two of my other teammates leaving for Los Angeles. I thought I was crying because she was leaving, but what we didn’t know then is I was crying for an ending so much bigger than the both of us.

I knew it all along, yet I still feel devastated. What do you do when that love – that love that is so singular to the people you know from college – isn’t as reachable as it used to be? When you think, who’s going to toss a frisbee with me like Dassah does? Who’s going to FaceTime me like Truman does? Who’s going to make me laugh like Tori does? Who’s going to talk to me like Emma does? Who’s going to hug me like Kate does? Who’s going to go grocery shopping with me like Andrew does? Who’s going to read all my writing like Andie does? Who’s going to dance with me like Jacob does? Who’s going to send me good songs to listen to like Dev does? There are even more names; more people that I consider my best friends, I could mention.

To all the college students reading this: I bet you know many people like this. If not, I know one day you will. They are people who do everything I mentioned and more in your lives. I bet you know their names so well that it feels like running your finger over a carving in wood; soft and curved. When you think of their names, your tongue never slips up when you have to list these people off. That’s what I mourn for most of all. I haven't seen some of my best friends in several months. I don’t know how many months it will be until I see them again. And not just see them, but hug them and hold them and be in a room all together again.

I think what I’m most scared about – the fear that chases me all the way into my car and around the miles I drive as I cry looking for answers – is that I will never feel that kind of happiness or love ever again. I know this pandemic isn’t forever, but most days it feels infinite and I cannot convince myself otherwise. Logic plays no part in this mess as I’ve learned.

I often feel like a toddler having a tantrum on the floor; my brokenness on display for everyone to see. I’m alone, yet not alone in a strange way. I’m surrounded by people on my phone, yet there’s an intense silence; a silence that always manages to get filled by a memory from college. The late nights at my friends’ apartment when I was the last one stepping into our Uber, taking one last look behind my shoulder at the lights in the windows. The dinners at the dining hall after practice, everyone talking over each other. Nights at the library where we got nothing done and stayed until we practically had to be kicked out and I walked down the sidewalk with my friends and looked at each one of them until I realized I could no longer picture – could no longer accept – a world without them. Look at me now, I guess.

I want to believe it won’t be as bad as I think it will be. I want to believe we’ll still have practice four times a week; that I’ll be able to hang out with my friends at the library; that I’ll be able to have experiences that don’t remind me of the freedom I once had. I want to believe being back at school will interrupt this unending period of mourning for people, places, and opportunities that past me was able to indulge in. I want to believe in the goodness in others, that we may beat this virus together, but for once in my life, optimism seems like a feeling I used to experience.

We’ve all lost something or someone in this pandemic and I can’t say I’m exceptional in my mourning. At least my friends are alive. However, I can grieve over lost time and I’m inviting you to do the same.

Take a deep breath, say your friends’ names – the people you love most – in your head. Think of their faces, send them an “I love you” just in case they don’t know, and keep moving forward.

read more about Tatum here

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