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a rule


It began on a Saturday, when the world slowly spun into chaos. The news of the coronavirus became more and more unavoidable, as much as you would want to escape it, it would catch up. It was the Saturday before the spring break everyone had mixed feelings about. My friends and I were rehearsing in the dorm for our upcoming scene in acting class. It was the four of us together, in the lounge of Rubin dorm. 

Talks of the school closing had been distributed among the peers, but nobody had any idea what was going to happen. Extension of the spring break? Cancellation of the semester? All the uncertainty perfumed the room as we rehearsed. We managed to push through it, and got a good amount of work done. Then, we received the email. 

It’s been a funky couple of days already with my mom’s constant worry of me being in the city and the doubt that meandered through people. My mom is Chinese and she had been paying her full undivided attention to the virus in China. She was the most afraid she’s ever been from my observation of her whole life. Yet, everything in New York City seemed fine. Everybody was out and about. Washington Square Park was beaming with life. The university’s community was still there together. We were together. 

The email informed us that the coming Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday would be the “transitional” period for the classes to switch to online teaching. The week after spring break would also be conducted through the online platform. When we read through the email, my friend called up his parents to take him home on Wednesday, he was leaving. Already? I couldn’t wrap my head around how fast that happened. The question of will we see each other again kept on intruding into my head. Why are you leaving? Why so fast? I guess in my mind, with the fear from my mother, I knew it wasn’t going to get better. After he finished the phone call with his parents we ended the rehearsal. This other friend left to go back to New Jersey, his home. The friend who called his parents left. So it was me and my friend who were left. We left. 

It was a beautiful day, that Saturday. The trees were blooming with new life and colors. The pink, the green, the whites. The sun was strong in the sky yet gentle when its light hit the cement. The breeze let us feel its presence but didn’t force us to. We walked through 10th street aimlessly and we ran into Jake Gyllenhaal. He was enjoying some frozen yogurt on the corner of 10th and University Pl. I wanted to say hi but his strong gaze into the distance, the direction we were coming from,  implied that he was either immensely enjoying his fro-yo or that he didn’t want to be bothered. He was enjoying his day. What an amazing day, I thought. Shouldn’t it have been? As we walked more I ran into my old friend who I haven’t talked to in forever. She was wearing the beautiful light blue dress with white dots all over. We hugged and talked, the first time since the beginning of the year. I missed her. I missed how we first met. But none of that changed the fact that we grew apart throughout this year. Why did it happen this way? I wished we had more time to talk before she had left. What a beautiful day. I got to catch up with my friend. People were out and about, enjoying their day. Jake Gyllenhaal grew his hair out. But none of that changed the underlying chaos that we felt. 

I woke up with my roommate sitting at his desk. He had woken up early, or I just woke up late. We sat in silence as the constant elevator sound vibrated through the building. I saw more and more luggages being piled up in the lobby of the Weinstein dorm. My dorm. The voices of the parents became part of the community so suddenly; and so suddenly they disappeared, taking their kids with them. At this time, we had already received more news of how our online classes would be extended till April 19th, which is why many students decided to go home. Their actual home. 

Ever since I started school in the city I fell more deeply in love with the place. It felt like my home. Our Weinstein dorm. Our tiny shoebox room that managed to adopt two students with a window that looks out to another window of another building. Our Downstein cafeteria where we would get food from everyday, almost. The streets my friends and I would walk on at night. We spent hours chatting and laughing on the corner of the streets, the old lady telling us to shut up. Probably with more aggressive language too. The streets filled with students, young people with ambition ready to tackle the world. Ready to fail and try again. Fail and again. This time, it felt like there was no “again” anymore. We failed. I failed. Somehow. The streets became silent. 

The only sound in our room was the sound of me slurping my noodles that I got from a pretty good Chinese restaurant on 8th street for take-out. The restaurants weren’t allowed to—or didn’t want to—serve customers to dine in anymore, only take-outs. My roommate was watching something entertaining with his headphones in. Everybody seemed to have left, or was leaving, but we were there together. Us in the egg white room. We didn’t want to move an inch, because who knew what that inch would bring us. So we sat there, in the middle of the city, middle of space, waiting for a green light. Sooner or later we would have received the news that the school is demanding all the students to move out by Sunday. By Sunday. 

That was a rule. As a rule, this message marked the end. We had to leave. I had to go home. 

Let me begin again. 

I woke up in the twilight that found its way in through the window. The window that now extends to the blue sky and the evergreen below. When I opened the window, the sound that stumbled  through wasn’t air conditioning or people partying, but birds chirping and crickets serenading each other. The twilight purple and pink, the evergreen, and the celeste blue makes such a pretty combination. So pretty. I was home.  

When I first got back home it wasn’t quite friendly. My mom and dad greeted me with face masks and gloves. I carried the constant desire to go back to New York City with every luggage I brought home. That desire made me mad, the failure to achieve that desire made me lonely. 

It was very quick when the idea of my home was destroyed. Our family gets into arguments quickly and heavily. It was not long when my mom moved out because my brother caused both my parents anger, too much of it. My dad followed her quickly after that. My brother began a job in a hospital as a security guard. “Being on the front line of the virus” with the words of my dad that scared him enough to move out too. He can’t risk the chance of him catching the virus, he wouldn’t survive, that’s what he thinks. That’s what made me believe it too. I hope my dad is doing okay, I guess he is. It’s funny, with all the technologies we could be so easily connected, and we talked over the phone. Yet,—I don’t know. Our family left to do separate things. 

My brother and I fought each other. A good amount. The amount of anger that built up inside him was scary. How he took out his anger was scary. But I’m glad he did, it’s not healthy to build all that inside a person. To have a body carry all that anger. Then, to deal with the loneliness that we are submerged in, eventually we would collapse. Many times I found myself alone in the house, with the meandering shadows on the window blinds. At those times I thought of how peaceful the house seemed, when my mother and brother were gone. But they weren’t completely gone, were they? Their presence already embedded themselves to pre-exist in this house, home, and for them to exist here together means for them to fight. For me to watch.  

I had been taking walks, away from or to. That was helping me discover my relationship with whatever nature I found myself to be in. Whatever this home is to me. The stars peeked through the sheet of light. Moonlight landed on the cement. I hoped to capture the last bit of the orange in the sky before it turned into the original darkness. I walked to the local park. Nobody outside. I sat on the bench and listened to a new album. I enjoyed it. I walked further into the park where there’s a small pond. For a couple moments before, I thought I wouldn’t see the pond there because they are building new houses. The pond was still there. I admired the water and the reflection that’s placed on top. After a while of just standing there I took off my headphones and I heard it. The singing of the crickets crescendoed through me and on me. I was allowed to step foot on their territory. The ringing went back and forth between the water, feeding off of each other’s presence. And I was simply there. I made a couple sound myself to see what would happen. Nothing. My voice couldn’t get nearly as high as their sound. I thought they would stop, either because they would be scared or intrigued by my being. But the ringing kept going. It was pretty comforting. Almost like a revelation. I left the park and walked down the street. The street that has no lights but the one that flips on occasionally. After crossing this one light, it’s pure darkness that awaits. 

I wish you were there in that darkness with me. I wish you were there for many things. All the things that I’m working towards right now, all the writing, the reading, the imagining, it is all because I hope one day that’ll help me get to you. Whenever that is, the close future or the distant tomorrow. I wish you and I are together right now, but I’m glad that we are separated, if it means for you to live. I’m glad you lived and are still living in my mind. In my story. Thank you for wearing that beautiful blue dress, for ignoring me on the street corner. Thanks for the funniest laughters on the street, thanks for arguing with me. But you have to live, it’s a rule. 

As a rule, I miss you.

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