It’s June. Or December. Time doesn’t really matter anymore after you stop working--days and months are simplified to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Plain granola crumbs, brown salad, cheap overcooked chicken.
I emerge outside. The weather is hot, or maybe cold. Either way, I’m pale, malnourished. During the many months of quarantine, I manage to graduate college online. Virtual graduation. I throw my fake hat up in the air and the Dean shakes my digitalized hand, squirting a glob of hand sanitizer as he moves on to the next video caller.
I don’t have a job--perhaps I won’t have one for years. I emerge outside, in the tentatively buzzing city, as someone who will need to beg for someone else’s job. On my hands and on my knees. I’ll be wearing gloves and knee pads, obviously. The guy telling me no will wear a mask, and I will pretend that I didn’t understand him. Thank you, I will say. I really needed this.
My college girlfriend breaks up with me. Frankly, it is straight out of nowhere. She is quarantined in her apartment and I am quarantined in mine and we Facetime constantly, repeating to ourselves that we are stronger than the virus. “I’ve never wanted you so badly,” I remember saying.
A long pause.
“I think,” she says, “I’m learning to live without you.”
I know that most college relationships are destined to end, but it’s supposed to be messy, drawn out; someone moving to the other side of the country, an affair, a secret-- not a clinically clean cut. I drive to her apartment at two in the morning during quarantine and she refuses to let me in. It isn’t safe. I could be infected, or maybe she is. Perhaps she is afraid that we would both get sick, unable to care for one another. Dying together, apart.
I emerge outside, and the streets are clean, not out of love, but out of fear. Nature is beautiful; the parks are exactly the same. Someone had maintained the bushes, the wild grass. Roaming about, I visit the cemetery. I feel bigger than usual, painfully aware of every step I take.
My grandmother is dead, years ago from cancer, before the pandemic. I kneel at her tombstone which is cleaner than anything else on earth and find myself afraid to touch it. Who else might have touched her grave? What horrible bacteria is stuck to the engravements of her name?
I leave after an hour, ashamed. It’s raining. Or maybe it’s snowing. I have no idea the month, the season, or the year. If I should be carrying an umbrella or wearing a parka. Only people with jobs and girlfriends and grandmothers are capable of keeping track of these things. I am unprepared for the weather. My body is naked in my unknowing. I have no control, yet in a way, nothing has control over me. It is a maddening feeling. I emerge outside, in the clean streets of the city, and search for the things that can control me.