Welcome to “Student View,” a new column featuring the thoughts, opinions, and musings of undergraduate writers at Cal. This spring, for our inaugural “Student View” essay contest, California asked current Cal students to answer the question: How has the pandemic changed you? Below is the winning essay. Our runners-up include “Sunsets and Little Things” by Shreya Ramesh and “The Power of ‘No'” by Camron King. For entry rules and other winners, visit the contest landing page.
Berkeley bloomed all at once. Last week everything was green, Technicolor and soggy from the winter rain that seeps into spring, and this week, everything is different.
Brighter, more colorful. I didn’t know the name of wisteria until yesterday—I only knew its weepy hang, its purple gradient. Today, I can’t remember what my street looked like without wisteria. The purple blossoms make me forget that other colors exist. And other times.
It feels like my first spring here, and in some ways, it is. As a freshman, I never ventured south of Dwight Way, into the south side of Berkeley where I now live. And as a sophomore, I spent spring at home, indoors, in Sacramento, observing the blossoming of my neighborhood from a quiet, careful distance. Spring is my favorite season, and Berkeley is my favorite city, and it didn’t occur to me until yesterday that I’d never really known them together. I thought I had realized all the losses of the pandemic. But I didn’t even know wisteria’s name. Or that wisteria can be white, and hang like soft, sweet, ivory icicles—a floral mimicry of a winter that Berkeley will never know; a reminder of things I never knew to miss. Am I allowed to miss something I never knew? I do.
The pandemic often inspires abstract feelings of loss. I’ve been lucky, as far as things go. Compared to the tragedies experienced by many, my losses were not unusual or particularly devastating: a year of in-person classes, afternoons in the library, my senses of smell and taste for a handful of days. These were processed to fit within a pandemic-limited existence. How am I supposed to account for losses I don’t even realize I’ve lost? Is that even worth attempting?
My friends and I talk about this often—what does it mean to mourn a year we only knew in anticipation? The pandemic, to us, began as a moment. Saying something occurred “in quarantine” connoted a particular time and feeling; it recalled the angst and expectancy and misplaced optimism of the first months of the pandemic. But we have been “in quarantine” for a year now, and it no longer feels accurate or reasonable to describe a period that will see me go from 19 to 21 as just a moment. “In quarantine” has become life, no longer a time that feels like an aberration, but rather a continuous state. For now.
When the pandemic started, I thought it would feel like a season. I never considered that I would experience a second pandemic spring.
Berkeley is still blooming, and I will soon see it turn to summer for the first time. I’ve known a pandemic summer, but I’ve never known Berkeley in June. I don’t know what happens when the wisteria stops blooming. It’s funny how I’ve lived through a year of events I never thought possible but can’t wrap my head around where the little purple flowers will go when they slip off their vines. It feels as though the pandemic should have expanded my imagination, should have given me tools to imagine a world of unexpected and surprising events, but I find myself limited to what I can see. I can still see the wisteria, and I am still staying inside. I don’t think I can see a future beyond that yet. But the seasons will change, and the wisteria will go somewhere, and the pandemic will end, so I suppose I just need to keep looking.
Originally from Sacramento, Annabelle Long is a rising senior at the University, where she studies history and creative writing and works in the Student Advocate’s Office as a caseworker.