COVID-19 has upended the lives of millions of people around the world. The effects of the pandemic — whether financial, physical, emotional or mental — have impacted each individual in one way or another. How has the COVID-19 pandemic transformed your life⁠? How would you describe your quarantine experience? Has the pandemic changed your way of thinking or worldview, led you to acquire new skills or revealed anything else during your time in quarantine?

Harrison Paek ’22

I spent too much time making lemonade, because life taught me to expect lemons and agave nectar and pretentious water and ice and mint and holy basil. Yesterday, I held out my hands and received a stalk of celery. The day before that, I got a head of cauliflower, and the day before that I got this, and the day before that I got that. I’ve tried and tried for the past two months to make something good out of all these goddamn vegetables. Maybe it’s in my blood. The only things my grandparents had to eat were the weeds that grew around them, yet they pulled them up with both hands and made kimchi, jjigae, pajeon. Last night I slept very little because I couldn’t find anything good to make with what I had, both literally and metaphorically.

Tonight I watched Anthony Bourdain eat the most expensive langoustine of his life as one of 34 courses at Jiro Ono’s three Michelin Star sushi restaurant. Back when everything was normal enough for my lemon brain. It’s easier to make a good meal with good ingredients. I thought, “I could eat like that if things were normal.” I’m not living life to the fullest in quarantine by these standards. I doubt that anyone can. Nonetheless, my frantic young person instincts are sounding all the alarms as my golden days circle the drain. My blood is boiling to make quarantine taste good.

I am just 19, and I am already this creature of expectations. Right now I’m planning out the omelet I’m going to make with tonight’s leftover vegetables with the eggs that I expect to remain in the fridge until I wake up. I’m still frustrated that there’s no lemonade mix in the house. 

It makes me think about my privilege. I am faulty because I aim to impress. When people like me, it feels like I really made the most of what I was given that day, but it’s pretty hard to hate the lemonade I can make with everything I get. Korean food is an acquired taste at best. I care too much about what people think. I still don’t know how to cook weeds like my grandmother, but today is June 1, 2020, and today I read the news. None of the headlines were lemons to squeeze. I’m trying to write this essay without the expectation that it’ll be any good. Hopefully this quarantine will make me someone that is more truthful than impressive.

Harrison Paek ’22 is a senior staff writer and cartoonist at the Justice.

Vandita Malviya Wilson ’20

I have been writing this in my head since January. In December I saw the news about an outbreak in Wuhan. At that point the information was a trickle. Then, it became more. As a news junkie, I couldn’t NOT follow along. 

Each day became more about avoiding the elephant in the room. I noticed and wrote an early op-ed about the pandemic’s initial impact on the financial markets. For me, the personal impact had yet to be felt. Although in my academic bubble, I saw that flights were being canceled, and yet at Brandeis it was business as usual. As more information came out, I just wanted to be schooling from home anyway.

But with the change came a lot of rules and challenges for each class: Camera on. How to participate? How to be noticed? And the grades. What to do with my life now. My teamwork suffered. Communication in person was enough of a challenge for me, yet the Zoom meetings and WhatsApp exchanges felt even more difficult. I had an awful online exam, while being recorded on Zoom and being watched. It felt creepy and odd. Even though I knew exactly why this was being done, it was no consolation. Some classes cut short certain topics, and I felt deprived.

I could not even think afterwards, since I was in class. It is true that class was a welcome distraction of what was really going on. At the grocery store and at the drugstore, each new day brought new rules and new walls of plexiglass. I thought I would get kicked out for not following some rule, so I went out as little as possible.

But when classes ended it was worse, much worse. Suddenly, I was not accountable to a schedule. Was it really necessary to shower, etc. for a Zoom class call? Decorum made me do it. But my enthusiasm was much less, and my patience too. I became afraid to leave my apartment for my daily walks. What if my excessive exercise was not allowed? What if I was “caught” more than one mile away from home? What, really, was the point of it all?

I watched events unfold throughout the rest of the world. I watched with horror what was going on in New York and other cities. I read the jokes; they kept me sane. I read the actual news with both disgust and disbelief. I saw the indecision in Washington. And I saw the national debt skyrocket. This all worried me tremendously, so much so that I did not have time to worry about my grades. It turned out to be my best semester ever. But, that could have been a factor of COVID-19 grade inflation.

And the connection was missing. While being simultaneously afraid and grateful for law enforcement, I was stressed about going to the grocery store. It was hurtful but also a source of relief when someone crossed the street to avoid me. I felt less connected. Perhaps because of who I am I was not reached out to, and I did not feel “in this together.” I felt isolated and alone. Even the people who said they would have coffee with me were nowhere to be found. Missteps by others were amplified in my echo chamber.

I did not learn new skills, as I was slowly watching a train wreck. I did not know how long it would take me to learn a new skill, so I did not want to get started and then have to stop. I did play The Game of Life again — the 1979 edition with my cat. I dreamed of previous decades and opportunities missed, of things I didn't do and places I didn’t see. I felt a lot of regret. I felt gloomy every day. I was grateful for my cat, my sole steady companion.

I worried about my husband in California. He was having problems locating essential supplies. I wondered when it would be my turn to be an everyday hero simply by wearing a mask. I wanted to find something to do that was interesting. All I did was read more books. I did some computer organization. I planned for the next two years of my life at Heller. I folded clothes and folded fitted sheets. I washed sheets and cleaned the kitchen. I waited for Godot, who also never came. I plotted my increased online engagement. I got fake outraged online, and then in return received real outrage by online friends. I started walking further and further. The cold weather was a welcome distraction as well as a health hindrance.

Ultimately, everyone needs connection, and the need to be needed and wanted by society. At graduation, I wasn’t really sure that I graduated. It felt great and simultaneously sad, with no clear denouement. My Zoom graduation was both fantastic and well thought out, and I am glad I was there, but I was still left with the element of wanting more.

Each time I try to finish this essay, another day rolls upon me, and it’s hard to know when one event ends, and the other begins. Sometimes, an email does not replace an in-person meeting.

Vandita Malviya Wilson ’20 was a senior staff writer at the Justice.