Sight: On one of my last weekends free in Chicago, IL — before COVID-19 restrictions began, before classes went online — I watched the quiet neighborhoods of the North Side roll by on the Brown Line, with the oranges and odd purples of the sunset shining on the unpretentious roofs and wooden back porches of student three-flats. I saw people walk onto the train, unmasked, dressed as if coming home from work — all nice in their suits and ties — or going out to dinner in sharp clothes, or even going out for groceries in stained grey sweatpants, sunglasses, and baseball caps pulled over their eyes. I knew none of these people. At the same time, I saw the lives and heartbeat of the city pass on and off that train on my way a few stops past Lincoln Park. While that’s something that you could see before, on any train in any city with transit, since then I’ve only taken the Green Line to occasionally get tested for COVID-19 at a center in the South Loop, and my dominant thoughts are always variants of “Wow, I hope I don’t get sneezed on” and not “What a cute cross-section of the city gather here today” in cars which are sparsely packed, masked, and not practically brimming with the buzzing energy of early spring optimism.
Hearing: My neighbor is a gamer, and my walls are thin. I’ve stayed up late many a night, my mechanical pencil rap-tap-tapping on my notebooks as I fail to figure out an engineering problem — cursing myself for not transferring to bioinformatics or information technology and management (ITM) — and I still hear this man raging at his teammates. When I take an early afternoon nap, I’m forced to put on podcasts of schlubby men talking or white noise of a train ride to drown out the din of this man shouting “stop feeding” at the top of his voice. The Discord pings are endless. I’m not sure how it compares to my old neighbor and his very active girlfriend or how it stacks up to my neighbor who seemed to host impromptu socials every night at 2 a.m., but it’s certainly up there.
Smell: Whenever I do laundry and wash my reusable mask, I always make sure to use an extra dryer sheet, so that the inside of my masks smell like Fresh Hawaiian Air or Lavender Breeze or whatever that scent of clear laundry else called. Else, everything can get a little “mask-y” in there. It happens when you maybe drink a little too much caffeine too often — stale, lingering coffee — or just wear one too long without washing it. It happens to the best of us, but it’s important to take care of.
Touch: Everything just feels slow. My eyes drag as I try to tear my face away from Twitter. I’ve felt down all semester — not necessarily anxious or sad, even, which I’ve definitely felt before — but just that everything takes so much more effort now. Homework seems to drag for ages, cleaning my room now feels like a herculean task, and don’t even get me started on the attention it takes to finish a fourth year engineering exam in the exact same room that you eat, sleep, study, and relax in every day of the week for months on end. On the same note, doing a computer science lab when the weight of a monumental presidential election and a pandemic — which is just background noise, now, apparently — has been the most absurd exercise of my entire life, with seemingly every cell in my body trying to peel off and shout “Why are we doing this now? Look at Twitter, the world is ending!” At least there’s always sleep, either as a 12 hour slumber or a 90 minute exhaustion nap, to get over it, I guess.
Taste: I have lived off of snacks and junk food nearly all semester, and it’s not as exciting as it sounds. While an 8-year-old me may have been proud of this achievement, his peak of culinary excellence was a fistful of Gushers and maybe a homemade glass of chocolate milk, so I’m not striving for his approval here. In reality, a sleeve of Oreos as dinner — or part of dinner — is infinitely more demoralizing than it is exciting. Dusty chocolate and industrially-made cream are not actually that good for a meal, as it turns out, and makes you feel groggy, sluggish, and generally awful in the coming days.
My trips to 7-Eleven have been limited due to COVID-19 concerns, and I have not yet burned my mouth on its signature brand of terrible coffee since students were first sent home in March 2020.