The students are coming back. The normally sleepy side street near the coffee house where I like to write is jammed with buses and orange traffic cones cordoning off parking spaces. I drive a few blocks, looking for a place to turn around, and pass a small but mighty band of protestors standing in the rain. They shout angrily about being displaced, wave signs decrying gentrification. The objects of their outrage – the teenagers to early twenty-somethings filing off the buses – barely notice. It’s orientation day.
Just yesterday, I talked to a friend in California and expressed my anxiety about returning to in-person classes for the first time in a year and half. On the one hand, I’m so ready. I didn’t move to southeast Georgia to spend my days cooped up in my apartment, staring at a computer screen. On the other hand, I’ve already completed two-thirds of my degree requirements online, in relative isolation. Zoom and Slack and FaceTime have become my new normal. It’s hard to imagine going back into that crowded Liberal Arts building on Bull Street, with hundreds of students buzzing through its busy hallways.
It’s particularly hard to square the sight of all those buses and all those kids spilling out onto the streets of downtown Savannah with the stories dominating the local news broadcasts. Covid infections and hospitalizations are at an all-time high, thanks to Georgia’s low vaccination rate and the more contagious Delta variant, which has been spreading like wildfire ever since K-12 schools reopened in early August. For the first time since the pandemic began, Savannah’s hospitals are full, and local doctors are publicly pleading with people to get vaccinated. Yet life goes on, indifferent. And the students are coming back.
Eighteen months in, it’s hard to imagine what “normal” will look like or how re-entry into something resembling real life will feel. Social media memories remind me of the way I used to live, of air travel and birthday parties and Broadway shows. It has been four years since I left Los Angeles to move to New York, yet both of those places now feel so distant from me it’s hard to believe I lived in either one of them. Even as I ache for the narrow cobblestone streets of the West Village and the gentle sweep of the Pacific seen from Palisades Park, it’s almost as though I’ve always been here, in this perpetual Southern summer shaded by Spanish Moss, the parade of similar days sliding into one another on repeat.
I may not feel time passing, but it is passing all the same. Pandemic or no, life simply won’t stay suspended forever. It marches ever onward, toward its inevitable endpoints: my thesis, the completion of the MFA program requirements, a terminal degree.
And then what? I don’t – and can’t – yet know. But for now, summer is ending. A new chapter is beginning. And the students are coming back.