I’m sitting in my room in a dress that no one except my roommates will see during a time when class would normally have started. Today, I picked out the dress I was planning to wear to graduation.
It was unintentional, the outfit choice, but it feels significant all the same. At 22, I feel a state of loss and distance from the status of life just three, four weeks before.
I’m used to being on the cusp of change. I’ve been preparing to graduate for what feels like eons, constantly prepping to enter the workforce and leave childhood behind. Born in 1997, I am on the generational cusp between Gen Z and Millennial. Even the place I call home is blurry; I was raised in Wisconsin, and my parents still live there, but after four years in Missouri, I’m not sure where I fully am from.
So, when traveling halts, when campuses close, when my roommates take on the role my family cannot, I realize the cusp has never felt so large as it has since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
As I think about leaving this position as a student, while seated in my three-person home converted to allow four MU seniors to live here, I feel more worry than I ever have before. I feel anger, too. The society I’ve anticipated joining in full force now has revealed itself to be unsupportive. The governmental systems meant to uphold me are struggling. The health care configuration is wavering, a recession has begun, and I’m meant to join this new realm with a youthful determination. I am terrified.
So, I’ve decided to take up jogging.
Fear hits people in strange ways. I tend to avoid my problems through work and action and distraction. Hence the dress. Hence the jogging. I hate jogging. This is the first time I’ve tried it out in years. Still hate it. But, I’ve realized I prefer it to sitting in my house all day.
I also find myself snapping at my roommates more. This is followed by fits of anxiety as I wonder if I was too harsh, question if I am a bad roommate, think I must be a bad roommate, know for sure I am a bad roommate.
Then they say something absolutely and utterly horrific such as, “Can I use your coffee mug?” that sets my nerves aflame again.
I’m experiencing grief, according to the Harvard Business Review. It doesn’t feel like grief; it feels like pent-up, misdirected aggression. It feels like anxiety as I watch the virus’ cloud drift in from the coasts and hit my Midwest homes.
This is called anticipatory grief, which arises when the future is uncertain. And for a control freak like me, the pre-COVID-19 uncertainty about post-graduation life was already enough. Now, the whole world is uneasy.
But as COVID-19 life has started to draw out, this doesn’t feel so new anymore. I’m getting accustomed to working from home.
The constant underlying state of anxiety feels, almost, normal. Sometimes, when the day is sunny and spring flowers are moving in the wind, the anxiety feels unprecedented. I remind myself it is not. But I do question how we’re going to adjust to normal life once more after this ends.
Jogging won’t fix the problem; it will just help me deal with it.
Learning from the pandemic
I’m lucky that I’m healthy enough to think of a future post-COVID-19 so freely. I am worried for my mother, however, who’s a nurse in Milwaukee, and my father, who travels around the city to deliver tofu for his job.
I hate that I, carless and sheltering in place, can’t reach them. But I’m lucky that I can hope for a future. And for the sake of me, the Gen Z-ers, the Millennials, the upcoming Gen C-ers and every member of generational cusps, I hope for change.
Within the past month, all my roommates have lost at least one of their jobs. The four of us already experienced the 2008 financial crisis when we watched as banks were bailed out but people lost their jobs and homes. As a country, we asked ourselves how this could have happened.
When the school shooting in Columbine made the news, people were shocked and called for reformations. Since then, we’ve witnessed school shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglas High School and tens of thousands more.
As the coronavirus hits, we’ve wondered how respirators and masks can be in such short supply and how workforces can be kept so tight that one person feels guilty for taking a sick day.
Instead of more governmental protections, the environment protection laws have loosened, and mental health problems have increased.
This is not a system with adequate preventative measures for fallout. I don’t want us to go through this pandemic and remain unequipped for future crises. I want hospitals to receive more staff members and funding. I want essential workers to be paid with sums that match their value. I want job opportunities available when the world looks bleak.
As a young person with enough of a voice to say it, I am disappointed with what has been built for me. My entire student life, it’s been labeled as a world I should aspire to join.
Notice the good, improve the bad
On April 2, MU announced that graduation will be postponed, but I’ll still wear my graduation dress today. Then, I’ll still change into running shorts this afternoon, and I’ll still talk to my roommates in between.
During my jogs, I’ve watched more people smile at each other and say hello — loudly, to accommodate for the distance — than they ever have before. On Facebook, I’ve seen posts where people offer to pick up groceries for the elderly. My family and I can text every day, and late night dinners with my roommates have had me laughing so hard that all worries are momentarily forgotten. Restaurants have given free lunches to those in need, and evictions have been halted. But anticipatory grief lingers.
If we don’t want to go through this again, we must learn from the mistakes today at a much larger scale. We must take this community action and improve on it. We’ve sheltered in place together, and individual choices have become nation-wide achievements.
At age 22, I’m scared. Often, I feel like I’m jogging in circles. I do my schoolwork, go to bed and then put on a new dress as I prepare for another day. But right now, it’s not just the MU senior who’s in a state of uncertainty. We’re all on the cusp of change.
Elena K. Cruz is a senior in the University of Missouri School of Journalism and freelance culture writer for the Columbia Daily Tribune.
The Tribune’s coronavirus coverage is being provided free to our readers. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Tribune at columbiatribune.com/subscribenow and help keep local businesses afloat at supportlocal.usatoday.com.