by Kylie Brown
When we were all brought home, that mid-March day that turned into April that turned into May, it seemed like reunion amongst the madness. The best of friends, never together for more than a few odd weeks at a time, never within the same state lines long enough to do more than catch up, finally land-locked in by state regulations and travel bans and a far-off tragedy inching ever closer. And just before graduating college and moving away, nonetheless.
It seemed almost like a movie premise, a young adult novel: “Global pandemic brings high school friends together just before they go their separate ways.”
And for a few short days, that’s what it was. No cases in the county meant that we could at least run together like we had for summer and summer and summer before. But before long, that tickled out, too, and our fun turned to video chats, and even that clicked out when screens became too much part of work to also be part of recreation, when days blended and nights became mornings and the highlight of everything was a trip to the drive through or the arrival of the mail truck.
Finally in the same town long enough to do more than catch up, but the town is closed and the always-open doors are locked and late nights in living rooms and movies in basements are suddenly hazards and we were so close but so far.
Spring peaked its head late that season. Perhaps the warmth came when it always does, but it was as if it took us all a while to realize it had happened. By the time we did, there were fewer of us around, jobs and schools struggling to stay open tearing some of us back into a shaky new real world.
Those of us left behind, left in the dense, humid, green of a Pennsylvania summer, found ourselves locked into a world unlike the one we’d left behind that last March. It was one where visits were never unexpected, never unplanned, but precisely arranged for outside and far apart.
We found ourselves sitting around more bonfires than we’d had since high school, our hair soaking up smoke that would stick around for days.
We found ourselves out on the water, snaking our way through PA waterways on paddleboards and kayaks thrown into our parents’ mini vans along with masks and water bottles and hand sanitizer.
We found ourselves welcoming autumn with the same fervor we did when we were running races through falling leaves in high school cross country. We saturated ourselves in every bit of bright-colored and pumpkin-flavored and the chilling lake and spooky season and freezing outdoor Halloween parties with punch so sweet it keeps you warm.
We found ourselves clinging tightly to the remaining mild weather, and then staying outside anyway when it was gone, willing to lose feeling in our toes for a few hours with friends.
We found ourselves on Christmas Eve, instead of heaped into a room passing gifts and scarfing down pancakes, outside in freezing rain with masks on and sanitizer at the ready and two friends taking the form of laptops as we fought tooth and nail and internet and mail system to exchange gifts and breakfast as we always had.
And when the new year came, we found ourselves moving slowly back into the separate existences we’d had to craft apart from each other. Sure that distance no longer had much on us, we laughed at the dramatic goodbyes we had shared years ago after high school graduation.
We’d found ourselves landlocked in and locking ourselves into each other’s lives, one bonfire at a time, securing our spots as people who choose each other over and over, even when we’re separated, by minutes or miles or time zones or circumstance.