Dora Guo

Above my desk hangs a wooden placard: “The world is wide and wonderful wherever we may roam, but our thoughts return to precious things like friends and love and home.”

This spring, when I left New Haven, I abandoned these words. Five hundred miles away, the placard faced a forsaken room, projecting its message to cobwebs and furniture.

In the midst of the pandemic, political turmoil and social injustice — I forgot.

Once more, I found myself in my childhood home, surrounded by friends, family and familiarity. But anxiety barred my wandering thoughts from the path to peace. I felt suffocated in a full house, where worry grew with every passing day. As the semester continued remotely, my belongings left behind gathered dust.

***

“It’s time.”

Sophia looked up from her portuguese homework, and our eyes met.

The next few minutes passed in a flurry as we tossed our slippers aside, switched into outdoor shoes and donned deep-pocketed parkas. When Anna met us in the common room, our trio took off.

We bounded down two flights of Jonathan Edwards stairs, wrestled with the stubborn, two-inch-thick courtyard door and flew out into the brisk January night.

“Do you think they’ll have cheese? I’m really craving it,” Sophia said as she walked over the uneven cobblestones of Library Walk in her Adidas slides. I always wondered how she did it, with the air transforming our every exhale into fog clouds. My toes were already freezing, even nestled within socks.

“I hope so… I really want hummus and brownies,” I said. Anna smiled half-heartedly, thinking about plantain chips and her computer science problem set. No cars rumbled by on High Street, but we paused to look both ways before crossing, recalling the biker that almost hit us last time. I dug my hands deeper into my pockets; the wind had already begun biting through my snowflake pajamas. Almost there.

Anna pressed her pocket to the Old Campus gate. Once it swung open, we turned right and headed toward the Dwight Hall annex for our favorite Saturday tradition — Global Grounds sleuthing.

Inside, the atmosphere hummed with clacking keyboards, steaming hot chocolate, and laughter from groups gathered at checkered tables. Bundled in our parkas, we progressed down the middle aisle to the treasure chest at the end — the food table.

While other students focused on late-night work, caught up with friends and challenged one another in Scattergories, we snatched up two cups each and piled them to the brim with tongs: cheddar jack strips, mini brownies, pita chips with red pepper hummus, macadamia cookies, mini cupcakes… A clementine in the pocket, a donut ball in the mouth.

Equipped with our lifeline cups and fruit-filled pockets, we turned to face more people than usual.

“I feel bad… We’ve never taken this many things before,” Anna said.

“Maybe we can leave a different way?” Sophia suggested. We snuck through the side exit to Dwight Chapel and tried the church door — locked. We entered the administrative side — locked. The jangle of door handles echoed all the way to the annex.

We turned around, defeated. Past the trash cans filled with empty cups, past the throttle of heads turning in silence at our escape, past the table of board games, out the annex door. I shut it behind me. 

We could not contain ourselves anymore, the Global Grounds terrors. We wound our way back to JE through bursts of laughter, cups empty by the time we reached our suite.

***

Hey, Andreea, want to go on a walk?” Hannah stood outside my bedroom door.

I shook my head, focusing on my fingers. My thoughts raced aimlessly — next year’s housing, Zoom, fatigue, noise, tomorrow’s final. Hannah, one of my closest friends from Yale, took three steps to where I sat in my computer chair and embraced me.

“We’ll make it through.” 

Before the coronavirus hit, Hannah and I planned a trip to New Orleans: somewhere south, warm, not too crowded. We forgot to take Mardi Gras into account, but it didn’t matter — the only trip we ended up taking was to my childhood home in Ohio, where we remained for the rest of spring semester.

While my mother cooked dinner, a Romanian mămăligă with breaded swai, ABBA videos played on our family room television. Hannah and I walked downstairs, where my puffy eyes alarmed everybody. I felt lost, disappointed. The pandemic isolation and sudden lifestyle change rekindled and fueled my anxiety, leading to my first panic attack in years. But as one of my suitemates told me over text, it was a visceral reaction. I sat mute through our usually energetic dinners. 

Eventually, “Money, Money, Money” came onto the screen. A spotlight shone on Agnetha and Anni-Frid, hands on hips, standing in front of an international crowd. As they sang, the fringes from their flapper dresses swayed and a sudden wave of nostalgia filled my body. I pushed myself out of my chair.

On February 8th, Hannah came over for one of our weekly sleepovers. We sat on my suite’s black Ikea couch, planning our spring break trip and catching up on homework. We were supposed to go out that night, to a monochrome-themed party, but the hours ticked away. 10 p.m.: Global Grounds. 10:30: homework aside. 11:30 p.m: flights booked. 2 a.m.: Airbnb secured, laptops closed.

“I’m tired, Andreea. Let’s go to bed…”

I looked Hannah in the eye. During fall semester, we were continents apart. During spring semester, our conflicting schedules ruled out any form of weekday communication. Saturday evening sleepovers were our catharsis days: we talked, we vented, we took trips down memory lane. This was the first time we stayed over in my suite, but instead of talking, we continued our work grind.

“I want to dance.”

Hannah looked at her phone watch, skeptical.

“Okay, fine.”

We snaked our way through JE’s basement maze, past the bike racks, past the mini theater, and onto the tan hardwood floors of the dance studio. Our reflections greeted us, joined us in spontaneity. We swayed to indie tunes, salsa danced, freestyled, simply let loose under the fluorescent studio lights at 2 a.m. We slept like lambs that night.

***

Our bodies moved to ABBA in the family room, our pretend ballroom. My brother and sister joined us. My parents joined us. Sometimes, the best medicine lies in life’s unplanned moments. 

We may be missing out on quintessential parts of the “Yale experience” — Yale-Harvard, Spring Fling, Bulldog Days — forgoing friendly embraces for air hugs six feet away. In the end, these are not the memories that endure. In the spirit of M.A. Scott, “Our thoughts return to precious things, like friends and love and home.” When I think of Yale, I envision the hours my close friends and I spent running to Global Grounds, spontaneously breaking into dance, applying face masks during karaoke sessions. We hold on to the intimate, the pure moments of delight, and recall them during our worst days. While the world is turned on its head, think of a present, simple joy and a past memory that gives you that same feeling.