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COVID-19 in the White House: two different worlds

I remember, almost seven months ago, the first time I refrained from hugging someone. It was my last night on campus; I was in the Cassat lounge, playing Ticket to Ride, as one does when the world is ending. At one point I retreated to the bathroom, because my flight for the next day had been cancelled and nobody had told me. While I frantically conferred with my parents and scraped together an alternative route, my friends got up to leave.

“Friends,” I said back then. Now I call them “casual acquaintances.” The people I can recognize under their masks, when they get close enough. The occasional additions to an outdoor meal circle. A cause to rejoice at seeing someone other than the five people I regularly spend all my time around.

But back then, the only distinction was that I didn’t hug them goodbye.

These days I lie in bed, wondering if I’ll be able to hug my parents when I get home—asking myself how long it will take until we can act like a family again. I’d been stressing about how I’ll be able to distance from my grandmother, mid-80s and newly moved in at home, until I remembered that I’ve been wearing a mask whenever I leave my room, distancing from people who live in the same building as me, for many weeks. The only person I’ve touched since re-arriving at Carleton is my roommate, and only lightly. Does something within our limbs know that we might be torn apart at any moment? What has been rewired within me so that I no longer hold on tight?

All I long to do is sink myself deep within a hug. But the collective instinct has changed. Affection lies in the space between us, as much as we long to bridge the gap.

So, then, of course it was shocking when I saw photos of a White House lawn packed with people—to celebrate, I might add, the very antithesis of a woman we should be mourning instead of erasing. 

Of course it was disturbing when the president tested positive for COVID, likely getting it or spreading it at that same event, pushed to leave the hospital early, and insisted on holding unmasked rallies again just days later. 

And, of course, it wasn’t shocking at all. 

A president’s actions, an administration’s sensibility, cannot be a let-down when they have no further left to fall. We cannot expect someone to learn from their mistakes when they never have before. 

But at nineteen, I have reconstructed my brain’s basest impulses for the safety of my loved ones. Can we expect not even this personal restraint from the leaders of our country and our courts and our colleges? From the people who have asked the same of us?

There is nowhere left to go but the ballot box. It is where my pen takes me with whatever I write, where my footsteps lead once a week to help Carls cast their ballots. If you have not gone yet, I will take you, too. 

I will tell you over and over again the importance of voting in this district which that same president won in 2016, in this state which he could claim this time around—I will remind you to flip your ballot over, to fill it out all the way down, because change does not come only from the top but from the state capital, the city council, the school board—I will ask you to help your friends vote, too—I will plead with you to care. Because I know you do. 

I know that you, too, want to hug your grandmother when you get home, and every single acquaintance when you come back. 

And the only way we’ll be able to get close again is by voting out the man who never even learned to keep his distance.

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