The Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.
This has been a challenging year for young adults struggling to adapt to an unprecedented disruption of everyday Connecticut life. Below is one of several “Dispatches from the Pandemic” written by first-year students at Eastern Connecticut State University. Students of instructor Miriam Chirico modeled their works after a series of short essays in The New Yorker where writers shared their imaginings about the coronavirus, social isolation, and the pandemic. They wrote their dispatches from where they found themselves — back at home,  separated by distance, but connected to each other by the crisis and by their computers.
Liam Hemingway

I recently underwent a difficult challenge in many modern people’s lives: college. It was particularly hard for me because although I have a sister, we were born nine years apart and have been described as “two only children” by our parents. This solitary upbringing meant that being around so many new people all the time was hard for me, and I prayed endlessly for the semester to end for me to go home. Then, halfway into the second semester, God answered my prayers.

At home, my mind is as clear as the sky, and I am as happy as the animals that have recently reclaimed their homeland. Life is quiet. Peaceful. Simple. I cannot say the same for my online classes though. Although I read it over a month ago, while I was still at school, The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot returns to my mind as I listen to my professors’ scratchy microphones: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?”

This quotation plagues my mind. I find no rubbish, I find no stones, I find nothing but bones. Buried beneath the earth, the roots sing, a sweet song, a mortal ring. And as the roots, like perverted barky leeches, clutch and entangle my kin, snapping their bones to suck out the marrow through their mouthless skin, I am transported to a new world:

Not one of barren city streets, but one of elves and magic. I battle to conquer the world and put down my enemies, spreading my tentacles like a plague. My character’s motto is “I fight for the greater good.” Being home proves to me that I can never get bored of video games or watching TV, for that matter, as I spend eight hours or more a day doing one of those things, and I absolutely love every minute of it. I can play with friends or alone, on my computer, or my TV; the possibilities are endless.

I have been watching The Witcher recently, and just as I was pondering Tessa de Vries scene with the eels, the screen in front of me fades to black for a moment. It is typical of loading screens in Total War: Warhammer 2 but in my mind, I do not see simple blackness; I see a man stand in a cement building, maybe a factory. Out of his shirt crawls a giant, wet, oily, black worm. A second comes, then a third. As each one falls, a soft splat is heard. They slither across the grass, killing everything in their path until they tunnel into the soil that turns to sand, killing my enemy, but taking my world, my plan. Then the same bloody roots that desecrated my brethren grow, fighting the blackness, and winning. What are the roots that clutch?

I now find myself back in class, this time in calculus. We are rushing through the last unit online and both those factors compounded make the experience very difficult. I often tell people that now that I am home, life is easy, but school is hard, which is the opposite of when I was at college.  I have gone on long walks with my mother recently at the Hillstead Museum. It is an old estate that was so large, it now operates like a park with its intertwining trails in the woods, around ponds; there is even a little barn with sheep and their newborn lambs. You know what they say, from death comes life, in this case a little too literally.

My mom and I talked about current events, philosophy, and especially the beauty of the world around us. I wondered, why can’t every place look like this? What is stopping us from letting the world be beautiful? All we must do is sit still.   Nature can be harsh and sometimes even cruel, but she is a fair lady and the truest embodiment of good that I have ever physically witnessed. And because of that, I must trust her, as nothing in this world is more worthy.

I am happy. I see my whole family every week, my friends every few days. I have bonded with my parents more; I have individual freedom. Everything is becoming right, not wrong. There are no more stones, there is no more rubbish. But there once was, and we saw what grew, what doom ensued. Now there are only bones.

So then, I suppose the real question is what branches grow out of this fleshy bone? And do we prefer the branches from stony rubbish, is it the happier fall? I do not know where we should grow our garden, but I do know that sometimes, the best thing a flower can do for us, is die.

Liam Hemingway lives in Farmington.

Leave a comment