The future past: On marking the pandemic degree

It was a last-minute trip south. With four of us masked and two of us vaccinated, in late June we planned to travel — finally. To jointly commemorate my circles around the sun and celebrate — a year later — that I completed my doctorate.

In May 2020, I defended my degree in an oversized shirt to mask the sweat of jitters. Sheltering in place in the basement, I was teaching from home. N was working from home. The children, out of school and daycare, were just home. We told them to help themselves to goldfish crackers and watch television. They refused. They curled around my neck and lap whenever I turned away from them. It was all very far from the university on the mesa land near the coast of the Pacific. Very far from the defense I’d planned. Very far from the future I’d imagined.

A year later, we thought, let’s go anyway. We thought, let’s bring the children out again. We thought, one was born here, let’s play in the ocean, show her our old apartment. Visit our favorite spots.

Secretly, I had planned to honor my milestones in my own special way. I would leap off a cliff over the glittering ocean — with a trusty pilot attached to pull the strings and keep the parachute up — and I’d literally fly into the next chapter. I imagined at length how this would go. There would be exhilaration and fear with takeoff, delight in the splendorous views. The buildings where I studied, lived, and taught would fall into the distance behind me; the horizon in front would stretch out, endless. This flight would be my ceremony, my way of throwing my cap in glee.

Then we arrive. The grassy runway is full of spectators and parachutes. It’s early July, the Delta variant has yet to grip us with fear again. California is open. After so many months of solitude up north, I am surprised by the rows of cars lined up in the gravel parking lot. The cliffs have eroded further, there are unmasked people milling everywhere.

I recall with a pang that Torrey Pines was where I saw a snake during a group walk with Donna Haraway — I’d always thought that must have been good luck. I recall with another pang that I used to bicycle to this port to read affect theory, alone in the wind, alone with books and my pen. Watching. Waiting. Waiting for my future to begin. Wondering what it would look like. I wouldn’t be ready until I got the degree, the approval, the paper.

Now, perched on bar stools overlooking the sea, I have ambilivence about who I was then, and what I’m celebrating now. I’m stop waiting, a landing catches my eye and I trespass onto the lawn reserved for pilots to watch. And as I stand there, I know. I am not going to be making a celebratory flight of my own. I already have. My feet are steady on the ground.

Have you ever felt this way? You come somewhere to symbolically mark the end of one stage and the beginning of another only to realize you don’t need that particular ritual? You have already transitioned?

That was it.

In reentry, I am a different version of myself. Heavier and steadier. More spiritual, more realistic. I’ve lived slowly day-by-day my feelings caught in my throat. And my horizons have shifted as I’ve lived in the grip of the unknown year. Such bruises are tender yet, but I know, I waited for no approval to shoulder worry and isolation, to live.

I flew here when I was here. I have flown away. The paper came and I’ve stowed it safely in my cupboard. There’s no need to leap into a future that was never to arrive. The future is now. And I do not mourn that tossed tassel — I have circled the sun yet.

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