Lucas, 18, San Francisco
The weirdness of our quarantine situation really hit me when we were forced to explain it. Karen and I were sitting in this parklet outside a café in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond neighborhood. A group of old men was sitting on the bench across from us, and one of the café employees came outside and started breaking them up, saying, “Hey, that doesn’t look like six feet apart!” He turned to us and told us to split up, and we just sat there, struck dumb. We looked exactly like what the city has been trying to crack down on: dumbass teenagers disregarding the shelter-in-place order. But then he asked, “Do you live together?” and we nodded, relieved.
When UC Berkeley canceled in-person classes, it wasn’t even a question that Karen should come live with me and my parents in San Francisco. She’s stayed with us a lot during this past year that we’ve been dating — she’s a freshman at Berkeley and I’m a senior in high school. It was that or flying to New York to stay with her parents, a place with even more COVID-19 cases than San Francisco. Karen was hesitant, but my mom offered for her to stay before I could even bring it up. That’s just the kind of ethic that she has. She and my dad haven’t even met Karen’s parents before. But they talked it over on the phone and all came to the same conclusion: It was for the best.
Karen and I met about a year and a half ago, when she was a senior at my high school. We were both taking Ethnic Studies, this tiny seminar-style class of 14 students, and we started off hating each other’s guts because we’d get into these constant, heated arguments about politics. But we gradually overcame our political differences, and became friends — just spending hours FaceTiming and sharing all these inside jokes that we’d then put into our Instagram bios, just for each other. We started dating toward the end of the school year.
Now, the two of us are living out of my childhood bedroom. We made room for Karen’s books on my bookshelf by getting rid of a bunch of my kid ones, and took down some of my old posters and put up hers: a constellation map, a Mitski poster, and a vintage emergency exit sign over the closet door. Living together has felt surprisingly easy. Everyone’s noticed that we’ve become kind of domestic — my dad teased us about our “domestic disputes” after we argued over which set of measuring cups to use while baking bread.
Both my parents are still working, and they’ve asked us to stay out of their way during the daytime. So we go on long bike rides. The other day we went to Target. We socially distanced in a line that went about 30 feet back just to buy junk food — Reese’s Pieces, Skittles, Hot Cheetos, gummy bears, Yerba Mate. We consumed it all almost immediately. We had a family game night where we played Scrabble with my parents, and Karen noted that all the old score sheets were just me, my mom, and my dad. A relic from my childhood.
So, we’re kind of teenagers, kind of adults. It really hit me when I got all of my college acceptance letters in the first weeks of quarantine. I couldn’t comprehend all these different paths I suddenly had in front of me. But it’s always been about Berkeley, ever since I was a kid. The second I opened that email and saw the little digital confetti, my life totally changed. But combined with high school getting completely cut off at the knees — it’s been jarring. Like I’m being told all of a sudden, “Okay, next phase of your life!” I’m not lamenting it, I just always thought that I would have more time. Now, I’m kind of just stuck in a void.
A few weeks ago, Karen and I went back to Berkeley to pick up the last of her things from her dorm. It was the first time that I’d gone to the campus since I’d gotten in. It was very eerie, because everything was shut down. Usually there are students everywhere. When we got to her dorm, Karen’s roommate’s side of the room was completely dismantled. Karen was devastated; it marked the end of her college-dorm experience. But I couldn’t help but feel excited. We were at the place where the next phase of our lives was going to begin.
The night I found out that I’d gotten into Berkeley, I said, “Karen, everything that we’ve ever thought about or talked about for the future — all of that can come true now.” We could, a few years down the road, get our own apartment together, follow each other across the country. We talk about the future a lot, but now it’s an actual, viable thing, something entirely our own. On the other side of this void, any of those paths I saw could be ours. We just have to choose one.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.