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The view from the home front

Even in a time of pandemic, life goes on. Here are stories and photos from a community sheltered in place.


Quarantined

On March 19, my freshman year at Central Michigan University hit a wall. I received an email stating the semester would be finished online. The coronavirus was in Michigan and spreading like wildfire.

Suddenly, I was a homeless, online student. A couple weeks after, I had my bags packed and embarked on the journey home to Harvard and an unknown future. I was welcomed home with a two-week quarantine, which meant confinement to my bedroom. No hugs. No family. No friends. For 14 days.

Just as my quarantine was ending, I developed a severe sore throat and within a day, a fever and chills. The misguided belief of  “it will never happen to me” disappeared. I prayed for my symptoms to be strep, though, like many others around the world, I needed to rule out COVID-19.

On April 18, I pulled into a parking garage at UMass Memorial Medical Center’s University Campus. I sat for about 20 minutes as I watched TV news become reality. I found myself one of four or five cars at a drive-thru site, awaiting a test for the novel coronavirus.

A nurse told me I was in the wrong spot and pointed me to the correct line. I pulled up and a very kind nurse, covered head to toe in medical gear, appeared from behind a tentlike enclosure. She asked me for some basic information.

I pulled forward to the next station, where I would receive the swab. A nurse explained the procedure at which I nearly jumped out of my skin. For those who don’t know what a COVID-19 test feels like, do whatever you can to keep it that way. Excruciating is the only way I can define the pain I felt as the nurse stuck the swab as far back into my nose as it could go. I felt violated. I felt vulnerable. The nurse told me to expect results within 48 hours on the MyChart app and then I was able to leave.

I was on FaceTime with my parents from my bedroom the next day when I received an email notifying me my results were available. Silence haunted both ends of the call as I waited for the results to load. The screen read “Not Detected.” I sprinted downstairs to hug my parents for the first time in too long. I was negative for COVID-19. Quarantine was over.

I keep in mind, though, it could’ve gone differently. And it did for many people who drove through the same line I did. I remind myself every day that I am lucky, healthy, and alive.

—Aurora Abraham, Bromfield Class of 2019

Nurses type patient information into their computers April 18 in a parking garage at the COVID-19 test center at UMass Memorial Medical Center's University Campus in Worcester. Several cars waited in line as medical professionals, covered head to toe, tested people for the novel coronavirus. (Courtesy photo)

 


The ‘Yellow Peril’ returns

As a second-generation Asian American in my seventh decade, I am reminded of my first awareness of being the “other.” I’m not sure if I could speak when I was taken out in a carriage (or pram) and became aware of my mother being stopped on the street by ladies who stared with toothy grins, telling her I was “adorable.” This happened so often that I was sure I had some sort of sign on me saying it was “OK to pet the animal but keep candy out of the cage.” Why was I different? How could they tell?

So it was that the kids figured out I looked different, too. They called me “Jap” and it wasn’t even a name I really knew because my parents were from China. “What’s a Jap?” I asked my mom. I stared in the mirror wondering how I was different. I just looked like me … and I was prettier than my sister. Why didn’t the kids like me?

Gradually, with time, I knew that I was an Oriental, then a Chinese, briefly an Asian-Pacific Islander, and finally an Asian American. And I recall during a trip to Cambridge, England, at a convivial pub evening, a professor friend of my then-husband turned to him and said, “She’s just like us!” I knew it was a compliment of some sort, but I thought it strange enough to remember my shock that he, an educated man, would utter those words out loud and in my presence. I have always been the “other,” it seems.

Fast forward to my idyllic life in Harvard during this pandemic. Kept from tutoring English as a second language (ESL) and shopping at my favorite stores, unable to enjoy the company of family and friends, dependent upon TV and radio for the sounds of conversation and life outside the bubble, and especially news of a cure, I see China emerge as the lurking cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the president and the Trump administration point to China as a threat for having “stockpiled” masks and gowns and, worse yet, of planting the virus to infect us all, China is a nation that I don’t know but it is a country I must defend. As a Chinese American, do I have to fear being classified as the enemy and treated in the same hateful way as Japanese Americans were during World War II?

As American as I feel, I know that I am fragile in a world that has insidiously uncovered its xenophobic underbelly and reminds me of a long-ago internalized notion that I was never really welcomed in my home. I am mindful and still, sadly, on guard.

—Sharon Soong, Turner Lane


Celebrating Earth Day

The pandemic doesn’t stop Paige Johnston and Aaru Pandian from celebrating Earth Day by doing some roadside cleanup Wednesday, April 22. They’re pictured here near their home on Littleton County Road with their bags of litter. (Courtesy photo)


Impulse gardening

I planted a fig tree that I bought at Idylwilde Farms in West Acton. The box it came in claims that this twig will grow into a tree that will bear edible fruit in three years. It felt like an impulse buy, although it’s strange to think of something that will take three years to bear fruit as an impulse buy.

Of all the green seedlings on display at Idylwilde, I wouldn’t have picked the boxed twig except for the pastel class I took at Fivesparks. A woman in the class had done a drawing of three figs from her tree, and while I looked at her picture we talked about how she nurtured it.

I don’t think most gardeners buy plants on impulse; they plan ahead. During the winter they design their gardens, order seeds, and start the seeds indoors. When those seedlings finally go in the ground, it’s not on the first sunny day, but at a time they know the young plants will be safe from cold nights and fluctuating temperatures. They have tilled the soil and added compost, waiting for the right time to put out the seeds and seedlings to grow and produce.

These gardeners have learned from trial and error, research, and handed-down knowledge. It’s hard. I feel bad when I fail to do the right thing by a plant. OK, I have a confession. I think I killed our bonsai tree.

The bonsai tree was purchased, also on impulse, by our younger daughter at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Only when she got home to her third-floor apartment did she read on the tag that it was an outdoor plant, so she gave it to us, here in Harvard. When we went to Acadia for a couple of weeks, we took it with us. When we went to Europe, my other daughter and her family took it in, but they brought it inside when they thought it was cold. When it started to look peaked, they brought it back to Harvard when our family gathered on Christmas Eve. The experts at Bonsai West explained that it needed to go into dormancy; that is, it needed darkness and cold, but not freezing, temperatures. The garage was the perfect environment and that is where it stayed until the early days of spring at the end of March. After it came out of the garage, the tree went downhill, and Bonsai West was now shut down like the rest of the country. I tried different approaches to revive it, but it’s not green anymore. I don’t care if it is no longer beautiful. I just want it to live.

—Margaret Kusner, South Shaker Road.


 

Editor's Note: How are you coping with these unprecedented times?  The Press wants to know. We’ll take care of the news; but we need your help to tell the human side of this crisis. Send us a photo with a caption or an anecdote about how you are getting through your days. What is bringing you comfort? What insights have you gained? What have been your greatest challenges and how have you overcome them? Your photos and stories, antidotes to isolation, will help bring us closer together in this time of social distancing. Send to editor@harvardpress.net with subject “stories” and include your name and address.

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