But none of that masks the reality that Kate’s world has shrunk to the size of her bedroom. In a flash, the daily life of the confident, privileged young woman who’d thrived at school, haunted Broadway stage doors, mastered the New York subway, and, yes, discreetly flashed a fake ID in the bars of Morningside Heights was upended indefinitely. She and the rest of us—my wife, Dee Dee; Kate’s 16-year-old brother, Stephen; and I—have been adjusting ever since. I sat down the other day with the thoughtful, articulate 20-year-old daughter I first held when she was barely more than 20 inches long to ask what she—and, by extension, her college generation—is making of this moment.
“One of the hardest things has been going—and for better or worse—going from being independent to suddenly living in my childhood bedroom again,” Kate told me. “I would go to the dining hall or I would cook for myself, but I would be on my own to secure three meals a day. And I would do my own laundry—and wouldn’t have to do other people’s laundry!” (We’ve all taken strict lessons in sorting darks and lights—and folding—from Dee Dee, whose standards are the crisp ones of the Navy pilot’s daughter she is.) The monotony of quarantine is real, and wearying. “Partly it’s not being able to see anybody who’s not in my immediate family. You know, we all have lunch together, the four of us, almost every day, and that’s totally different from anything that would have happened at school, and it’s never even happened since I was maybe 5 years old and on summer break.”
When Kate first left for college two years ago, I’d pause in mourning every time I passed the open door of that empty bedroom. Now the door is closed, and I have to remember to tread lightly and walk on by. It’s weird for both of us. “I love you guys,” Kate said, “but sometimes I’ll be writing a paper and one of you barges in to ask for help with so-and-so, and I don’t have a space like the library to go and sit and work, just have a little more privacy. I have my own bedroom, which is really great and lucky, but if I come out of my bedroom, then suddenly it’s like I’m fair game to be engaged in conversation.”
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One of Kate’s first acts upon returning home was to post a brightly lettered sign on the bedroom door, listing her daily class schedule, with the injunction: “Please knock/text.” Since she’s not only taking online classes, but is 3,000 miles and three time zones away from her teachers, a schedule that she’d deliberately designed to require no commitments before 11 a.m. is now radically different on the West Coast. She’s double-majoring in theater and history, and just stage-managed a student play on Facebook Live. But she’s far away from all her friends.
“Do you miss your friends?” I asked.
“What do you mean ‘Do I miss my friends?’!” she rejoined. “I think everyone misses human interaction that’s not with the people you’ve been stuck with for going on two months … I just miss having people who are going through what I’m going through. We’re all going through the same thing, but one of the hardest things for the transition has been that I’m the one who’s coming back. Everyone else in my house—you three lived here. What don’t I miss about my friends?”