Ten days on a ghost campus

| Senior Scene Editor

Ginko trees tower over puddles just East of Olin Library last winter. (Photo by Curran Neenan / Student Life)

Senior Scene Editors Olivia Poolos and Julia Robbins had vastly different experiences of the first two weeks of class. In this article, Poolos reflects on what the first two weeks of the semester were like on an empty campus. You can read about Robbins’s experience here.

My alarm – “I’m Born to Run” by American Authors – wakes me up at 8:33 a.m. Instead of the pale yellow walls of my childhood bedroom, I’m startled by the view of my desk, adorned with a dead succulent and empty tea mugs, inches from my nose. Oh right. I’m back in St. Louis, in my dorm, on my Tempur-Pedic™ mattress. I have come 10 days early – the length of an old CDC-recommended COVID-19 isolation period, if you will. While I’ve always loved walking around campus, there’s something eerie about the lack of humanity. I’ve taken to setting up in empty classrooms, Zoom blaring out loud to a sea of quiet chairs. From my perch by the windows on the third floor of Seigle, Mudd Field, usually dotted with frisbee throwers and spikeballers, is desolate. I’m suddenly filled with a rush of loneliness as I stare out at the skeletal trees. 

These days, the one place that I can always find people is the Athletic Complex. Feelings of normalcy return as I fight to commandeer a bench, or grab the 15-pound dumbbells. I bump into friendly faces, usually upperclassmen with off-campus apartments and the privilege of not having to rely on Residential Life swipe access. Though it seems as if no one is here, people slowly stream in from all directions towards the gym’s glass doors at the start of every two-to four-hour block it’s open – 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m. Masked, we line up in an orderly mob, self-screenings at the ready.  

Back outside, however, everything returns to silence. Bear’s Den is half-open. Ms. Dorothy gently scolds me – like my mother would have – when I show up without a hat. I eat the same chickpea-and-quinoa wrap for lunch five days in a row. On Friday night, no Ubers stall at the South 40. No dressed-up students gather in bunches by the Clocktower. Instead, a friend and I watch two hour-long episodes of a French drama and retire at midnight, congratulating ourselves for staying up that late. I meet another friend for coffee in the DUC. We sip tea for an hour and a half and laugh at how the usually-bustling Tisch Commons has become a private meeting room. After, I return to the same Seigle classroom, which I’ve come to think of as my private castle. 

I know that I will think of these weeks when everything returns to chaos and noise and texted last-minute plans. While I miss the friends that are not on campus, in-person class, late-night philosophy debates and the pasta station in BD, I appreciate the peace and can notice little moments of joy in the stillness. The sun on my face in 20-degree weather, saying good morning to my one returned roommate and getting ready each morning to go to campus for Zoom class have become my cherished rituals. Being alone has never been my strong suit, but being here this early has forced me to come to terms with myself. As I watch the sun’s reflection disappear, casting pink clouds above Mudd Field, I take a deep breath and descend from my classroom on the third floor of Seigle.  

 

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