It has been two weeks since college closed and it is therefore not revelatory to admit that I miss the way things were. I miss my friends and the plans we had made for the months of March and April. I miss my part-time job and the co-worker I spent every Friday furtively chatting with. I miss sitting in seminars and engaging in impassioned debates with fellow students about the merits and failings of various literary texts.
Hit by a sudden wave of loneliness, I began this week feeling adrift and detached. Unlike the impulsive messages I am used to sending over Facebook or random tweets drafted to Twitter followers, I realised that meeting up with friends online doesn't just 'happen'. Similar to the low-level planning involved in organising coffee dates or casual pints, virtual interactions require a degree of organisation that, up until now, had eluded me.
The app of the moment is Houseparty. At a time when we are all seeking distraction from isolation and uncertainty, I have found it to be a godsend. My friends and I can chat over video call while also playing card games. We can invite other friends who are online to join - in the same way we'd invite a person to sit at our table in the pub. It's a strange feeling to be sitting in my pyjamas at home, roaring with laughter at a virtual version of Cards Against Humanity and staring at my friends through a screen. This is our new reality, however, and there is a common relief amongst us that at least we have this - some thread which is keeping us safely tied together.
Alongside Houseparty, I attempted this week to establish a schedule of friends to call on different days. Sunday evenings are dedicated to drinking wine over Facetime with a friend based in Munich. The city is currently under lockdown and she lives alone in a one-room flat. We imagine we are in a bar, catching up, and it goes some way towards temporarily relieving her loneliness. I've set aside Monday afternoons for long walks and a phonecall with a different friend. During our most recent conversation, he reminds me of the adage about not being able to change difficult situations - instead, he says, we must remember that all we can choose is how best to respond. His kind words are reflected in every interaction I have as the week progresses. Messages pop up on Whatsapp - 'how are you?', 'hope all is well!', 'look after yourself!' - and I realise that, despite the lack of personal contact, everyone is trying hard to maintain a fundamental sense of empathy.
My social life has moved online but I feel lucky to be surrounded by a supportive and loving family. As with any family, tensions sometimes bubble to the surface. I've shouted at my sister for not coughing into her elbow. My mother has chastised me for failing to help around the house. We have all become infuriated by my father's tendency to read alarming statistics aloud as we watch TV. Despite the complexities and challenges of moving home, there is great comfort to be gleaned from conversations around the dinner table - all of us chatting about our day and openly discussing our worries. It's a privileged position to be in, to live in a home that provides space for vulnerability. Coming from student life in Dublin, where I was accustomed to dealing with various anxieties as self-sufficiently as possible, I am suddenly grateful for my family's impulse to pull together.
Our lives have slowed dramatically and, although the current crisis is difficult, we are dedicating more time to the fundamental aspects of the family home - cleaning, baking, gardening, tidying. This collective devotion to domesticity is grounding. Sick of the recent barrage of bad news, we spent last Saturday evening clustered around the stove, playing Kenny Rogers on repeat and toasting Mother's Day at midnight. We celebrated my father's birthday on Monday - showering him in e-vouchers and apologising for the lack of carefully considered, shop-bought presents. As she always does, my mother made her usual sponge cake with buttercream icing. Its presence on the kitchen countertop offered some reassurance - the replication of all that was previously normal, our birthday tradition unscathed in the midst of a global crisis.
The past week has forced me to find new and creative ways to connect with friends - cathartic phone calls, virtual parties, imaginary drinks in imaginary pubs. And, although the current pandemic is cruel and frightening, it has allowed me to rediscover the reserves of love buried within my family home. Each of us - family and friends alike - are kinder towards one another, more understanding, trying hard to listen. There could be no bigger or brighter silver lining.