When they ask me about the COVID-19 pandemic, I will tell my children nothing novel — it was lonely, terrifying and everyday the headlines read “unprecedented.” I prayed every day for a miracle — an in-person year, or maybe a semester, or maybe just a month — but God instead granted the right permutation of circumstances to remind me that I am small. It felt apocalyptic, not because I thought the world was ending, but because dystopia was the only lens through which I could process all the suffering and inequality I saw. I will say that friends got me through it, as did the kind professors. When they ask, I will not linger on the COVID-19 pandemic; I refuse to remember my time here as defined by the pandemic.
It is human to find transience repulsive. Despite thinking that I would be ready to leave Berkeley, I am instead a little scared and a little bitter that I cannot hold this moment and stretch it into a thousand, cannot simply sustain the pleasant weightlessness of my precarity. I will tell my kids that in my final days here, all I wanted was someone to tell me that my quiet mourning — for this very short time in a very small place — was warranted. Something real happened here. Something real was ending.
I announced my decision to come to UC Berkeley in an Instagram post. I was sitting dramatically on Sproul Plaza with the caption “I think I’m gonna like it here.” I was right. I did like it here. From the incongruity of the campus to the equal parts adorable and petrifying eyes of Oski, how could I not love it here? I had many “nothing quite like” moments, like when the California Golden Bears won the Big Game for the first time in ten years or that tight breathlessness in the waning days of the 2020 election. I am not ashamed to admit that I still smile whenever I hear the bells of the Campanile or that I was the sap who would swoon at the end of every semester when professors argued with conviction that what they had taught us mattered and that we would be the ones to change the world.
All platitudes about college held true. I got my heart broken and fell in love. I failed at cooking, but progressively less so. Grades were important, but what really mattered was that I learned how to think. The best moments happened when I relented to spontaneity — watching a movie in San Francisco on a rainy Tuesday night, enjoying a nighttime picnic under an illuminated Sather Gate during the Santa Ana fires, beholding the purple-orange sky kiss the golden sun goodnight from The Lawrence Hall of Science parking lot.
Attempting to triangulate my position in the infinite Venn diagram of identity proved both dire and futile. I failed to discern which parts of me were “actually me” and which parts were merely borrowed. (This is a ridiculous question, I will tell my kids. All parts of us are both — the seams where the outside and the inside meet.) I never quite figured out what it means to be Filipino, or Catholic, or any of the other labels I have chosen for myself, for that matter. But I am on my way.
But maybe the real value of my college education was all the friends I made along the way: class friends and church friends and work friends. Chance encounters with friends of friends whom I would never again talk to but would remember fondly whenever they appeared on my Facebook feed or passed me on the way to class. Friend crushes — those who platonically swept me off my feet — whom I was regrettably too flustered to ask to hang out despite our shared affinity for Crocs. Friends whom I met up with once a semester like clockwork. Friends who played Super Smash Bros. with me into the wee hours of the night while blasting Les Miserables. Dorm friends whom I met in the in-betweenness of freshman year, the friends who — somewhere between debates about what white people eat for dinner and the merits of two-in-one shampoo — gave me space to wonder who I am and reconfigure myself in new ways. Friends drove me to the airport and cooked for me when they saw I was not eating. They teased me for always being cold and then made me hand warmers or blankets. Perhaps most miraculous of all, my friends made me believe I was worth loving.
I will tell my kids that, in the beginning, I told myself not to blink. I knew that with one sweep of my eyelids, the swift current of time would deliver me, once again, to the precipice. I told myself this when my family dropped me off at Unit 2, tears in all our eyes, earthquakes in all our voices and I was, for the first time, utterly alone. I had nowhere to be and no one to meet. Intellectually, I know that was years ago, and yet, the unbearable, every-which-way yanking in my gut feels the same now as it did then. I think it strange — but oddly consoling — that even the loneliness has come back to tell me goodbye.
I am again at the precipice. I suppose I will return again soon.