My Quarantine Story: Honorary Mention winner Matthew Kwan

Fall 2020 | By Matthew Kwan.

Editor's note: More than 70 students in the Cornerstone Integrated Liberal Arts program submitted entries into the "My Quarantine Story" contest this spring. This essay by Matthew Kwan was selected as an Honorary Mention winner.

I never thought I would be able to relate to Odysseus from The Odyssey, but after the isolation brought forth by the spread of COVID-19, I’ve found myself relating more to his struggles on his way home. Odysseus is a proud and cunning leader, with a loyal following of warriors that he led into battle throughout their journey together. This man had responsibilities and led others, then came under a sudden change of environment that swept away his normal life. The sudden changes in my life as a result of COVID-19 have altered my sense of a daily routine, and now Odysseus’s struggles in unfamiliar territory seem more than familiar to me. 

Odysseus was intelligent and strong, making him the natural fit to lead his men through the Trojan War. He was the leader of his crew, yet as his journey home met with more and more conflict, he soon found himself isolated, eventually being held captive alone on Calypso’s Island. The man who was fit to lead, strong in mind and body, was without ally now, weeping alone and desperately wishing to return home to Ithaca. 

My journey of discovery was not as different from his odyssey as one would expect. I didn’t pay much attention initially, only hearing that I would be staying at home an extra week after break. I was just happy to spend more time at home in comfort. A couple of days later, another email came in, this time telling us that Purdue would shift to online instruction and that students were encouraged to go home for the remainder of the semester. I still wasn’t that distraught honestly, as I’d be able to go home and enjoy the familiarity of my house and family for the rest of the semester. My biggest concern was just motivating myself to stay on top of my work, but I lacked the foresight to consider the other aspects of my life that would change. The first week after Spring break was tough; it was simultaneously the first week of online instruction, and the first week back to school, including three exams that week, concluding with rather mixed results in the end. My hands were full simply adjusting to the sudden changes in workload, but as the weeks went on and I adjusted to the new system, I grew more aware of the other things that had changed apart from my coursework, especially my relationships.

Friends that I lived next door to, friends that I saw at clubs a mere 10-minute walk from my dorm room, everyone was farther than ever with the self-isolation and social distancing. I spoke with them online through messaging apps and voice chats, but it was so much different to hear them through my computer, it was almost scary. Talking online to them at this point, hearing the occasional background noise of chatter on their mics made me keenly aware of the fact that we were all separated, living in our own worlds with our families. When I spoke with my friends, I was always upbeat and happy to hear their voices, yet right after ending the calls with them, I’d find myself melancholic and wondering if that person laughing so boisterously a few minutes ago was truly the same person as me. It was a strange out of body experience, where regardless of my inner emotions, my outer body refused to express it. Any happy attitude was snuffed out by an overbearing wall of muted emotion. I felt lonely, being unable to truly be with my friends who I’d spent all day with on campus or express these emotions. The Smash Ultimate tournaments, the late-night study sessions, the movie nights after those study sessions, everything was different. 

Much like Odysseus, after being separated from my friends and isolated, no longer needing to uphold an image of myself, I found myself weakened by longing for my friends and our daily antics. My parents noticed my lethargic mood outside of talks with my friends, and so they pushed me to exercise or go out on walks with my dog. The warm sun that I used to walk out under every day, now seemed exceedingly bright and tiresome, and I could only muster weak, dull thanks to my parents who were so concerned for me. That hurt me, and by that point, I knew something had to change. 

As my parents prepared more of my favorite meals, I went out on walks more often and I revived old interests that had taken a backseat during my campus life. I watched and caught up on many exciting anime, got into speedsolving Rubik’s cubes and other puzzles again, and turned on my PS4 which had not been used for more than two years. Doing all these things that I had forgotten about rekindled my passion for them, greatly improving my mood and making everyday something to look forward too. I talked to my friends through voice chat more, to talk about nothing or do homework, the contents didn’t matter, just the fact that I was having fun and laughing with my friends. More surprising than ever was the happy coincidence of a few of my friends starting to watch more anime at home as well, bringing in even more fun topics for our random talks. The COVID-19 isolation took a heavy toll on my happiness, one that I’m not sure I would have overcome had it not been for my loving parents who loved me and pushed me forwards. Experiencing a disconnect from some aspects of my life on campus, I instead reconnected to my old passions for many things I love. This period has been one of discovery for me, dealing with a new type of solitude, but also rediscovering my passions once again and reaching what I would consider an even happier state than I started in. Walking outside now, I feel the warmth of the sun and admire the fresh air with my dog. It’s hard to look back now to the time a mere couple of weeks ago, where I found this warm sun blinding and tiring.

After being stripped of his comrades, Odysseus was lonely and longed for home, and with the support of a friendly goddess, his family’s unwavering belief in him, and his hard efforts, he finally made it back home. It’s hard to put into words but imagine this scenario: brought down by the sudden separation from my friends and a changed lifestyle, I find myself in a darker place, maybe a tunnel, with only a faint glimmer of light far away. That speck of light seems faint and far too distant from where I stand in the dark, yet pushed along by friends, family, and my passions, I pull myself closer to that light. Now consider, that this small light eventually opens up into the outside world, bright and warm with the sun, a world where my family, and my friends, everyone that supported me through these tough times lived. Behind me, lies the dark tunnel that I could only get through because of that support. Corny as it is, my gratitude to these people is without bound, and I felt it necessary to put so much emphasis on such as corny representation. In the end, that is the image of my struggles that I want to convey regardless of how it sounds; being alone in the dark but ultimately being guided to a brighter place by my relationships with others and even myself.

Contrary to Odysseus, I have no gods out to ruin or support me on this journey of discovery. What I do share with him, however, is a loving family that believed in and supported me through all my struggles, leading me home as I pushed through adversity to reach a happier life. One thing I would like to pass on to others is my adamant belief that even in the darker spots of life, there are people that truly care about you and who will help you struggle through those tough times. In the end, these trying times, rather than isolating me, have all but strengthened my bonds with my friends and family, and rekindled my love for the things I had forgotten about.