By Holly Downes
Pulling up into college, with a car brimmed full of too many belongings, I was your typical fresher, oozing with eagerness and excitement. The prospect of living in a new city four hours away from home was a thrilling concept to me, one which would allow me to flourish in every way possible. Yet, there are certain conditions necessary for a flower to beautifully grow, to flourish, and this necessity was absent in my first term at Durham.
The typical first-year experience was no more than a fictional tale. A matriculation ceremony in Durham Cathedral is just a past event I saw posted on social media, nothing that I ever experienced. The freshers’ week brimmed with socials, new faces, excessive alcohol consumption, coming to a bitter-sweet freshers’ flu end is something that remains a myth to me. Entering a lecture hall and seeing lecturers in person, rather than on an awkward Zoom call, was once a normality to many, but has now become a dream of mine. Traditions so deeply rooted in the university experience remain untouched by us freshers.
Rather than becoming a flourishing flower basking in sunlight and warmth, I became a flower that was constantly pummelled with rain and met with freezing temperatures
Despite my attempts to block out the inevitable outcome of thousands of students travelling across the country during a pandemic, it soon became impossible to ignore. As covid cases soared, so did the epiphany of what life would be like studying during a pandemic: a collection of covid scares, isolations, and immense anxiety. Within the second week of what I thought would be spent freely clubbing, my phone buzzed to a heart-wrenching email with the subject ‘URGENT- self-isolation required’. Two painful weeks of imprisonment was patiently waiting for me in a city I never got the chance to explore, delicately accompanied by a national lockdown straight after I was released. Becoming the equivalent to a rag doll constantly pulled between areas of relaxation and restriction, nothing was ever static, ever expected.
Rather than becoming a flourishing flower basking in sunlight and warmth, I became a flower that was constantly pummelled with rain and met with freezing temperatures. The same way the flower’s delicate fuchsia petals remained trapped within its bud, so too did my ability to grow. The national lockdown, imposed within weeks of my arrival and moments after my self-isolation freedom, physically restricted my fruition. Further impeding my university experience and all the joys that accompanied it.
The pandemic forced me to create a new normal, a creation that did not bear any of my clouded expectations. Instead of extravagant Christmas balls and boozy freshers’ events, Michaelmas Term became a mixture of frustrated attempts to navigate DUO, never-ending rounds of UNO to fill awkward silences and a continuous failure to get into pubs heaving with students. As another freshers’ event got cancelled, another person deferred and another night turned into drinking games in the kitchen, my initial excitement upon arriving manifested itself into bubbles of irritation and anger.
As bursts of momentary freedom were followed by lengthy isolations, it became ‘long-term pain, short-term pleasure’ – a rather unstimulating quote
I became angry over things I did not have the power to control, over the inanimate global handbrake – the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic blindfolded me when I tried to get a glimpse of fresher’s week, it barricaded my hopes of freedom and normality, it mocked me when I was self-isolating in my cramped room. It proudly abolished the chances of any event going ahead and heightened my paranoia when I could eventually exit my room – it became the pounding rain that ruined the flowers.
Not only that, but our flourishment was further hindered by the lies we were unintentionally fed. Sitting in my humorously large gown during the matriculation ceremony, I distinctly remember my principal’s reiteration of the phrase ‘short-term pain, long-term pleasure’. The pain the coronavirus pandemic brought, from forcing us to isolate, to making it impossible to make friends outside our household bubbles, is only a ‘short-term’ pain, something that will soon go away.
Yet, coming up to a year anniversary since our non-existent fresher’s week, I have realised the coronavirus pandemic has corrupted the meaning of this phrase. It has converted a once sincere proverb into something erroneous and misleading. The phrase was not contextualised yet was thrown about at every angle – in every speech, every apologetic email, and every wall in college reception. Rather than ‘short-term’ translating to a time frame of nine weeks at most, it has become nine whole months and counting. As bursts of momentary freedom were followed by lengthy isolations, it became ‘long-term pain, short-term pleasure’ – a rather unstimulating quote.
Regardless, I congratulate myself on my stubbornness to not let coronavirus destroy some of the best years of my life. Despite still being aboard the unceasing merry-go-round that keeps circling me around coronavirus restrictions, I have made the most of where this merry-go-round momentarily stops. In the end, the flowers pummelled by the rain always grow back.
Illustration by Verity Laycock