By: Gowri Somayajula

2067 Shattuck Avenue, the news article had said. Something about a 6-alarm fire. I had no clue what this meant but presumed that it was important. “Next to McDonald’s,” I had thought. And there I found myself, on a Saturday night. 7 PM. It was early but somehow the night had already set in. This wasn’t by any means unusual but somehow staying indoors had meant that daylight savings hadn’t fully sunk into my mind. Anyways. My roommate and I donned our masks, stepping out for the first time in weeks, to something we’d never seen before. The tragedy of a Californian fire. Was it curiousity? Or a wish to step outside and be a part of something. There are moments in life where we watch things pass us by. Perhaps this was my Carpe Diem, the moment where I chose to act on something by my own volition. 

There’s nothing poetic about fire. And yet isn’t there? It’s vicious and all-consuming. It leaves no survivors, no clean exits, all bright and dazzling to behold but there’s this underlying danger. Do not come near, it seems to warn. 

Red lights flash as firetrucks line the street. There are a few cranes mobilized to the effort, and still, amidst all this chaos, I can distill the notes of a rock/jazz band playing two blocks away, in front of an open bar. People are distancing themselves, and relaxing for what feels like the first time in weeks. To be fair, I hadn’t been outside in weeks either. 

Maybe it’s something about quarantine. And how isolated we’ve all felt in the last few months. Quarantining is hard when you’re away from your friends and family, the people you tend to feel closest to. On top of making sense of online classes in bedrooms and kitchens across the world hasn’t been the fulfilling senior year experience that every student wants. Whether it’s a weekend trip to Tahoe, or a spring trip to Cabo, it’s safe to say that vacations and leisure are cancelled for the rest of the year. With that gone, there have been little to no opportunities left to feel human. I hadn’t seen my parents in a year. 

For the longest time, I wish I felt known. There are moments in quarantine when I’ve missed the familiarity of hearing my own name, of having casual conversations about Berkeley’s unpredictable weather (or unpredictable professors). I miss the quieter moments of school, where I would bask in the warmth of friends and community. Through Zoom, waking up at 8:00 am only to haul myself in front of a computer screen for the next 12 hours with my camera and mic off and breaking only for meager meals I cooked for myself, I think I lost a part of myself. The drive to finish this task, to print this statement, to hold office hours, and still somehow on top of all that find a moment to myself and just exist. There were moments when I woke up wishing for Covid-19 to end, and for things to return to normal. I don’t know what normal means anymore. I flinch at the sight of crowds on TV shows, and I cringe at old concert videos on my phone. How can we ever truly exist as a society again, with 6 feet between us (physically and metaphorically)? There aren’t any answers to my questions, and I don’t expect you to have them either, Reader. 

I haven’t felt community, haven’t felt the warmth of society, the warmth of togetherness in months. But I felt it that night, there. 

At 2067 Shattuck Avenue. 

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