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Losing The Final Notes

By Charles K. Michael
By Shireen Younus, Contributing Opinion Writer
Shireen Younus ’20, a former Crimson Editorial editor, was a Government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

After a few weeks away from Cambridge, I would get antsy.

It happened every year. One summer, I caved and changed my plans last minute to spend the next two months in Boston. After dropping off my suitcases at my new apartment, I took the Green Line to Park Street, transferring trains to get to Harvard Square. One evening, I walked from the Prudential Center to Winthrop House. I was so homesick I even popped into The Crimson.

As the years progressed, I pushed my return dates up and up. I had friends who flew in during the breathless hours before shopping week started. But not me. I liked to take my time, cherishing those rare days when my Google calendar held no sway over me. Some of my favorite memories, even now, are of Harvard in those first days, when it’s quiet, like a song that is building and building and you love what the chorus sounds like, but you especially treasure those first few notes because they break the silence. Because they let you know your song is starting again.

If my returns to Harvard were a slowly building crescendo, then my exit from campus was discordant, a smash of mismatched notes, an orchestra that came to a sudden, stumbling stop.

That Tuesday was the first day in weeks I slept past 9 a.m. My thesis was due the next day, my draft formatted and finalized, my senior spring awaiting me. I woke up to a text message from my roommate: “I went to UPS and bought boxes/tape. I got one for each of us.”

I dream-walked through the rest of the day. I wore a pale yellow skirt that I had been saving for the first days of Cambridge spring (with boots — it was still winter). I went to class, refusing to miss even one moment of being a student. I walked to one of my favorite restaurants in Allston. Once there, I had no appetite. I Uber-ed back to Lowell House, where my friends were meeting for dinner, my face pressed against the car window like a tourist seeing the Square for the very first time.

When I had returned to campus for my senior year, the first House I went to (after my own) was Lowell, newly renovated. I sat in the lawn until the sun went down and bothered my friends and felt safe. That day felt like an exhale. I could feel my time on campus ending, and I was okay with it. I could see the next year unfurl — the long nights I would spend writing my thesis, the day-trips I would take with friends in the spring, the restaurants I would introduce my parents to during graduation week. I was ready to leave Harvard.

But on March 10, sitting in Lowell dining hall, I listened to Dean David I. Laibson’s voice crack as he spoke to seniors, telling us that we would remain part of the Harvard community, that somehow, we would experience the traditions we had been promised. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked back to see my best friend crying. We leaned into each other as I cried too.

I was not ready to leave Harvard.

As I write this, one year has passed. In this year, like so many of my peers, I have outwardly moved on: started my post-graduate career, devoted time to new hobbies, and begun thinking about graduate school. In a year filled with trials and tragedy, I’m immensely grateful for these silver linings.

But a part of me continues to mourn my college experience. That part is still waiting to land in Boston Logan and catch a glimpse of the Charles River and drop by Felipe’s in the evening and run into friends and familiar strangers and jump back into another semester of school. That part checks my college email, is holding on to a never-used JP Licks gift card, burns a Boston scented candle. It’s ready to go back.

I don’t know if I ever will. Class of 2020, I don’t know if we ever will. No delayed graduation, no weekend trip, no other degree, will give us back what we lost. One day we were college students, and the next we were not, and I don’t have the words for the fear and sadness of that experience. Trust me, I’ve looked for them.

We left our song unfinished. Those final notes will always remain suspended in mid-air, unable to reach us where we are now.

In those last mornings, after we had talked and laughed through the night, we sat in silence, struggling to stay awake. In the space between “See you soon” and “Will we ever meet again?” we held our breath as we watched our friends leave. Between worrying about packing and wondering where we would go, our minds stilled, assignments and jobs faded away. One last time, we trampled through Harvard Yard, linked arms unmasked, procrastinated for just five more minutes —

In the cold, fading light, we stood on the Weeks bridge, huddled together, seeking something more than warmth. We were quiet.

Shireen Younus ’20, a former Crimson Editorial editor, was a Government concentrator in Pforzheimer House.

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