You’ve always been infatuated with public health, and your love has grown exponentially during the pandemic — like antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Arriving back to campus, armed with crates of N-95s, kegs of hand sanitizer, and even a few face shields, you had hoped the pandemic would galvanize your peers into caring as much as you do. But you quickly find you were sorely mistaken. Take last Friday, for example.
It’s a brisk Cambridge morning. You left your HEPA filter on ‘Turbo’ mode when you went to bed, so you take a deep breath, hold it, and let go. “Damn, that’s the good stuff,” you say as you head out of your dorm for class.
You sit down for your first GenEd section of the semester, and the inevitably banal icebreakers commence. Your TF lists the Harvard identifiers you must disclose: your concentration, house, and year. Then comes the TF’s final, quirky query:“Favorite color?”
Finally, a question that gets to the meat of who we all really are.
“Who wants to go first?” they say.
You slap the table like it’s an anti-vaxxer, toss back your chair, and declare that you do. You want to go first.
After you’ve caught your breath from the exertion of leaping from your seat (those two N-95s do inhibit airflow), you proudly proclaim: “Color Health, Inc.! Everyone's favorite!”
You scan the room, hoping to hear some applause, or at least see some hearty nods of agreement — but nothing. Stunned, you sink back into your chair, unable to believe the hackneyed hues your classmates are naming: blue, green, yellow, red.
You amble out of section in a fog and head for the bathroom. This can’t be real. Who even likes yellow? Do they not appreciate the compassionate, almost paternal reminders of when you’re “due for your next COVID-19 test”?
To cool off, you stand in front of the sink and splash water on your face. It’s okay that your masks get wet; the CDC Google alert you read yesterday says a humid mask environment helps prevent the transmission of viral particles.
After a rage-filled lunch, you head back to the dorm, trying not to let despair overtake you. “So what if people don’t care as much as they should?” you monologue. You pause your march to respectfully detach the interlocked hands of an amorous pair. “Six feet, sweeties!”
“You have to be the change you want to see in the world,” you resolve out loud. It’s time you scaled up. But where could your efforts be most effective?
You gather white envelopes, your embossing kit, and with a little Harvard directory perusing, compile a roster of the [redacted athletic] team in your Notes app. You slide a Covid test into each envelope, seal the edge with hot wax, and write names on the front in cursive. It’s hard work, but someone’s gotta do it.
Six hours later, you march down the halls of Dunster, your chest puffed with pride. You carefully slide a wax-sealed envelope into each room until a noise stops you in your tracks. You cup your ear against the door.
“That feels so good babe, do you have protection?”
You seize another golden opportunity to promote Covid safety.
“I do!” you scream at the door, sliding two N-95s underneath. The noises from within the room stop suddenly, the pair undoubtedly speechless at their good fortune.
Walking out of Dunster, you pat yourself on the back with a gloved hand. It’s been a long day of being phenomenal. After so many hours bettering humanity, it’s high time for some self-care; time to take your Covid test.
The feeling of that plastic swab massaging your nasal passages, the righteous patter of typing in your kit’s activation code, the suspense that lingers in the split second before your results load: will it be that sweet, sweet negative green?
You head downstairs, eager for that thrill of slipping the biohazard bag into the drop bin.
But wait! Someone else approaches the bin. You are worried you both might step to turn in your test at the same time, but they respectfully pause, keeping the appropriate social distance.
Chivalry is not dead. And neither are you, because you followed Covid Safety Guidelines.
Their eyes, a luminous surgical mask blue, peer out from over their multiple face coverings. Their muffled voice breaks the silence: “What’s your favorite color?”
— Staff writer Maliya V. Ellis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @EllisMaliya.