August is the month we welcome new full-time writers to the post calvin, and today we say hello to Anna Jeffries VanZytveld (’20). Anna graduated with a BA in mathematics and English literature. A transplant from Asheville, North Carolina, Anna now lives with her husband in East Lansing, Michigan. There, she asks herself questions about postcolonial literary theory, buys more books than she could ever read, bakes more bread than her husband could ever eat, laughs uproariously at math memes, and wonders what strange and wonderful things may next come her way.
These past few months, I, like many, have found myself in strange and close living situations with others that I have had no control over. In the midst of the chaos of trying to move out of my university apartment during what should’ve been my spring break, I found my fiancé and myself living with my parents in North Carolina for three months. I enjoyed this, relatively speaking—my less-than-great relationship with parents aside, nothing quite compares to rattling around in your childhood home, all worn wooden floors and bookshelves and plenty of room for card tables overflowing with Legos and quiet reading times.
March turned into May, and Andrew and I got through school—I managed to write all of my final papers and Andrew managed to pass his PhD qualifying exams—only for me to be stricken with the panicked realisation that I had to plan and pull my own wedding together in just a couple of weeks (after cancelling everything I had originally planned in Michigan). I still refuse the label of being a “Covid bride,” but we did manage to get married in the back yard and it was surprisingly wonderful and catastrophe-free.
After a brief honeymoon of pretending to be a tourist in my hometown and staying in a nice hotel while being unable to go out to do anything, I promptly drove up to Michigan with my new husband to live with his parents for a short spell. That short spell turned into a long month and my sanity slowly decreased as I found myself surrounded by an entire family of loud extroverts in a rather small house that wasn’t built for six people. My husband and I also couldn’t share a bed during this time simply because of the fact that his 6’2” frame could not fit on a full-sized bed with my 5’4” self. The general woes of personal space aside, my husband, as one of those loud extroverts, thrived among the uproar while I decidedly wilted.
Yet, after all of the uncomfortable strangeness, we’re finally in our own apartment, free of parents and siblings and discovering the new strangeness of actually living as a married couple, shared bed and all. It’s always easier to see the comedy of drama in retrospect, but learning to laugh about these past months has done little to alleviate my ever-persistent anxieties. Namely, my anxiety of how I—and Andrew for that matter—can build a new life together in East Lansing and find friendly faces in a world that’s been haphazardly crippled by Covid-19.
I like having time to myself and space to myself, so I’ve been relishing my new, in-law-free apartment with the kind of zeal that only an intensely introverted person can have. But Andrew is not an intensely introverted person, and I know that we both need human connection and interaction outside of our relationship. Granted, Andrew is off to a good start with his PhD program friends—a ready-made social group that makes me wish I had one, too—but I’m anxious at the thought of finding connections and friendships for the both of us when all we can do is stay in our apartment with periodic visits to the grocery store and local parks.
No one tells you that the challenge of finding friends and creating community extends beyond just high school, beyond just university. No one tells you how wrenching it can feel when you’ve got to start all over again in a new place, and in the middle of a pandemic at that. I know a lot of people have been struggling through these past few months for want of social interactions, and, despite my introvertedness (INFJ/5 wing 4, if you wanted to know), I count myself among them. Now, I miss spending time at home with my family and my dog, and I even miss my in-laws. I’m grateful that we live only an hour’s drive from Andrew’s parents, but occasional trips to Grand Rapids and the small not-quite-Pantone 607 U house are still not enough.
How is one meant to not be an island? Of course I believe that no couple is an island entire of itself, but how in the darned tarnation are we meant to be involved in mankind and answer the toll of the bell in the time and place we find ourselves in? Yes, there are grand and philosophical humanist gestures, but what about tangible and achievable gestures? I love my husband dearly and I love that I am doing life with him, but I do not want it to be us against the world. Shall I begin building a tombolo that is only sometimes accessible, imitating the holy island of Lindisfarne, yet hoping for something more concrete than the sands that have soaked up so many eons of faith? Or shall I try for a bridge, only equipped with Billington’s The Tower and the Bridge in my hand? Shall I shout across, texting and zooming and writing for the post calvin? I do not know. I just don’t want to be an island.
The river is wide, I cannot see
Nor do I have light wings to fly
There’ll be a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I