14 Days in Montreal

Photo Courtesy of Linnea Vidger

For many McGill students like myself, fall semester comes with an enhanced excitement to return to Montreal after months of quarantining in our hometowns. I, for one, was looking forward to trading in my childhood bedroom for my apartment and the confines of my (lovely) parents’ house for the freedom of being away from home. 

For me, coming back to McGill is more than just returning to university—it means returning to the truest love I have experienced, my love for Montreal. But, as an international student, this sweet reunion comes with a heart-shattering caveat—a fourteen-day mandatory quarantine, during which I am forbidden from leaving my home, threatened with a hefty fine and even jail time.

After weeks of begging my parents to let me come back to Canada, I find myself in Montreal, without air conditioning, trapped inside for two long, grueling weeks. I am finally back in a place that I have associated with freedom over the past two years, yet I now feel a total lack of freedom. I sit inside each evening, my face directly in front of my small fan, drinking a glass of wine, listening to Taylor Swift’s new album. Even Tik Tok has become boring. I started playing Subway Surfers again, milking the rush of dopamine I get when I occasionally beat my high score. I am constantly on edge, nervous for a call or a knock on my door, the scary fine looming over me. Days blend into nights and my sleep schedule turns into a series of sporadic naps. I grow jealous of my friends, already out of quarantine, who are able to watch the sunset from Jeanne Mance Park while I struggle to see it over the buildings outside my window. I feel like my fourteen-year-old self again, longing for a liberated life so different from what I am experiencing now. Yet, at the same time, I feel much older than twenty, wondering if, with the uncertainty of the world at this time, the excitement of my youth is already behind me. 

Will life ever feel like it used to, pre-pandemic? 

In this never-ending state of boredom and uncertainty, I struggle to find the silver lining. I question if coming back to Montreal was even worth it. In my four-month absence from Montreal, my heart grew fonder for it. Now, I am finally back with my lover, but I am unable to touch or hold her, which hurts even more. I reminisce on my first few days in Montreal when I arrived here as a first year, excited for university and attracted to the freedom Montreal had to offer. Over time, I grew attached to my life in Montreal, and loved her even throughout her temperamental winter months. Yet, here I am again, under much different circumstances, beginning to question the basis of my love for McGill and Montreal, worried that my feelings for her might be slipping away. 

Like many students, I miss going to bars and clubs, blowing my money on nights out, constantly meeting new people, and even spending hours in McLennan, distracting myself by people-watching. With all of this abruptly ripped away, I, like many, feel let down, uncomfortable, and sometimes hopeless. Will life ever feel like it used to, pre-pandemic? 

The fear of feeling guilty or selfish for breaking social distancing rules is hanging above all of our heads, and it feels as though it’s every man for himself.

It feels as though we are doomed between two less-than-ideal options: either everyone takes social distancing seriously and we largely lose the exciting experiences of Montreal, or we act as if everything is normal, putting public health at risk. Trying to look on the bright side of this situation always brings me back to the question, why now? Why did I have to experience this right in the middle of my university experience? 

The question that keeps me most anxious is, how far am I willing to go to keep myself and others safe at the cost of missing out on life? Once we all make it through our fourteen days of isolated hell, we are forced to make important moral decisions for ourselves on what risks we are willing to take. How far are we willing to go to keep ourselves and others safe at the cost of “missing out” on our youth? The fear of feeling guilty or selfish for breaking social distancing rules is hanging above all of our heads, and it feels as though it’s every man for himself. We don’t have our parents to keep us in check, nor can we simply rely on what our friends decide for themselves. 

…I have the opportunity to fall in love with Montreal all over again, and for totally different reasons.

Although I am frustrated that my final two years of university may not mirror my first two, I remain grateful. I am lucky, for one, that I even made it here, as many students are forced to stay home due to international travel restrictions or health concerns. There’s a glimmer of light amidst all of this in recognizing that I have the opportunity to fall in love with Montreal all over again, and for totally different reasons. With the “glamour” of crowded Wednesday nights at Suwu or class crushes stripped away, I am beginning to reshape the value I get out of my university experience, and appreciate Montreal for all its parts I so carelessly overlooked. 

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