Below, the winning respondent to our latest Writers Club prompt: “Tell us a story about something that made you feel like a piece of something larger than yourself, or a moment that instilled a sense of unity in you.”
The ice maker’s thumps kept me up. My sloth-like sleep had officially vanished, completing my transformation into a twitchy night owl. I caved and reached for my phone. Two emails, four texts, and the gloomy reminder that I hadn’t slept (again): 5:13 a.m.
After campus closed down a few months before graduation, I rushed back home to Maryland, longing for my family. In a second, plans changed. Mom flew to Mexico City after her sister (and one of my favorite people in the world) got sick—to say goodbye. My brother’s lease kept him in LA, and Dad was forced to travel for work. Suddenly, it was me and the growling fridge.
Sleeping only got harder. I sat on Dad’s chair. I comforted Mom through a screen. I tried making my brother’s lasagna (and failed). I reread years’ worth of emails from my aunt—we wrote each other every week. My heart ached and my mind wandered into its scariest, loneliest alleys.
The first few weeks after COVID-19 reached America, I pinned all my hopes on togetherness. Unity seemed like the only possible antidote for a world turned inside out. Reality proved to be much more fragmented. Less than a third of Americans, mostly white, could work from home. Essential workers, mostly Black and Latinx, faced the virus unprotected, bearing a stunningly disproportionate share of deaths. Those in close quarters determined by discriminatory housing practices got easily infected, while a few safely quarantined in their second homes. An unequal healthcare system failed Black and Latinx communities, already grappling with another public health crisis: systemic racism. Words like “disparity” and “privilege” had never sounded emptier. The pandemic laid bare some of the oldest, ugliest cracks in America—infuriating, heartbreaking, alienating cracks.
Ahmaud Arbery’s execution video made me sick. I couldn’t look at Breonna Taylor’s pictures without crying. I had nightmares about walking down the street, my face covered like Elijah McClain’s. George Floyd’s senseless murder was the final straw. Another name on an endless list. Another crack in a broken system. As an Afro-Latina, my whole life seemed to be about the cracks. I got tired of explaining things to my white friends. I sobbed without realizing. I screamed in rage. I missed my family. I knew I would miss my aunt all my life. I wanted a hug, a (literal) shoulder to cry on.
Just when the distance between me and others reached interplanetary proportions, something changed. People got together. Walking the DC streets next to thousands no longer willing to accept apathy as a response to the open wounds and endlessly transmutable oppressions, I felt connected again. I exhaled some of my pain by sharing it with others.
Then, my family finally came home. We had pizza in the backyard. I sat next to Mom, her dimples surfacing when she smiled. Dad finally sat on his chair, which “he’d missed.” My brother promised lasagna.
I always thought togetherness had no room for discomfort. But as each of us talked about what we’d lived through, sharing felt messier. My brother and I told the stories of the people we marched for. My parents talked about their own experiences with discrimination. We cried at the never-ending struggles. We toasted my aunt. We laughed.
The edges of our conversation that warm afternoon weren’t smooth. But we listened. We shared. I realized it could all be shared—anguish, joy, grief, hope. Cutting through the space between us may never come easy—but being part of something larger, knowing that the bridges are as real as the cracks, has never felt more necessary.
Graphic by Lorenza Centi.