by Alexandra Capellini
I ended the call as we said “Good night” and checked my phone’s log: We’d been talking for an hour and 35 minutes. Was that too long for a weeknight when I had homework to finish and lab the next morning? It didn’t seem to matter. We had a lot to cover.
Since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, I have been trying to find more ways to stay connected with friends who I can’t easily see in person. The first few months of the pandemic were a social adjustment: Restrictions made it harder to gather in general, and overall fear and anxiety about Covid made many of my friends hesitant to gather at all. That summer, I tried to focus on enjoying ”alone” time: spending more nights at home, watching movies, discovering new Netflix shows, taking longer walks around the park and reading more books. Then I started feeling too lonely. The swimming pool and the rock-climbing wall were closed, orchestra rehearsals were discontinued, and amputee camps and conferences were canceled. I didn’t know where to turn when I was losing touch with everything that made me feel like myself. It didn’t feel good, and that feeling got old.
If I couldn’t easily take a bus or train to see friends out-of-state, or meet up with friends in my own city, how could I keep up with them? Texting felt too detached. I did the only thing that came to mind: I started cold-calling people. Then those same people started cold-calling me. Before the pandemic I had never been much of a phone-call person with friends. I texted a lot, but more than anything, I always wanted to meet in-person. Now I was enjoying “meeting” over the phone, hearing my friends’ voices when I was wandering around my apartment, taking a lunch break at the hospital, walking around the park, and everything in between. I needed to manage my time well to make this all work, but it’s been worth it.
There is something special about having this time to catch up with friends who bring out my best. I am intentional about it. I’ve become more aware of who I actually want to invest that time in. This has been especially meaningful after spending long days with my face covered, meeting new colleagues but not new people my age. I missed being able to escape with friends from outside of medical school. I wanted to know about their new remote jobs, their graduate school applications, their first few months living back at home, and their own ways of staying sane during these coronatimes. Sometimes we would FaceTime, which made things more fun. I saw longer hair! Beards growing! Color changes! Smiles! It wasn’t quite the same as laughing together in-person, but I was looking for more connections with people I cared about, and this was helping me meet that need.
One of my friends, a former ski racer who was studying in Vancouver, was stuck in Canada. I had planned to take a trip to Vancouver and ski with her. Now neither of us was able to visit the other. Instead, she called me with updates about potential dating prospects in her life. We vented to each other about what the pandemic was doing to the quality of dating apps. How were people meeting up? Were FaceTime dates fun? Did we even want to know?
Another close friend of mine from college was living in Texas. He had moved from New York City to Dallas solely for the job opportunity. But now his job was fully remote, he was stuck alone in his apartment, and he had exhausted all the local bars and BBQ joints. Was it time to move back home? He didn’t feel a connection to Dallas culture, and his new friends were moving away. If his job was not returning back to the office, was there any reason to stay?
One friend from amputee camp was locking herself down in Seattle. Her job as a kindergarten teacher came with different demands every day, as schools rapidly kept changing policies. Her source of constancy was a guy she had started dating right before the pandemic. They were both now working remotely, often from her apartment, all day—essentially living in the same space. Was it time to officially move in together?
Phone call after phone call, FaceTime after FaceTime, I peeked into the dynamic lives of my friends doing their best to get by in the pandemic that we all shared. Some friends became better texters and video-chatters. They became more responsive. Typical five-minute chats turned into 50 minutes. Other friends faded out. Those experiences gave me reason to pause and consider: Were we more acquaintances versus friends, more likely to meet out of convenience rather than desire? These were some of the hardest things to consider, but the clarity was useful.
Throughout the pandemic, I seized these opportunities to keep up with the people I cared about. We did this for each other. It was our choice. We let each other in. We made the time. We realized that this was the best we could do, and we were going to make it work with whatever time we had.
As restrictions lighten around the country, and we feel more comfortable traveling, I’m making more plans to see friends who have been behind my iPhone screen for far too long. But I’m still cold-calling – that might always be my norm. And 37-minute FaceTimes on Wednesday nights? I’m still here for them.
Alexandra Capellini is a 25-year-old above-knee amputee living in New York City. She is a medical student, a Certified Peer Visitor for amputees, and a counselor at the Amputee Coalition Youth Camp. Follow her on Twitter @acapellini1995, and read more of her writing about life with limb loss at nytimes.com.