Pandemic journal: Heart to heart, mind to mind 

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Alysa Suleiman

“I love you,” my dad said, radiating warmth and alacrity before his cheery smile, with the scruffy beginnings of a beard, disappeared from the screen. In those short minutes, he never once mentioned the demoralizing experience of complete isolation for two weeks, pacing back and forth each day in less than 300 square feet of space with just a small window overlooking a measly freeway.  

by Alysa Suleiman, A&E Editor

“Qi Qi!” My dad’s beaming face fills up my small phone screen, a tiny beacon in the post-sunset gloom of an early November evening. 

“Hello?” I said, happy to see him, but nonetheless surprised. My dad and I rarely interact through communication apps, and his unexpected call made me wonder if something had gone wrong. Six months into quarantine, my dad finally obtained the first available international ticket to fly overseas and officialize my grandmother’s passing. The fears brewing in my mind from the week before – whether my dad was still virus-free and how he was faring in a foreign country over 6000 miles away – crowded my mind. 

“I just missed you,” were his next words, halting and choppy, as if they too were an unfamiliar taste in his mouth. My dad and I, as tight and fun-loving goofballs as we were, rarely affirmed our father-daughter bond through word of mouth. 

“Oh,” I sighed, relief coursing through me as I went limp. “No virus then, right? You’re doing okay? Enough food? Enough exercise?”

Until now, I only saw my own sphere of self-isolation, while my dad ventured into China, a country entrenched in heavy social stigma as the birthplace of the COVID-19 pandemic. My heart clenched, thinking of the one week left in my dad’s government-mandated 14 days of quarantine upon arriving in Shanghai. 

In the next few minutes, we spoke of the usual trivialities: grades, bedtimes and so on. 

“I love you,” my dad said, radiating warmth and alacrity before his cheery smile, with the scruffy beginnings of a beard, disappeared from the screen. In those short minutes, my dad never once mentioned the demoralizing experience of complete isolation for two weeks, pacing back and forth each day in less than 300 square feet of space with just a small window overlooking a measly freeway.  

Through a simple phone call, he made me realize how necessary human connection is during a pandemic, whose mental burdens are just as deadly as its physical ones.”

As much as I despised quarantine at home – missing my friends, attending Zoom school, gaining unhealthy snacking habits – I had my mom and sister beside me, there to lean on whenever I needed it. So when my dad stepped through the front door two weeks ago, and I prompted him to speak about his own isolation experience, I could only feel humbled and ashamed.

Through a simple phone call, he made me realize how necessary human connection is during a pandemic, whose mental burdens are just as deadly as its physical ones. In retrospect, my complaints seemed insensate and shallow when he had patiently waited five months and braved a deadly virus to pay his respects to my grandmother, taken away by the pandemic in late April.  

And when he came home, welcomed onto U.S. soil without even a health check at SFO’s international terminal, he immediately took a COVID-19 test and spent another 14 days in quarantine before officially moving back in. Assiduous and methodical, my dad plodded through his extended period of isolation, bypassing personal emotions by placing our collective safety as his first priority. 

So even when the bright screen went dark, abandoning me in the somnolence of November twilight, I felt a surge of warmth blanket me against the onsetting chill. Fingers tapping in overtime speed, I then clicked the blue “send” button.

“爸爸, I love you, too.”