It's one of those perfect Oxford nights. The setting sun casts orange and pink shadows as it lazily recedes on the horizon. With the constant buzz of laughter echoing from people outside, it seems like a celebration. But really, it’s a heartfelt goodbye. Oxford can’t stay safe in its bubble forever.
My roommates and I make our way uptown for our last meal.
Our last meal sitting down, all together in a restaurant, for God knows how long. We walk slowly, drinking in the fresh air while we’re still on campus. Still allowed outside our houses. Still free.
Some people have already left for home. First-years and sophomores had no choice but to evacuate their dorms because of the novel coronavirus. As juniors, we still have the luxury of staying in our off-campus houses. But who knows how long that will last?
And besides, after tonight, four of my eight housemates are going home.
All of us walk in solidarity. No one wants to leave mid-semester. No one wants to forfeit any of our precious time together.
No one speaks on the way there. Not even a whisper. The night is too perfect to ruin with complaints about what could have been. But that doesn’t stop us from thinking about them.
The classes we can no longer attend. Uptown. Friends. The parties we will miss. Green. Beer. Day. Formals. Twenty-first birthday celebrations. All of it.
But we don’t say it. Instead, we seek comfort in our last meal.
The worndown bell rings faintly as we push open the door, filing in one after the other into our safe place. You either like the taste or you don’t. Luckily, it just so happens to be our comfort food.
Ashley and Christine are from New York, Jenna from Indiana. Elly, Bailey, Annie, Ellie and I are born and bred Cincinnatians. But we could all agree on this place. Our place.
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It’s Skyline time.
The smell wafts through our nostrils, and it feels like home. We smile at each other.
Naturally, we veer to our favorite back corner, pushing two tables together to fit our little family.
And just like that, we feel a little bit better. Hopeful even.
I sit by Jenna, (also known as Mom). I don’t remember why, but we have called each other “mom” since freshman year. And honestly, hearing her call me by my real name feels weird at this point.
“Pass me the hot sauce please,” Bailey winks at me as she starts in on her pile of oyster crackers.
I reluctantly hand it over, but only after I have doused each individual cracker with a little dot of the coveted sauce.
I’ll miss fighting over the hot sauce with Bailey.
“Let’s have a wine night after this,” Ashley chimes in, immediately cheering me up without even trying. She has this effect on people.
The usual, wicked gleam in her eye shines. She isn’t leaving Ox without one more crazy night under her belt.
Christine nods with Ashley in agreement. They form the best but most dangerous duo.
“Oooooo, anyone up for a little game of relay?” she asks excitedly.
No one could ever say no to Christine, even five rounds later. “Yes,” we answer naturally.
The waitress comes over to take our order, and I realize this isn’t just a last night for us. This will be her last night waitressing.
Just more collateral damage from the coronavirus. Not the first of it, nor the last.
“Can I have a vegetarian 3-way, no cheese please?” Elly orders her usual, vegan favorite. We all giggle, because we know when it arrives, it will be the least appetizing thing on this table.
We continue to laugh, and all Elly can do is roll her eyes because she knows as well as we do that she will soon be served something resembling brown mush.
“A Mountain Dew for me,” Ellie says — it’s the only thing she drinks at Skyline.
Mom predictably orders two cheese coneys. I remember the first time we took her to Skyline freshman year, her eyes huge after she took her first bite. It only took that one bite to convert her love from savory to sweet chili.
Now she eats the conies like a true Cincinnatian, everything on them.
I smile softly. I really will miss my friends.
The coronavirus isn’t even mentioned until we have devoured multiple three-ways, cheese fries, coneys, chilitos and an abundance of oyster crackers. A feast by any standard.
“I don’t know when we will all be able to do this again,” Ellie says slowly. The tears pooling in her eyes threaten to leak. Never one to show her emotions, we are all brought back to reality.
Annie has been fairly quiet, also not one to show much emotion if she can help it. Eight years of grade school, four years of high school, almost three years of college and one year as housemates: I’ve been with Annie through it all.
I still can’t believe her family moved from Cincinnati to Georgia when she got to college. That’s where she will be headed for the quarantine to come. Another friend I won’t see for some time.
We all look at one another carefully, as if memorizing the little details we might forget. It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that the pandemic was a reality.
I don’t know what’s coming. I don’t know how long it will last. But I do know this: My friends will be there for me even if their room is no longer 3 feet from mine. They will still be with me.
Even if I won’t have to let Jen and Annie into the house at 2 a.m. because neither one of them has their house key on them.
Even if I don’t binge watch an entire season of “American Horror Story” with Ellie in one day.
Or wait for Christine to be done with class just so we can get Chipotle together. (Seriously, I had never met anyone who could consume a steak bowl three times in one day until Christine came along.)
Even if Elly won’t burst into my room without warning to look at her outfit in my full-length mirror, proceeding to ask if the vegan leather or black velvet Doc Martens look best.
Or my impromptu lunches with Ashley that were always supposed to be quick but would last for at least two hours.
And Bailey. I won’t be able to knock on her door, ask for advice, sink into her cloud-like bed and bother her while she tries to do her bio homework, forcing her to pause Love Island in the process.
It's unspoken that we linger for a little while longer. Talk about the good times we’ve had in our house this year and hope for more to come before our junior year is up.
Another round of sweet teas, we say. Mountain Dew for Ellie, of course. She should have whatever she wants.
Because, after all, it is our last supper.