By Rachel Greene Phillips
Waves crashing against the walls of the Battery. The spray slides up the wall and mists my face. As I turn the corner away from Waterfront Park and toward Rainbow Row, my eyes meet with those of William Moultrie. The statue stands tall, despite hurricane winds and sea spray, looking out over the ocean. His oxidized face seems to reflect on all that has changed over the past year.
He has seen so many tourists stop to shout over the water, “Is that Fort Sumter?” He has seen students struggle to parallel park nearby. He has seen photographers searching for the perfect sunset shot. A young boy selling $1 sweetgrass roses to passing couples.
Now he has witnessed so much more. He has watched over protests. Riots. Angry voices have been reflected off his deaf ears. Sign wavers and fist raisers proclaiming their causes. Tourist numbers dropping. Streets abandoned. What would have been familiar faces to him are hidden under masks. No one stands by him to take photographs. No third graders use their fingers to trace the embossed letters that spell a biography at his base. I wonder if he misses John C. Calhoun.
Calhoun sits in the dark somewhere, mulling on his past. He hopes things will be better in Marion Square and ponders museum life. Where does he belong? Maybe closer to the ground, he will be better understood. It was scary up there.
Meanwhile near Maybank Hall, Clyde the Cougar mourns the students who rubbed his nose on the way to exams. So many faces he used to know are trapped in Zoom screens this year; they don’t pass him on their way to the Honors College offices or Randolph Hall. His coppery green hide has been unadorned and unloved for a year. The prowling predator prays for his students to return safely.
The stone guardians of our city weep invisible tears for this year, and I feel for them.
I know how it feels to be Moultrie, looking around a desolate city and wondering what happened. I see the emptied streets littered with mask-wearing citizens, and I contemplate what the future will look like. I see the boarded-up buildings on King Street and I hurt, thinking about the reason the plywood is there.
I know how it feels to be Calhoun, searching for the right context to present myself. Should I wear a dress to my sorority’s Zoom formal? Do I wear a mask into my friends’ apartment when they invite me over? Will we have to wear masks next flu season? How many days after exposure do I need to wait to be tested? And by the time I try to answer any of these questions, I’ve grabbed a pen from the cup marked “to be sanitized” and I’m washing my hands again. I don’t know if I can hug people anymore.
I know how it feels to be Clyde, distant from people I love. Except for a very special four weeks, all of my dates with my fiancé have been on FaceTime. Grabbing Starbucks at Addlestone with Joe from business calc doesn’t happen after the Zoom call ends. Instead, I get up from my desk, reheat my mug in the microwave, give it a stir and sigh.
A rising senior majoring in English and marketing, Rachel Greene Phillips hopes to work on creative projects that bring “new angles and additions to classic ideals and old traditions” after she graduates in 2022.