‘Dispatch from a Pandemic: Cupertino, California” by Lucy Zhang

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Fern Tree, emeraldschell

sam.coronadotsSometimes I imagine there’s a silent competition going on between us: who can type faster, louder, more frequently throughout the day, who is the more obnoxious programmer clacking at a keyboard. The chorus of typing sounds fade to a solo when one of us has a meeting and retreats to the bedroom because even though we both write software, our respective companies aren’t benevolent enough to share trade secrets. Not that I think my partner’s car simulation software would benefit my operations systems work in any way. Our bedroom has no desk so we have meetings while sitting on the bed or ground; I always turn my camera off. And of course, neither of our companies uses Zoom, a video conferencing app so fraught with vulnerabilities that engineers in my organization lampoon it whenever a new security exploit goes public.

Our jobs allow us to continue to work remotely, little cogs in the monolith of corporate Silicon Valley. We both have desks up against the wall where a TV should have gone, a device we forewent in favor of secondary monitor displays. We have a tangled web of power adapters and dongles and external hard drives. We have a grocery store within walking distance so we never lack food. We have plenty of toilet paper, acquired during the pre-COVID-19 era. What we don’t have is a solid answer to whether my partner can stay in the United States and continue work. After missing the second lottery for the H1B visa, he made it clear that the risk in gambling on the third lottery was too high and the timing between his OPT’s expiration date and the final lottery date too close, so we decided to get married based on a rough estimate of eight months’ time required after marriage to acquire a green card, an estimate as fickle as the current political climate and legislation. I am twenty-two; he is twenty-three.

The beauty of code is instant gratification: I implement a feature, I test the feature, I see it work or fail, I iterate. The beauty of marriage is, supposedly, the sharing of companionship, love, struggles; the sharing of tax paperwork, household chores, finances to buy that dream house; the sharing of meals and grocery shopping outings where one pushes the cart and the other selects fresh fruits and vegetables. But when I hit compile, the road ahead of our summer marriage blurs against the horizon of low-lying stratus clouds and fog along the coastline of California.

–May 11, 2020


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Lucy Zhang is a writer, software engineer, and anime fan. Her work has appeared in Crab Fat Magazine, Atlas & Alice, Okay Donkey, Jellyfish Review, and elsewhere. She can be found on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.