I’m upstairs in my home speaking with the national suicide prevention hotline when my phone accidentally connects to a bluetooth speaker downstairs.
This is in April of 2020, about a year ago. The operator’s rousing appeal for the value of life is cut short and transplanted into a loud muffle in the living room beneath me. Desperate to reconnect the audio, I tap at my phone in that inept way people do in horror movies right before they get murdered. After a few grueling seconds (long enough for anyone downstairs to intuit that I’m on a suicide hotline), I reconnect.
At this point, I’m hyperventilating pretty badly. The trained professional on the other end of the line walks me through it, and eventually, it calms down. Then, despite myself, I start laughing. The operator, confused and concerned, asks what I’m laughing about. I tell her that my phone accidentally connected to a bluetooth speaker downstairs in front of everyone. She’s silent for a moment. Then she says, “Oh God. That’s enough to make anybody want to kill themselves,” and she starts laughing too. And now I’m laughing even more. We’re both laughing like madmen and it doesn’t take away any of the pain, but there’s a little bit of light that wasn’t there before.
My relationship with my mental health is, for better or for worse, conjoined with my relationship with humor. That’s why I turn to my favorite comedy films when I feel my lowest depressions, that’s why I crack jokes when I feel my most unbearable anxieties, and that’s why being Monday Monday has been so important to me during the most difficult year of my life.
Shortly after that phone incident, completely unrelatedly, my friend and former roommate Mihir reached out and asked if I was interested in applying to be Monday Monday, the Chronicle’s satirical columnist. Like any good Campbellian protagonist, I was reluctant. I wasn’t sure I had the bandwidth to write a biweekly column considering the state of my mental health and, at that point, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to come back to school at all.
But I couldn’t resist the itch and decided to apply and write a sample column. One thing led to another, and I found myself completely free of inhibition, giggling at my own words as I wrote about an inept, bumbling version of President Price whose only love is motorcycles, completely out of his depth getting “gotcha” interviewed about Black Lives Matter by a hard-hitting reporter. I fell in love with making fun of this absurd experience we’re all having. And I can’t thank Mihir enough for roping me into this mess.
Monday Monday has been the bright spot of my week, every week. It’s given me the license to be completely silly and irrelevant when I want to be, and it’s also given me the platform to speak out about things that I care about like mental health and housing reform and racial justice and Duke’s elitism and its often flawed policies.
All things considered, it’s actually been really cool to be Gossip Girl/Lady Whistledown while the world has been on fire and everything has been awful. I mean, it sucks that the world has been on fire and that everything has been awful, but neat that I get vanity points, right? I’ll always be the one-and-only Monday Monday of the Zoom-SymMon-Mask-Wearing-Surveillance-Testing era.
I couldn’t have done this without all of the people, organizations, and institutional structures that let me roast them. Thanks, first of all, to all of the subjects of my satire for being great sports. Thanks to the Duke Parents page for always gassing up my articles! I love you guys! Thanks to Duke University Improv for letting me make a documentary about them and also for being my truest family here. Thanks Mihir, for being a class act of a creative collaborator and an even better friend. Thanks Mom, for not allowing me to listen to self-hate on my worst days. Thanks Dad, for walking beside me and leading the way at the same time. Thanks to my brother Jake, for giving me the line “If I catch the plague they’ll throw me in the Gulag,” which I used to open my first ever column as Monday Monday.
As I sit here ready to graduate and fade into little specks of light like Master Oogway does in the critically acclaimed 2008 film Kung Fu Panda, I’ve gotta be honest: I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of myself for making it through; this particular batshit year, but also the entire thing. It’s been really hard to be funny while everything that’s been happening has been happening, and I am really really proud of myself for getting up every day and trying, and failing a lot but still getting back up and trying again.
You should be proud of yourself too. You should be proud of yourself for having gotten out of bed and done college a single day of your life, pandemic or no pandemic. Because college is really hard! And that is not said enough!
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You guys have helped me find a lot of light. When I was on the phone with that woman and we laughed together, that small spark lit up the vantablack sealed underground bunker that was my life. Now, though, there are sparks like that everywhere. I feel their warmth every day. I cherish them because I know their worth, but I do not cling to them because I know they’re all around me. The story of the last year of my life has been the story of fighting tooth and nail to stay alive and, in the process, coming up with a list of reasons that this life is worth living and why I don’t have to fight to keep it, or work to be worthy of it. I am enough, just as I am.
This has been my favorite thing that I have done at Duke. I say without an ounce of exaggeration that it has been the honor of my college career to serve as your plague jester.
My name is CJ Cruz, and I have been your Monday Monday. Thank you for reading.
CJ Cruz is a trinity senior.
The national suicide prevention hotline is 800-273-8255. They will tell you jokes if you ask.