“how sad and bad and mad it was – but then, how it was sweet”
― Robert Browning
March 1, 2021
It’s a little past 10 in the evening, when my phone’s notification tone sends a ripple of anticipation through my heart and soul. Well aware of what it’s for, I check just to convince myself of how real all of this is. Students have to report at 10 am tomorrow to collect their end-of-term results and new textbooks along with their parents, so the teachers can discuss grade 12 options.
Last year this time, I was a carefree 16 year old, thrilled at the idea of a summer break that I knew would span months. It’s barely been a year but the thought of meeting teachers and peers after a whole academic year of virtual and invisible contact founded on trust that the student was there a screen away, is terrifying.
“There is no greater sorrow
Than to recall a happy time
― Dante Alighieri
March 2, 2021
Thanks to COVID, the mask makes it almost impossible to smile, what could have been a quick and polite substitute for actual conversation, is now masked. I practice scrunching my face at weird angles so that my eyes appear like slits offering a mere semblance of a smile.
I dread imagining how my voice will carry through the mask. It doesn’t help I sound like a frog with a clogged windpipe on a normal day, the mask is going to make even that hideous voice, sound like a muffled grumble. Days and months of conveying my questions and feelings through emojis and GIFs have taken their toll on me; my voice sounds perfectly detached from life, a mere medium for human talk prompted by an unfeeling mind. I so loved having emojis smile for me when I couldn’t, having GIFs emulate my exact reactions to my friends at our kiddy jokes and recklessly curious doubts.
As the pandemic stretched on, I found myself using more of these, even though I hated the yellow of the face emojis with a passion like never before. The smiley one ended up synonymous with ‘Thank you‘, the thinking one for ‘I have no idea. You?” and the star was the standard response to teachers notifying us of new tests, ‘That’s brilliant! The tests are going to be enlightening.‘
As we approach 10 am on my clock, we’re just pulling into the school’s parking lot. When you start school for the first time ever, you get all these beautifully illustrated books with crisp pages and hardbound spines abound with colours and kindness; books that feel like they belong in a child’s hand.
The illusion deteriorates as you grow older and by the time you somehow end up in grade 12, the books are merely huge chunks of text and diagrams, hastily compiled pages with delicate covers that showcase artistic ink leaks all over the place. As much as I’m grateful for an education, these books instil in me a fear like no other.
The school’s ever so silent; no children roam these hallways now, the staff is done for the day and the classrooms have all been abandoned; the huge locks serve as evidence of the year that was stolen from us. There’s no one outside, save a man in the park; a park that has seen days when the park itself wasn’t visible owing to a huge outflow of toddlers excited and keen to try everything in there.
I see one of my teachers seated at the Reception and the feeling of nonchalance that passes through the both of us, stings my very being. Our masks give us a cold demeanour because her eyes are magnified with glasses and mine glassy with a lack of sleep. It’s hard to believe she’s still the same teacher who taught us Maths and made it seem like the most cordial subject ever. Many may have been disinterested in the subject but she was the one teacher any of us would have turned to for help, without hesitation.
We exchange pleasantries and move because everyone appears to be moving guided by an invisible hand; lost in their own worlds of expectations and dreams that just won’t be happening today. Because, for the first time ever, it’s not the students who are confused; the parents and teachers are just as lost as we are.
“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”
― Carson McCullers
I see my classmates in person, for the first time. They’re almost like I remember them from before, but there’s a pall of indifference over all of them. Our parents speak for us, while we sit motionless taking in every tiny detail of the classroom, we never got to call home. The way the corkboard has articles and projects from 2019 etches into our hearts yet another reminder of the school year that existed, but we didn’t live through. There are 20 chairs in the room and with 10 students, the classroom seems strangely out of place in itself, its shelves and boards pleading for a child’s touch.
No one really talks other than the usual ‘How are you?’ and ‘See you later’. We’ve all grown so conditioned to online talk, it seems like everyone’s been caught off guard, by having to talk to actual humans. No one’s voice carries through the mask, the way they expect it to, and everything is repeated twice and thrice. After a few minutes or so of grumbled speech and awkward glances, because we didn’t have emojis to convey our pretend moods, we leave only to return the next day for an actual class.
“Grown up, and that is a terribly hard thing to do. It is much easier to skip it and go from one childhood to another.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
March 28, 2021
It’s not too different now but it’s better. We’ve grown used to the masks on our faces so much that they feel like they’re a part of us. With just 10 students, we’ve accepted the other for friends because this is our last year of school and there’s no time to get selective about friends or teachers.
We’ve gotten to know our teachers a bit more, that they don’t seem like strangers anymore. Smiling is still a masked procedure but all of us have mastered the act of bulging out our cheeks and scrunching our eyes, that our faces appear childishly happy.
When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”
― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Realising that the world is just another school and acknowledging my need to remain a life long student, I doubt I’ll ever miss school because every remaining day of my life is going to be just another version of all the ‘Back To School‘s I’ve had the privilege of living through.
It feels good to be given homework, scolded for our bad performances on tests and questioned frequently about our lives, and treated like young children. Because, when this is all over and we’re thrust into college and the world; it’s not school that we’ll miss the most but this precious feeling of being considered a child and the teachers’ kind mercy in seeing the child in us even when we desperately try to appear like grown ups.
“The past is a candle at great distance: too close to let you quit, too far to comfort you.”
― Amy Bloom, Away
Introverted Thoughts aka D
The above is based off on what’s been happening recently; I suppose it counts as a ‘life update’ in a way. A lot of it was inspired by my diary entries from the mentioned days. School really feels weird now; in just a year of online classes, it truly feels like all of us lost something that made us seem more human. I hope you enjoyed reading this little write-up! A quick shout-out and huge thank you to Anna and Diamond for reading beforehand!