Two months before my school shut down, the coronavirus didn’t feel like my problem. In my mind, it was just another headline-grabber that was out of my control and didn’t really impact my life, roped in with the downing of the Ukrainian plane in Iran and the resulting protests, or the helicopter crash that resulted in Kobe Bryant and his daughter passing away. In school, the only time that I found myself talking about coronavirus was in our Asian-American Club, and those conversations were about microaggressions, not about public health and safety. Instead of constantly refreshing global coronavirus counters, I was constantly refreshing the delegate counts of Democratic candidates on the nights of primaries and caucuses.
When my school closed on March 12th, the coronavirus felt like the problem behind all other problems. My friends and I were cast into a whirlwind of uncertainty. As high school juniors applying to college in the fall, we were already stressed, prior to the global pandemic. After the effects of coronavirus manifested in our lives, that stress became tinged with hopelessness, because the vision we had for the end of our year had collapsed. Standardized testing dates were canceled or postponed, college campuses were closed for visits, and school, the place that we had been going to in some physical, tangible form for the past 11 years of our life, was going to occur remotely.
On the first day of online school, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was different. But it wasn’t necessarily different in a negative way. My teachers had done a remarkable job adapting to the online format, and I had a good day. I remember thinking that I didn’t mind partaking in online school for a few weeks. I remember thinking that I could get used to the format.
Weeks have dragged into months, and I’m still not used to online school. Every morning, I wake up internally groaning at the hours that I am about to spend staring at a screen. I want to sit at a desk with other desks on either side of me, watching my teachers write on whiteboards. I want to draw smiley faces on my neighbor’s notebook when we are bored. I want to see my friends, and hug them, and talk to them without the incessant static in the background that occasionally gets interrupted by the bark of a dog or poor connection.
Poor connection. That’s what I feel like most of my friendships have morphed into. In school, I could see people, even when they weren’t in my classes. I could walk with a friend to their locker, and we could share a laugh and feel connected. Now, I don’t talk to my hallway friends. Sure, group chats exist, but I can’t FaceTime everybody when each conversation lasts an hour because the sporadic 5-minute conversations that we all used to have in the hallways between classes have been consolidated into a single lengthy one. A feeling of helplessness arises when I want to talk to everyone who I care about every single day, like I used to, but I no longer have the time or energy to do.
Despite the daunting nature of the task of adjusting to life in isolation, I think I am slowly starting to get used to this “new normal” and find hidden positives. I no longer race to my laptop every morning to refresh coronavirus counters; I think it’s probably been a week since I looked at the numbers. I can go for a run everyday. I can play piano everyday. I can attend webinars and presentations and seminars and club meetings that I would have never had time to attend had I been living a normal junior year.
Also, I’ve noticed that I have become more confident in my opinions. Being distanced from people makes me care less about what they think of me. It’s so much easier to not care when someone criticizes me for speaking out on social media about institutionalized racism than to be scared about what they will say to me in person. It’s so much easier to push back against the people who say that Black Lives Matter activists are harassing the police and being hypocrites when I can send them a well-written essay rather than treat them with a verbal rant. I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately, and it has really helped me consolidate my thoughts and emotions and reflect on who I am as a person. This piece is no exception.