It’s been 18 days since the world as we knew it changed. 18 days since schools sent us home, social distancing became the new normal, and face masks and latex gloves became “wardrobe essentials”. 18 days of home quarantine and counting.
One day we were in school as usual, except for the rampant rumors, like the one during fifth period that ten, ten students had tested positive for the virus. Those proved to be exaggerated, but no one knew what to make of the situation. Even today, 18 days later, no one seems to know what to expect. How much longer will this last? How much worse will things get?
We learned by email from the superintendent that school was cancelled “until further notice.” Most students and workers across the country probably found out this way, or heard an announcement from their governor that schools and non-essential businesses would be closed until further notice. Until further notice? What does that mean? Weeks? Months? What are we supposed to do? Stay at home all day, every day? It sounds like if we are careful, we may not get the virus, but I think we might go stir-crazy in the process. In our house, we have five people living under the same roof, including my grandparents. Like all families, we have our moments even in the best of times. This isn’t the best of times.
This quarantine comes as Terra and I have started to become close friends. We hit it off that very first day of the semester, about two months ago. Now, that seems like an eternity, although my sense of time is warped. It was really only 3-ish months ago that Terra and I first met. Now, we’ve become inseparable. Of course, we are physically separated, but we make sure to keep in touch and create times to chat. In fact, we may even be communicating more these days, although electronically — by phone, text, and video chat.
Sometimes, I wonder if my friendship with Terra is moving too quickly. On many levels, Terra has taken the place of Marie. While no one can ever replace Marie, my re-emergence from sadness is mostly due to my developing relationship with Terra. Should I be getting this close to Terra so fast? Just months after her death? In many respects, I was living like the walking dead. My heart was beating; I had a pulse. But otherwise, I was going through the motions, not much more alive than Marie. The only thing I could really feel was sorry for myself.
I was in a bad place. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of nothingness, drifting and woesome — until that day when I stepped in to defend Terra. After that, things changed. I started to live again. Now, I can laugh and interact “normally” in school. I sing in the shower where I am a rock star. I can argue with my mother — now there’s a sign that things are getting back to normal.
While there are still times when I think about Marie and it still hurts deep down — that may never totally heal — I am no longer looking back and dwelling on Marie. My relationship with Terra has filled the void, something I thought might never happen. I now have someone to talk about things with… someone with whom to discuss just about everything: school work, classmates, teachers, future plans, or just joke around — all that, and more.
Why is it that our relationship is so strong? Is it that Terra and I are each so amazing, or that our connection is so special? Maybe a little of both. It seems a little strange that our friendship has developed to this extent in such a short amount of time. I think some of this closeness might be because Terra’s life was so disrupted before we met. Not the same as how I was traumatized, but there’s a similarity there on some level. Surely, she was fraught with anxiety over being plunked from her comfort zone and dropped into new and unfamiliar surroundings. She must have been eager to make friends. And while I was barely feeling anything, I must have yearned deep down for affection and friendship. I just didn’t recognize it.
All it took was a spark and the friendship started to blaze. Now, in retrospect, that spark came when I first approached Terra, just as Virginia had begun to bully her. A few minutes earlier, or a few minutes later, and we might not have ever “met”. Even though Terra and I are in the same homeroom, everything might have been different with that incident.
We certainly have fun together, as well as a lot in common, even though our backgrounds and some of our beliefs are different. Such as religion: she’s religious and I’m not. She believes God has a plan and I don’t even think there is a god. We talk about this stuff from time to time. When we do, we’re respectful. I think we’re mostly curious about the other’s position, exploring who’s “right” or if there’s even a “right” answer. I suspect the coronavirus must be causing lots of people to question things differently. But most of our interests and perspectives are similar to the point where we usually see eye to eye.
One of my favorite things to do with Terra is to discuss the future. We try to make plans so that we can be together as much as possible. I used to love to do this with Marie as well. We’re about to graduate from middle school and there’s so much to talk about, from graduation to summer programs, to high school, to the 8th grade dance. In fact, just before the quarantine, Terra and I were sitting together in the library, picking next year’s classes for high school!
Wow. High school. So many options, from electives to clubs. Terra and I picked mostly the same classes, except I picked Journalism and she picked Youth Leadership. Also, I take French and she takes Spanish. But otherwise, we should be together in Honors Math, Honors Science, and Honors English. And we both will be taking Social Studies, although we could get assigned different teachers.
But here we are on Day 18, and we don’t even know if there will be High School come September, four months from now. Some people are saying schools won’t be able to open by then. How do we live in limbo with suppressed hopes and dreams? I’ve been working hard, studying and following a formal schedule, but it seems sort of pointless against a backdrop of such uncertainty. No high school? Really? is that possible? The fact that people are even questioning the coming of high school is unfathomable.
We’ve already lost so much. Parts of my youth are gone. Unrecoverable. Our eighth grade spring field trip to Washington DC has been cancelled. This was supposed to be a highlight of our middle school experience, the culmination of everything as we approach graduation. Gone. What about the 8th grade dance — our version of a middle school prom — that was supposed to be at the hotel on the last night of the DC trip? Gone. And middle school graduation? That may be gone too.
I get like this every once in a while. It’s hard not to. This is such a crazy experience, and I don’t really know how to handle it. I become self-absorbed and start feeling sorry for myself. I get bummed out that I am missing out on so much. But at least I’m alive. I am alive while many others are dying, or dead. Hundreds of people are dead from the virus in Massachusetts, thousands in the US, tens of thousands in the world. So far. And people are still dying. There doesn’t seem to be any end to the dying, So when I get like this, I try to remember that at least I am safe, healthy, and alive. Same for my family and friends. I got like this with Marie too. I would dwell on how the loss of Marie affected me, all the while it was Marie that was dying. Is this bad? Am I bad? These thoughts make me feel petty and selfish.
Still, I can’t believe that, once again, I’m having to deal with death. I don’t think I’m supposed to have to deal with the drama and trauma of death at such a young age. I’m supposed to be focusing on being a good kid, good daughter, and good student. Having fun. Laughing. Sometimes crying over little things. Now, so soon after Marie’s sudden death, I am confronted by something even more unthinkable: a pandemic that’s claiming lives all over the world. Now, again, I am having to deal with death. Not only has my best friend passed, but a pandemic has hit, and it’s killing so many people. People who have family and friends, just like Marie. It’s hard to make any sense of any of this, but I try. And I’ll keep trying.
~ ~ ~
The days have started to blur together. Every day is the same repetitive schedule. Some people probably do nothing. I have a scheduled routine for each weekday. But it’s hard to keep one day separate from the next. By our second week of quarantine, the school started to give us review work and practice sheets to “keep our minds engaged” while they figured something out, but it’s nothing like real school.
I miss going places. I especially miss seeing Terra at school, hearing her voice in person. Seeing her smile– a small, closed-lipped, corners quirked upwards grin at first, evolving into a teeth showing beam as she gets happier. I’m even starting to miss school. Anything would be better than this. Everything feels bland. At school, before Terra showed up, I used to isolate myself from the other students. Maybe, if I’d known that soon I would be forced into this seemingly endless quarantine, I would have made more of an effort to interact with my fellow students. For now though, I’m stuck at home 24/7 with the same surroundings and schoolwork that doesn’t really teach me anything.
“Terra!” My mother shouts up the stairs. “Where are you? It’s about to start!”
“I’m coming!” I call back as I type one final sentence on my laptop. I shut my computer before sprinting downstairs to my parents’ office. That’s where we keep the monitor with the biggest screen.
“Oh good,” she sighs upon seeing me. She beckons to me with a wave of her arm. “Come over here,” she says. I walk over to where they sit on the study chairs, and my mom pulls me over to sit in between them. “We don’t want to be late for the service,” she frets.
My mother is referring to our Sunday church service, which is now streamed live on YouTube. About a week after the quarantine began in our area, our priest sent out an email informing everyone that our weekly church services would be moved online. Since then, we have been tuning in every Sunday, at the same time we would usually go to church, to listen to his sermons. Of course, we do this in our PJs instead of our Sunday best. I guess that’s a good thing. Small things have become big things. Hanging out in our PJs is sort of fun and cozy, but it’s starting to get old.
I haven’t seen anyone other than my family members in person for a couple of weeks now. Every day, my parents call in to their work meetings, and I go through my classes via video chat. I haven’t even talked to Anna in a while, and I can’t remember the last time I went outside for an extended period of time…
Abruptly realizing I’d tuned out, I refocus as the priest mentions an event. Something about making baked goods to support our local healthcare workers. At that, I perk up. I remember Anna liked making cupcakes… I think she was even telling me on the phone the other day about these special dark chocolate cupcakes she used to make. I know she hasn’t made any in a while… since her friend died, but maybe she can teach me, and we can make them together for the event! Well… as “together” as over a video chat can be. When the service ends, I pick up the phone to call Anna.
“Hello?” Anna’s voice rings out over the telephone.
“Hey, Anna,” I start. “I just had the best idea!”
I listen as Terra describes the baking event for the healthcare workers on the front lines. When she finishes, I exclaim, “Terra, that’s a great idea! What are you going to bake?”
“Well…” She starts, “I was thinking you could teach me to make those special dark chocolate cupcakes you were talking about?” I freeze for a second, just long enough for her to add, “You don’t have to if you don’t feel like it! I totally understand if that’s too touchy. I know it was something special you and…” Terra pauses. “Marie had. I-”
“No!” I cut in quickly, and Terra stops. “I’d love to teach you! Do you want to video chat on… Tuesday? I can show you how to make them then?” And although we’re only talking over the phone, I swear I can see Terra beaming her wide, happy grin.
“Great!” She says. “I’ll see you then!” And she hangs up.
At that point, laying on my bed, I stare up at the cracked, aging paint of my ceiling. Lost in blank thought, I mindlessly inspect the peeling coat. After a bit of suspended time, I start to move, pushing off my bed to get up, and heading downstairs to the pantry in the kitchen. Opening the cabinet doors and moving aside a bag of coffee grains, two unused bags of dark chocolate are revealed, right where I had left them since giving one to Terra the first day she came to visit me. Otherwise, the stack has been untouched since… since Marie.
I close my eyes. Take a deep breath in. A deep breath out. When I open my eyes again, I reach into the pantry and extract one of the bags. One hand braced on the cabinet door, I bring it to my nose and take a deep breath in. The bittersweet scent of dark chocolate hits my nose, filling me with the aroma of childhood memories and nostalgia from just a few months ago when I was making dark chocolate cupcakes for Marie. Not long ago on the calendar, but yet a lifetime away. A wave of solemness hits me as I return it to its place on the shelf.
“Well, at least I know it’s still good,” I mutter to myself. Taking another deep breath, I close the pantry doors. It’ll be good to finally use those bags. They certainly don’t do anyone any good just sitting there. At least this way I’ll be using them to support local healthcare workers. Maybe even the same ones who took care of Marie. The possibility hits me suddenly and I feel as though I’ve just tripped over my own thoughts. Then, I nod my head resolutely. Yes, this is the right thing to do. And with that, I walk away from the bags of dark chocolate sitting behind the closed pantry doors. I walk away feeling lighter than before. Maybe I’ll even have one of those cupcakes.