By Lyric Niv
If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve been waiting for an excuse to stay inside all day for weeks on end since I was a kid, doing nothing save watching documentaries about big cat traffickers and blindly shoving popcorn kernels into my mouth as I lay on my bed wearing the same clothing for the past three days.
I didn’t think it a sign of introversion, though, so much as it was a profound longing to escape the rigmarole of monotonous high school classes, in which my teachers commended my ability to speak in class while simultaneously handing me C’s and D’s on my assignments for the past four years. It was my own fault, I knew; I couldn’t care less about high school- I was going to be a writer, I was more concerned with getting published before the age of eighteen and becoming a contemporary S.E. Hinton than ensuring I didn’t fail my Honors Chemistry course.
And then COVID-19 came around, and with it the realization that there’s only so many hours you can waste in a single day re-watching Tiger King until Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin and big cat ownership become a string of meaningless words, and indulging in the hedonistic lifestyle you’ve craved since you were in middle school becomes boring and frankly a little filthy, considering the fact that you haven’t washed your sheets for the past several days.
There are, of course, far more pressing issues that people face today than staving off boredom. In the U.S. alone, there have been 13,000 deaths in just a few weeks. The 8,000 homeless people living in San Francisco are seeking refuge in vastly overcrowded shelters, the exact setting that public health officials have warned people to avoid under all costs. But when you’re a high school senior faced with these statistics and have little idea how you can possibly help, it’s easier to focus on your own losses rather than the far more devastating losses of those around you.
I’ve lost count how many students I’ve seen on Instagram, grieving the loss of senior prom, of Grad Nite, of the parties they’d been planning on attending, concerts they’ve been looking forward to for months. Neither can I estimate how many people I’ve seen criticizing their classmates for these solipsistic lamentations- “There are people literally DYING rn and the only thing ppl are concerned with is not going to prom,” said a friend on her Snapchat story.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve fallen under both these camps at one point or another. In the latter’s case, I’m president of Social Discussion Club, and my participation in Econ class has gotten to a point where even the most conservative kids don’t want to play devil’s advocate with me anymore. I’m well-aware of the fact that people are, as my friend said, literally dying right now. Another close friend of mine got diagnosed with lung cancer just as COVID-19 peaked in the United States, and my grandmother and aunt stayed in a hotel with a group of tourists who tested positive for Corona virus. Miraculously, they traveled back home relatively happy and healthy, but I know several people whose elderly grandparents and family members weren’t so lucky.
And yet, in the former’s case, I understand the disappointment that so many of my classmates are experiencing right now, because I’m experiencing it for myself. True, I hadn’t applied myself in high school, or particularly cared about senior events like winter formal or even prom- though I was planning on attending the latter with friends-, until the opportunities were abruptly taken from me. Combined with the weeks that we’ve been sequestered inside our homes, it’s not difficult to grasp why so many seniors are more troubled by the loss of their last year in high school than the threat of the Corona virus. There’s not much left to focus on but our losses- and for fellow homebodies who now have more time on their hands than they know what to do with, it’s difficult to avoid thinking about all the things we could’ve or should’ve done differently in high school. In a recent late-night phone call with a friend, I confessed to her that the thing I regretted most of all was never having gone to a high school party- a real high school party, I stressed, with red solo cups, and crappy mumble-rap, and some guy in the corner of the room making a bong out of a water bottle.
But I also understand that there is a kind of luxury in my being able to regret these inconsequential things. Despite the scares with my grandmother and aunt and my close friend’s cancer diagnosis at the Corona virus’s peak, we’ve been left unscathed. Comfortably middle-class, we haven’t had to deal with the same crippling financial losses that are already sweeping the nation’s blue-collar workers. My friend who got diagnosed with cancer is an outlier among friends and acquaintances who are healthier than they’ve been in a while, considering their daily walks or bike rides around their neighborhoods. It’s easy to be upset about the loss of my senior year, but that’s only because I have the free time I lacked before to romanticize it to points where I know I’ll have to skip over high school party scenes in the next A24 coming-of-age film I watch.
I’m lucky, I remind myself, as I tell Netflix that yes, in fact, I am still there.
Judge’s Comments: Here is the insight into what the high school senior class of 2020 is experiencing I have been looking for. The guilt, the carelessness, the concern, the loss, the grief, of missing out on all that many of us have had as they come of age and virtually graduate and prom, is heartbreaking and eye-opening. And for a 17- to 18-year-old, maturely written and illustrated. Well written.