Two stories in one. Two attitudes in the same but different worlds.
Monday morning welcomes partly sunny skies and mournful breakfast sandwiches. 8 a.m wake up call also calls for drip coffee from the same percolator machine on the kitchen counter. Add a splash of milk and a whole teaspoon of white sugar, stir until combined. Toast from the fridge is almost molding, but it gets eaten anyway. Butter it up and call that a student’s healthy daily routine before class on the internet.
A year into a worldwide pandemic should equal more peace than when it first started. A whole year to adjust and collaborate with your thoughts and values. Yet, why does Marissa pick at her fingernails more than before? Why does the skin peel back further and further, bleeding sometimes, hurting most times. Why does the sound of a teacher’s voice spark tightness in her chest, flaming worry for being called on. It isn’t easy turning your mic on for a discussion. It is already hard enough to pay attention as is.
8:40 a.m, half an hour in. The lesson today is about current events in the world. A student called Mark speaks on behalf of Palestinian people and their suffering across the globe. A student named Aleema brought up Mulsim’s treatment in France recently. Another student wonders about the police brutality dispute in the States. But she, eyes closing at the side of her desk with an empty coffee cup, had nothing to add. And it builds on her guilt for not ‘caring’ about her own opinion or voice. A ‘voice’ during online school is as invisible as the wifi every computer in the neighbourhood is connected to. Everyone knows you’re there, but you stay hidden behind the sheets. You should feel guilty, guilty….
Lunch time arrives and the sun is peeking out more than in the morning. Should she take a step out and at least enjoy a meal outdoors? No point. Another class begins soon. Maybe ditch it and go on a walk–also a bad idea. It is even more embarrassing to flunk a class you can cheat your way to passing. Instead, Marissa makes a peanut butter and jam sandwich, barely feeling hunger to begin with. It is bland. It is basic. It makes her miss cafeteria lunches from high school, no matter how sketchy they were. It brings back bittersweet memories of campus eating experiences–a new restaurant every week. A small group of friends travel through campus to find a restaurant or food truck, indulging in overpriced food that bonded such novel friends. With each bite of her sandwich, the peanut butter sticks to the corners of her mouth. Her tongue slides past her teeth and gums to clear her palette. Every time she ate white toast bread, the little bulge at the bottom of her abdomen, right under the belly button, would expand. It seemed as though with every day that passed, the bulge got bigger. It didn’t look like bloating anymore. It didn’t look like a gluten sensitivity anymore. It was fat. It was gained-weight that she didn’t need. Another bite, two more to finish…
As the last class comes to a close, three minutes before three o’clock in the afternoon, she lets out a sigh and leans back in the chair. Eyes closing, body aching, it is the usual feeling that is brought about. The outside skies embrace full sun now. It even looks warm now. Too bad she can’t go for a walk or bike ride. Around every corner of the street sits a police officer in full uniform, ready to holler a command at any pedestrian out of bounds.
Down the street lives Daunte and his full house of six people. Living with four siblings and two parents is all fun and games until a pandemic hits–and it takes less than a week to become sick of each other. In a small suburban house, having your own bedroom is a blessing, and Daunte was blessed. However, during the peak hours of school through his laptop, that room shifts its energy. It becomes a closet. It shrinks in size and not even an open window above his desk could cure the condition his walls developed after March 2020.
That morning starts off well for him. After cleaning up in the shared upstairs floor washroom before his older sister came pounding on the door, he attempted a workout. His thick curly hair stuffed into a durrag neatly made him feel put together. Those curls would have been growing so long, if only his barber was open to fix them up. It’s torture to watch yourself grow messier and out of shape. Those workouts barely put a dent in his physical shape, which needs to be in a top-tier position for soccer. Soccer–a team that hasn’t existed for too long now.
His girlfriend, Julia, has been keeping it together much more than he. The other day, she went on a run in the morning, made meals like a smoothie for breakfast and salad for lunch, then worked out again in the evening. During the hours of school, she actually pays attention (for the most part). Daunte knows this because when he texts her during an online lesson, she doesn’t respond right away like usual. “Sorry, I was taking notes” or “Lemme finish this exercise first”. For someone like him, people like her are irritating. She had everything to put together. When he has one “off day”, the guilt eats him alive. Julia doesn’t have bad days. Or so, if she does, he never knows about them.
It’s a pandemic. How can anyone keep their life together? The world is basically falling apart. Everything is through a screen and people like Daunte, scared of getting sick, truly stay home. He hadn’t hugged Julia in months. Sometimes he sits alone at night, eyes closed, trying to remember the physical touch of old habits. Hugging Julia from behind at school. Play fighting on the field. Dabbing up his friends. Kissing his girl. Touching her hair. Hugging his grand-parents instead of saying hello from the sidewalk of their old home. They are all memories now. Memories that are starting to feel more and more buried in the subconscious of his brain.
The next day, Daunte slept through his first class. There was no bright sun in the morning due to pouring rain and thick, grey clouds. That made it too easy to fall deep into sleep even after his iphone alarm went off multiple times.
It’s now too late to join the Zoom call, so he opts for a full morning off. For the afternoon, he’ll go online. Now, it’s breakfast time. He could hear his mother on the phone from work in one part of the house on the main floor. His two brothers were sitting on the living room sofa. His father, not home. His sister probably was locked in her bedroom. The kitchen is empty all for him.
After making a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal and pouring a glass of orange juice, he sits at the table and begins to go through Tiktok on his cell phone. The funny videos put a smile on his face every few seconds. They’re usually pretty entertaining.
“Hey,” his mom walks in now. Her phone is still on as she holds it in one hand and leans up against the table with the other. “What’s up? No class?”
“I slept in,” he says without, making eyes with her.
“Seriously?” she sighs and walks away. “Don’t make that a habit.”
“I know. Who were you on the phone with?”
She pours a cup of coffee for herself and then starts to play with her hair. Daunte likes it when she wears it naturally. “Um, grandma.”
“Everything okay?” He notices she looks concerned.
“Not really, baby. Your uncle went to pick her up just now to take her to the urgent care clinic. She’s having difficulty breathing.”
“Shit…” Daunte puts his phone down. “Anything we can do?” He walks over to her.
“No, no. They’ll take care of her. God, I hope it’s not the virus.” She rubs her forehead in discomfort, but before she can say anything else, Daunte puts an arm around her. Recently, he has grown at least three more inches since last season. He towers over her now. It’s one of those things that a son does not realize means a lot until he’s taller than his mother. Daunte’s protection instincts click in more often. Now is one of those times.
“Let me know if there’s anything I can do.”
She nods, “Go do your school work.”
A few days went by. Grandma ends up in the Emergency room.
A few more days went by. She passes away from COVID-19 and becomes a number on the list, a statistic for the country, and a memory for Daunte.