Before the pandemic, he would have said he was a kid on his way to a scholarship, maybe even to a college like Northwestern, where his father briefly studied before dropping out. When obsessed with the musical Hamilton in seventh grade, he read the Federalist Papers to see what they had to say. He played as Macbeth in a school production and liked it so much that he read other Shakespeare plays for fun. He never wanted to sound conceited, but in the past he would have said school came easily. At the same time, he found everything overwhelming at times. As a black teenager now approaching six feet, he was very much aware of what his mother’s – a PhD school administrator – expected were. – went against the expectations of the rest of the world. “To keep proving these stereotypes wrong,” he said, “it costs me a lot.”
And then, last spring, when the school closed its doors, he was left alone with thoughts that had been waiting for that very opportunity – for an enormous amount of time and space. These new thoughts flooded in, leaving little room for concern about Othello’s motivation or the subjunctive in French. More and more, when he was alone in his room, there was only one voice, and that voice told Charles that no matter how promising his start was, that he would surely follow what he saw as his father’s downward slide felt. His fate was failure.
For the first few days of the school year, Charles’ laptop kept crashing during Zooms, which felt like a metaphor for what the whole year would bring: a big mess, a break, a technological headache he was left to solve. In the following weeks the days were empty and long; The more time that voice had, the louder it got and the harder it was to get out of it. Since he did all of his chores in his bedroom, it was easy to go back to sleep after his first grade if he made it to his first grade. “Then when I woke up, I could either a) get up and do what I had to do,” he said, trying to grasp his typical schedule, “or b) look at the time, be disappointed in myself, and go back to bed . “During distance learning, attendance was not included in a student’s final grade. Charles not only skipped classes – he hardly ever placed any assignments. And suddenly there he was, no longer an A child, but already a child that had blown it so early in the semester.
The voice in his head exhausted him so that Charles began to sleep more during the day. Sometimes the voice frightened him. His heart would start pounding and he would feel overwhelmed by a sense of an impending crisis: it was all over and there was nothing he could do about it. It was too late.
How could EK possibly get him out of the hole he was in? She had no idea how big it was already. At the beginning of October he decided to stay with Zoom after class when she offered to help all the students who were left behind. At least he could tell his mother that he had tried. He stayed and Sarah, a classmate everyone liked. She cheered and he played JV football, but they didn’t move in the same circles. She really was a smiley face – he considered her one of those people who were always happy.
When Sarah stayed After class to attend this additional help session with Ms. EK in early October, she was surprised to see Charles was there too. Charles, she had already learned, was smart. He often had an answer to everything Mrs. EK asked; In fact, the students had quickly relied on him to save them all from the silence that often hung in the air in their online courses. While talking to each other and Ms. EK that day, Charles and Sarah quickly found common ground and diagnosed their common problems: lack of motivation, loneliness, a feeling of hopelessness. Charles suggested that Sarah might need help, to which Sarah said, What about you?
During that conversation, Sarah told the first of many lies she would tell her teachers, mother, and herself over the coming months. OK, she would say, I’m ready to turn a new leaf. Now I’m really going to apply. But she still rarely made it to class. When her laptop died in the middle of a zoom, she decided that this was God’s way of telling her that she had done enough for the day. About six weeks into school, her mother, whose health was still shaky, whose mind was still foggy, looked at a mid-term academic assessment that landed in her email inbox and said, “What do all these NHIs mean?” Sarah said : “Huh, I don’t know”, as if she wanted to decipher one of the great bureaucratic secrets of her time, even though she knew exactly what they stood for: not given up. She got used to piling up emails from teachers. “Just make sure you saw it. … “” A reminder that your essay. … ”Everyone wanted something from her. Whoa, whoa, whoa. She would come back to them – someday.