Life before the pandemic. What was that like? Hmm.
Does anyone recall the time when huddling together in crowds of 50 at parties was acceptable? Does anyone remember listening to television without hearing the dreaded phrase “during these trying times” during just about every commercial break?
I’ll tell you what I was doing pre-pandemic. Absolutely nothing. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Maybe it is to a certain extent.
I was your typical lackadaisical, undisciplined high school freshman. I seldom studied; I cared more about guffawing with my friends during lunch and after school than earning decent marks. I indulged in juvenile pranks.
Most of all, I did not sustain interest in anything. I wanted to try out for the basketball team—never mind; I didn’t feel like attending the weekly meetings or sweating that much. Competitive debate club sounded positively intriguing--not the argument drafting; sayonara!
Perhaps I could learn a language. French sounded so sophisticated. I thought I’d give that a go. It was far too complicated. No thanks!
I had nothing going for me at the time. Moreover, I allowed the moods, attitudes, and mannerisms of my peers to permeate my manner to an unhealthy extent.
I acted as my peers did, even when it was not advantageous to me. If my peers liked a musical artist, I absolutely adored them. I shopped from the same brands they did, wore the same shoes as they, and even copied their hairdos--most of which proved immensely unflattering on me in retrospect. The entirety of my freshman year consisted of me playing an intricate game of ‘follow the leader.’
I did not know who I was or what I wanted.
That changed completely after the rapid spread of COVID-19 forced me into quarantine. I adjusted swiftly to my new lifestyle indoors. I reveled in being able to work from my bed, wrapped in a heavy blanket like a burrito, not having to lay out an outfit and spend hours forcing my insolent hair into an unflattering puff. I could eat whatever I liked-- all I had to do was walk a few feet to the fridge! And thank God-- I didn’t have to ask to use the bathroom.
I genuinely enjoyed virtual learning. I could focus solely on my work, free of environmental distractions. The novelty of it all excited me. Until it didn’t.
I soon found myself lacking. I missed my friends and was tired of staring at my phone for prolonged periods of time.
One of the unfortunate downsides of virtual learning was that it trapped me in a routine that offered little time for breaks during which I could stretch or take a jog around the block, like I so hoped I would be allowed to do. I was bored of everything-- my surroundings, online school, but most of all, myself.
That boredom could be attributed, in part, to the fact that I had not developed my own identity outside of the cliques I had associated with at school--cliques I had lost access to thanks to the pandemic. I did what they did, and I relied on them to stimulate me, entertain me. Now that I didn’t have any of that— them--I was bored out of my mind!
The pandemic forced me to confront a dreaded fact: I had no identity of my own. I hardly had any hobbies that I truly enjoyed--except binging cheesy Netflix shows and scrolling through social media. I couldn’t tell you the last book I had read. And I certainly couldn’t tell you what I aspired to become in the near future. I was a blank slate-- banal.
I can’t tell you when, exactly, I began soul-searching or the chronological order in which I began to form the pieces of my true identity, which I possess today. I can tell you it was truly life-altering. I developed hobbies; I found great passion in writing, high fashion and styling, and films. I re-ignited my childhood passion for reading, spending an estimated $150 on rows of new books ranging from the philosophical to the autobiographical. My hobbies influenced my personality and style; my love for film and writing was evident in my theatricality in conversation and manner; and I discovered a personal sartorial style that best flattered my figure.
I found genuine interest in various European languages and linguistics. I expressed a newfound effervescence in character. I began to appreciate the company I kept-- my mother and grandmother --during the pandemic and engaged frequently in intellectual conversations with them.
In other words, I began to feel an actual whole person. No longer did I worry about fitting in, much less to the point of literally copying everything done by the group. No longer did I rely on others to validate me. This has caused me to lose some dear acquaintances. Sometimes, a loss is necessary in order to experience a fundamental gain.
The pandemic brought a lot of sadness upon the world-- sadness I undoubtedly experienced at one point or another.
However, amid that sadness, I was able to smile. Smile because I had transformed into someone I liked. Smile because I finally knew what true passion was. Smile because no longer was I indifferent to what greatness the future held for me. Smile because I was me.
Alycea Gayle is a high school junior learning and living in Washington, DC. She writes a monthly blog for Esther Productions Inc.