Bird’s Eye View: Coming-of-age during a global pandemic

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Meliha Anthony

I was one of those middle schoolers who went through an intense dystopian novel phase. I read everything, from “The Hunger Games” to “Divergent” to “1984” toThe Handmaid’s Tale.” I think there is some part of us that, in normal times, craves the excitement and adventure of a dystopian setting, but after 2020, I can truthfully say that it’s overrated. 

Back in March, I was ecstatic when it was announced that school would shut down for two weeks. I felt overwhelmed with school work and craved a break. Would I have been quite so happy if I knew I’d still be home from school, sitting in bed taking online tests, 10 months later? Probably not. 

So, we began to adjust to the strange circumstances that COVID-19 had brought us. My siblings and I stopped hanging out with our friends. My mom stocked up on groceries and toilet paper. Each member of my family took a different corner of the house to do our work in. My sister and I binged “The Office” together and became addicted to Taylor Swift — two things I actually never thought would happen, but when every aspect of life is uncertain, you need something a little more lighthearted to keep you going. We celebrated holidays and birthdays at home, just the five of us. And for the first two months of quarantine, I didn’t leave my house except for the occasional walk around my neighborhood. 

Creativity in my household blossomed. I learned to embroider, my sister learned to crochet, and my brother learned how to bake bread and began attempts at carving bow-and-arrow sets — I suppose there was something about being stuck at home that made us feel inclined towards traditional domestic activities. My sister and I began a collaborative effort at advertising the baked goods that she sells; every time she cooked, I had to grab my camera and take photographs for her social media. One day, my siblings and I set up our very own home movie theater in our basement, complete with blankets and a concession stand, and watched “Megamind.” Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.

Time passed and our knowledge of COVID grew. We cautiously changed our rules, spending time with people again — rejoining society, yay! — but only outdoors. I went hiking more often with my family, and then to a drive-in movie theater for the first time to see “Grease.” Lockridge Park became my home away from home, as my friends and I had picnics, planned elaborate photoshoots with each other, took walks talking about our hopes and fears for the future, and even swam a couple times. My family and I went camping four times in place of our normal vacations. I photographed and wrote about a myriad of topics, ranging from a protest, to a Hindu temple that we came upon while camping in West Virginia.

School started up again in the fall, and we faced yet another school year filled with uncertainty. But, I found ways to make it somewhat brighter. I finally got my driver’s license after procrastinating on it for a year, and despite quarantine, enjoyed some of the freedom that comes with that. A couple weeks later, I joined forces with a friend and raised over $2,000 to support childhood cancer research. We shaved our heads at the end, which turned out to be empowering for more than just ridding ourselves of the hair that often defines us as women: It felt impossibly humbling and gratifying to do something charitable in a time when it seems like people are no longer there for one another. 

And now? Now, I’m at the end of the college application process, with absolutely no inkling of what next year will look like. If “unprecedented” isn’t the word of the year, I don’t know what is. And in just a few days, I’ll be spending my 18th birthday in quarantine — although that does mean ordering Chinese food and eating it on the couch with my family, so I can’t really complain.

This year was supposed to be a lot of things. But because it wasn’t what I expected, I’ve learned that you can’t always plan or expect certain things to happen just because they’re “supposed” to happen that way. Along with my friends and family, I’ve found ways to cope throughout all of these insane, surreal circumstances, growing as a person despite it. But, I make it sound so much easier than it really is. I’ve cried a lot. I’ve lost a friendship. And, like all of us, I’ve had to deal with the sheer gravity of how much death and struggle and hurt has occurred worldwide in the past year. The truth is, I don’t have any kind of inspiring message or call-to-action to end this with. I don’t necessarily like that I’ll always remember these months as a formative time in my life. But, that’s the reality: life isn’t what I expected it to be — it’s complete chaos, actually — and I’m just living each day the best I can under the circumstances.