By Anna Popnikolova, Assistant Editor in Chief

I fully understand, and at this point accept, that I am a complete and utter hypocrite. But in my defense, you never know what you’ve been missing out on until you finally experience it. 

A few weeks ago, I decided I couldn’t be remote anymore. I just couldn’t. The weather was growing warmer, I was making friends from NHS who I had never met in person, and I wanted more than anything to go to school. The normal way. I wanted to carry papers and crumple them all into my backpack, lost in the depths of stray worksheets and broken pencils forever. I wanted to dread waking up early. I wanted to prepare my outfits the night before, do my makeup, pick out my earrings and shoes. I hadn’t been able to show anyone my new clothes all year.

As much as I’d like to pretend that my decision to go into Cohort A was not almost entirely fueled by my need for style validation, the honest truth is that a large part of my reconsideration was just that. I wanted to express myself, show my bright scarf and yellow Doc Martens, and further, I wanted to be seen. I had not been seen all year, I had not been noticed, I had been no one. 

You are not just no one, but there is no one to you, either. You are unnoticed by those in school, and you do not notice them. To them, you are a figment on a laptop, and they to you are muffled voices answering questions when prompted. When you’re online, there’s a good chance that you are not paying attention. Oftentimes, I was singing along to Ricky Montgomery or making a salad, eating ice cream or playing Sims instead of listening to class. No, I’m not proud of the fact that I did not participate in much of class discussions, especially those within advisory which I shamelessly slept through, but I recognize that I need to cut myself slack. While being online, I couldn’t realize just what a toll being online had taken on me. 

Mentally, I was always exhausted, I didn’t want to work and I procrastinated far too much for my own good, collecting all the stress for the day before an assignment was due. Physically, I hadn’t made much more of a journey than that from the bed to the shower or the kitchen. I didn’t leave my house for weeks at a time. I can remember an instance where, in being prompted to call my sisters back inside, I stepped outside for the first time in nearly a month. The light— the air— the cold— it was shocking to experience The Outside after what had been far too long to be healthy. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go outside, it’s just that I had no reason to. I didn’t have to get dressed and go to school every morning. Socialization happened solely over Snapchat and once in a few months was the sparse occurrence of A Walk With A Friend. I rarely did extracurriculars that were not virtual. But I had everything I needed within the comfort of my bed and sometimes my couch. I had Hulu and I had music and writing and I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with the way I’d started living. I wasn’t missing anything. I thought I was content.

I decided that everyone who went to Cohort A was putting themselves in unnecessary danger of COVID, that they were being irresponsible. Truthfully, I judged them. I judged everyone who went in person, and I did so publicly, stating that an in-person student didn’t really need to socialize, that online was safer and better. I entirely held myself in higher regard than I did them. I was being safe for my family, I wasn’t weak like them, I was strong and smart with my chromebook and my mic/camera off at all times. Which is where that hypocrisy really shines through, when we examine my current situation, my current stance on the subject. 

The first day when, after my youngest sister ventured into the Big Wide World of In-Person School for a week or so, my other sister and I followed suit and joined the In-Person Student Society, I began to acknowledge everything that had been missing from my life. Outfits. So many outfits. All the outfits. Jewelry. Early mornings. Never having breakfast in the morning because there isn’t enough time to sleep for too long, Clothe In a Respectable Manner, gather The Essentials and have five minutes left over for cereal. Travel between classes. Hallways and stairwells dense with people. Dropping books onto the ground and then clumsily picking them up like the main character of a coming of age film. Laughing in class. People’s faces. People’s height. (I had forgotten that other people actually physically exist and height was an unfathomable concept to me for days.) Body language. Smiling. Compliments. 

My first day back, I already gathered enough validation for the rest of the school year, as my yellow Doc Martens seemed to draw as much attention as I’d hoped they would. The library. Books on paper. Worksheets on paper. Pencils. Pens. Colored inky pens. Messy handwriting. A scribbled grade at the top of a paper, a letter in red ink. I never noticed just how much I love paper grades, just how much better it is than a comment on a Google Classroom assignment. The personality that goes into handwritten pages, into hard copies, into notebooks; no matter how indelible my Bio notes are. Even just a teacher walking around the classroom to hand out a worksheet.

And if I could go back and tell me from January of this year what she should have done, I would tell her to get to school as soon as she possibly could. Quarantine was a time of self-reflection, of maturation and character development. I found a lot of my truth while I had time alone, and that is something that quarantine and being in Cohort D is to thank for. I discovered who I was, what I liked to wear, I grew as a writer and a student and a person. But there is only so much discovery one can do by themselves. I am a believer that positive socialization is incredibly important for everyday life, for health and mental well-being. When you go without it for more than a year, it can fall to the background, it can begin to seem unimportant. 

But, for me, returning to school in-person; meeting people, seeing real faces and sure, the breathlessness of running up and down the stairs and my fogged glasses from my mask, was the best decision I could have made. Honestly and hypocritically.

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