New York — By Vinay Hinduja
Reprinted from Represent, with permission by Youth Communication, a nonprofit publisher of teen-written stories and curriculum to help educators strengthen the social and emotional skills of youth.
Until the pandemic, I never realized how important it was to see faces. Having to wear masks leaves us in a weird spot where we can’t tell what people are feeling, which makes me feel disconnected. I also miss hanging out with friends without having to worry about our health. And I especially miss the classroom dynamic that has completely vanished with remote learning.
I didn’t understand how bad it would get. I am a senior in college, and on paper, remote learning sounded awesome when it started last year. I no longer had to get up early to get ready for class, which was great at first. But after that first semester of spring 2020, remote learning got old.
I missed — and still miss, 14 months later — being in a classroom and seeing my peers. Being together in the classroom forced us to interact and now that our classes are completely remote, that’s no longer possible. Now, all I see is a wall of dark boxes filled with names. Our professors are never strict about keeping our webcams on, so almost everyone keeps theirs off. Interaction is almost impossible.
The isolation and fear of living under COVID caused me to struggle with severe depression and anxiety. Worries about the future compounded my anxiety. I will be graduating soon and will have to navigate the independent adult world. COVID caused many businesses to shut down and has made looking for a job even more difficult than before. I began to lose hope that society would ever go back to normal.
My foster dad is diabetic, which makes him more vulnerable to COVID. Even though he has been eligible for the vaccine for a while now, he is scared of the side effects because of horror stories he’s heard. My foster mother and I have tried to convince him to get it because we both work full-time. We could contract the virus and infect him. If I ever contracted COVID and passed it on to him, I don’t know what I’d do.
Back in November, when they first announced the vaccine would soon be ready, I shared my foster father’s doubts. Then social media and CNN broadcast that people were getting blood clots from the vaccine, which I found terrifying — even though later analysis showed that the chance of getting a blood clot from COVID was almost 10 times higher than from the vaccine.
It was my friends who first shifted my thinking. Five of my friends are nurses, and they all got vaccinated in the winter. Once I saw that they were fine, I felt grateful and wanted to join them. I wanted to be part of beating the pandemic.
The final push for me to get the vaccine was a scare at my job in April. I’d only been working at T-Mobile for two weeks when my manager told me, “One of our employees tested positive for COVID, so you have to go get tested immediately.”
It caught me off guard. I had to figure out where to get tested. I tried an urgent care facility a few doors down from my T-Mobile store, but they said they wouldn’t take my insurance. So I ended up walking an hour and a half to another facility that did. It felt like the longest walk ever, because I was just in my head, assuming the worst and wondering what I’d do if I tested positive. It’s hard to keep distance in my foster parents’ apartment because it’s quite small. I wondered if I should even go back home.
I did, but I had to wear a mask in the house for a week till I got my results. It was annoying, but it gave me a slight sense of security. I had a lot of anxiety that week. I avoided my foster dad and constantly checked to see if my results were in. Thankfully, I came out negative.
My coworker suffered quite a bit and was out of work for about three weeks. He’s doing better, but he said ever since he caught COVID, he hasn’t felt right.
The second I found out I was eligible, I scrambled to find an appointment. I didn’t care if it clashed with my work or school schedules. I wanted to not only lower the risk for my foster dad, but to also show him that he will be fine once he’s taken it.
I received my first dose of Pfizer on April 19. I was nervous, but I experienced no side effects except slight arm pain for a few days. I went straight to work after the shot.
I got my second dose on May 10. I was a little nervous because I heard some people feel sick for a few days after the second dose, and sure enough, I had chills and a slight fever for a few days.
But that discomfort is far outweighed by how much receiving the vaccine has reduced my anxiety. It had gotten to the point where every time I saw someone not wearing a mask outside, I got anxious, and I can’t wait for that fear to dissipate.
I look forward to spending time with my vaccinated friends. I can’t wait to see their faces, to see how they are really feeling and what they look like. I’m so tired of only seeing eyes and foreheads unless it’s on a screen. I am excited to go to movies and restaurants again.
I plan to go to graduate school to get an MFA. Zoom has created an environment where the majority of the class feels like they don’t have to participate, and I can’t wait to be back in the classroom with fellow writers in person. We’ll all be sitting at our desks, looking right at each other with no distractions, fully engaged in the content of our classes.