Before the pandemic, he reportedly said he was a kid on track for a scholarship later, possibly even at a college like Northwestern, where his father studied briefly before moving. When he became obsessed with the musical “Hamilton” in seventh grade, he went ahead and read the Federalist Papers just to see what they had to say. He played Macbeth in a school production and liked it so much that he read other Shakespeare plays for fun. He never wanted to appear conceited, but in the past he would have said that school came easily. At the same time, he sometimes found it all overwhelming. As a black teenager now approaching six feet, he was keenly aware of how his mother expected – a school administrator with a doctorate. – ran up against the expectations of the rest of the world. “To keep proving these stereotypes wrong,” he said, “it takes a lot of stuff from me.”
And then last spring, when the school closed, he found himself alone with thoughts that awaited, it turned out, that kind of opportunity – for vast amounts of time and space. These new thoughts poured in, leaving little room for worries 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 he was doomed to fail, no matter how promising his debut he would surely follow what he perceived as his father’s descent. . His fate was a failure.
In the very first days of the school year, Charles’s laptop kept crashing during Zooms, which started to sound like a metaphor for what the whole year was going to bring: a big mess, a disconnect. , a technological headache to which he was left to himself. solve. In the weeks that followed, the days loomed empty and long; the more time this voice had, the more it grew and the harder it was to get out from under it. Because he did all his work in his bedroom, it was easy to fall back to sleep after his first class, if he made it to his first class. “Then when I woke up, I could either a) get up and do whatever I had to do,” he said, trying to capture his typical schedule, “or b) watch the hour, be disappointed in myself and go back to bed. During distance learning, attendance was not taken into account in the student’s final grade. However, Charles didn’t just skip classes – he barely handed in homework. And suddenly he was there, not a kid who had A’s but already a kid who had blown him up so early in the semester.
The voice in his head was exhausting him, so Charles began to sleep more, even during the day. Sometimes the voice scared him. His heart began to beat and he felt overwhelmed by a feeling of impending crisis: it was all over, and there was nothing he could do about it. It was too late.
How was EK going to get him out of the hole he was in? She had no idea how big it was already. Even still, in early October, he decided to linger after class, on Zoom, when she offered to help the students who were falling behind. At the very least, he could tell his mother that he had made an effort. He remained, just like Sarah, a classmate that everyone loved. She did Cheer and he played JV football, but they didn’t play in the same circles. She was really smiling – he considered her one of those happy people at all times.
When Sarah stayed after class to attend this extra help session with Mrs. EK in early October, she was surprised to see that Charles was there too. Charles, she had gleaned before, was smart. He often had an answer to whatever Mrs. EK asked; in fact, students quickly came to rely on him to save them all from the silences that often hung in the air in their online lessons. Speaking with Ms. EK that day, Charles and Sarah quickly found common ground and diagnosed their common issues: lack of motivation, loneliness, feelings of hopelessness. Charles suggested that Sarah might need help, to which Sarah said: How about you?
During this conversation, Sarah told the first of many lies she would tell to her teachers, to her mother, and to herself over the next few months. Okay, she said, I am ready to turn a new leaf. Now I will really apply myself. But she rarely shows up in class. If her laptop died in the middle of a Zoom, she decided that was God’s way of telling her that she had done enough for the day. About six weeks into school, her mother, her health still fragile, her mind still foggy, went through an Intermediate Academic Assessment that landed in her inbox and said, “What do all these NHI mean?” Sarah said, “Uh, I don’t know,” as if she was trying to decode one of the great bureaucratic mysteries of her time, when in fact she knew exactly what they stood for: not delivered. She got used to the emails from the heaving teachers. “I’m just making sure I see. … ”“ A reminder that your essay. … ”Everyone wanted something from her. Whoa, whoa, whoa. She would come back to them – eventually.