Opinion: My awkward first day of school

Sara Brownlee, Staff Writer

Art by Grace Tseng

My alarm woke me up an hour earlier than it had on every other school day. Until this day, I could wait five minutes before my class would start to get out of bed. But today was different, today I had to get dressed and actually look presentable, because today, March 17, was my first day back at school. I couldn’t just turn my camera off if I didn’t want to be seen or mute myself if I didn’t want to be heard. Four days after the anniversary of the end of the world and I was finally getting the sense of normalcy I needed.

I washed my  face, brushed my teeth, got dressed, brushed my hair, and ate breakfast. All in 30 minutes? I haven’t done that since last March. Of course, my mom refused to let me leave without the awkward “first day of school” picture that happens every year. I think she’s about seven months late, but it’s the thought that counts.

Walking outside Wednesday morning rekindled a feeling that I had completely forgotten. The smell of wet grass and cold air. The bright sun at just the right angle to blind anyone driving that direction. Some would think it smells like any other morning but, to me, the entire feeling is different. I’ve gotten up this early to go to work many times but the anticipation of going to campus is something I haven’t felt in over a year.

Cranking the heat and the music up, I started my treacherous two-minute drive to school. I haven’t walked to school since last March and I’m not about to start now. Driving was less of a pain now that there were literally 0 cars on the road. Westview traffic is officially a thing of the past.

I pulled into the near-empty theatre lot and parked. I got out of the car, gathered my things, and shut the door. As soon as it shut, I was immediately aware of my naked face so I dug through my bag and found my mask. You’d think after a year it would be impossible to forget but sometimes I still manage to walk up to the door of the grocery store before realizing I am completely mask-less and exposed.

Walking into school was somewhat normal except for the waiver-collecting and ID-scanning. I made it through the entrance and my stomach dropped. No one is in the quad, I must be late! Then it hit me. There’s well below a quarter of Westview students here; of course the quad will be empty. I soon realized that I had no idea where my teacher’s classroom was. Unfortunately, I can’t teleport there with a Zoom link so I had to look it up on Synergy and try to find it in the mess of a layout our campus is. I saw an old friend on the way there and waved which reminded me of the little interactions I used to take for granted.

One loop around the G-building and weird look later, I opened the door of Mr. Coughlin’s room, G117, to reveal a completely empty classroom. I’m just early, right? I greeted my teacher and took a seat an awkward distance away from him, behind a giant clear, blue desk divider. I waited patiently for late peers to trickle in but still, I remained the only student in the class.

My teacher starts the Zoom call which I do not join because I’m in the class and he greeted the rest of the class through the screen. He lectured, mostly to the computer, and ended the class about an hour early. My immediate reflex was to stand up and go downstairs for a snack, but sadly there was no downstairs, and there were no snacks. I instead used the textbook to take notes, the most I have ever taken in that amount of time because I had nothing else to do. Even scrolling  through my phone in school felt wrong, taboo even. The whirring of the air filter and nature sounds from the propped open door filled the silence as I continued to work. My seasonal morning allergies decided today was a great day to act up so I spent a lot of energy not sniffing or sneezing because that would warrant a terrified look in my direction.

The period finally ended and I now have a 10-minute passing period, which feels so much longer than the normal six minutes, especially when my class is across the hall. I walk up to the door. And what’s behind or Door #2, aka J112, you might ask? Another empty classroom, another awkward greeting to the top half of my teacher’s face and another seat an awkward distance away. I sat through a sociology lecture which, to my luck, also ended early. It would have been a great time to finish my history homework if my computer didn’t die halfway through the period. Calc it is, I guess. I sat  until the end of office hours in awkward silence, only broken by those short, small talk conversations that rarely last longer than two minutes, but which feel like they drag for much longer.

Finally, it was lunch and the quad was near silent as we were missing the vast majority of students and those who were there were mostly socially distancing. There were no lines for the bathrooms, no music from the speaker, not even so much as a peep from the local seagulls. And looking back on it, there were no seagulls at all, not one. There was no food piled in the trash cans and no inconsiderate students leaving their half-eaten lunch behind so the seagulls had no purpose here. I sat with the few friends that were in in the same group as me next to the D building, I pulled down my mask for the first time in two hours and took a deep breath. The bell rang to signal the end of lunch and I walked to my next class.

I opened the door and, you guessed it, strike three: another empty classroom. There were still eight minutes left in the passing period so more students were bound to walk in, right? Wrong. Wow, I am getting some solid one-on-one time with my teachers today, huh. I sat for another whole period in a studentless room but since it was calculus I could definitely fill the silence with questions. Luckily, I had an asynchronous class fourth period so I didn’t have to risk sitting in yet another empty classroom. I could finally get the snacks I had been craving since first period. Pulling out of the parking lot felt like heaven. I never thought I’d experience the day when there were no lines of cars inching their way down the hill.

Despite the limited interaction with my peers and awkward silences with my teachers, the first day back at school left me feeling oddly motivated. I actually changed out of pajamas today and got out of the house, something that I would call an accomplishment. Being a part of the first wave of students back was honestly satisfying. It finally felt like there was some hope, hope that we were beating the virus and taking our lives back after one hell of a year.