A year of strange time

Reflecting on COVID-19’s effects on my family members’ perception of time

Justin Kim


t’s a Saturday. An incessant pinging from my alarm clock begins bouncing all around my room. I groan audibly and twist myself further into the knot of sheets covering my body aching from hours of Zoom on end. Rolling myself out of bed, I soon drift over to the kitchen counter like some specter and brew some green tea, when I hear my mom calling, “Don’t forget about your meeting about college apps today!” I murmur my resigned assent, yet my anxiety rises and I wonder, “Wasn’t I just a sophomore? Where did all my time go?”

That sensation of losing time has manifested itself as a frenzied panic constantly accompanying me throughout junior year and the pandemic. It used to be that a day actually felt memorable. An ordinary week felt like a leisurely stroll through Great America, full of fun rides and friends where I could take my time to experience to the fullest. Nowadays in quarantine, It’s a non-stop marathon where I run the same lap over and over again with no end in sight.

Graphic by Justin Kim

To me, it must be the never-ending view of the same stark walls and the constant fragrances of home. Always staying confined in my house and being reduced to completing my school day without a single in-person interaction with my peers or teachers is the key to my gloom. Without the reality of seeing anybody, being able to hear their words without lag and see their bodies in 3D without a rectangle frame, the terribly bland quarantine life flies past me.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I’ve given in to the dizzying whirlwind of identical Zoom days. I’ve attempted to work the system, to create truly memorable highlights that will shine through the ceaseless cycle of online school. Perhaps it’s a shopping spree or spectacularly losing some League of Legends games with my friends. But despite my efforts, the nostalgia of better days cracks the bubble of happiness at the best moments.

In particular, it’s the absurdity that once I come back to MVHS next year, I’ll be the senior, the upperclassman. The last time I was on campus for school was as a sophomore, and now I’ll be the one surrounded by younger, unfamiliar faces. It’s a clenched sensation within my gut, a sense of regret and melancholy that permeates through every cell of my body.

Graphic by Justin Kim

I used to look forward to greeting my family with a smile, basking in being able to practice Chopin with my mom and asking my dad about the latest polynomial function that showed its dirty face on my homework. In quarantine, there isn’t anything memorable to share. The talk is stale. The main course at the dinner table is the absence of conversation.

But is it just me? My sister has never seen or experienced what MVHS was like before quarantine, but for her, time seems to be more stable than ever. Despite being part of the Class of 2024’s leadership, she’s never met her team members in person, never experienced an authentic tutorial period and yet, she seems to be able to truly ground herself in each and every moment, redefining what could have been a totally unmemorable club meeting for me into something she can excitedly tell our mom.

She sees nothing to gripe about when Zoom calling her friends to discuss the upcoming Geometry test, or going to Red Cross Club meetings at the dinner table on her laptop. I have to admit, I’m envious of her relative ease in finding highlights in quarantine life. Does the fact that she’s younger than me, unaware of the in-person MVHS experience and blissfully ignorant of the encroaching dread of college allow her to transition into quarantine more smoothly?

It raises even more doubts for me that on the opposite side of the spectrum, my parents also seem to be finding the time that I so desperately crave. They have taken the motto of living life to the fullest to heart, even during lockdown. While I’m struggling to commit myself to a light and comfortable workout at home instead of club swim, my parents devote themselves to running 10 kilometers in Rancho San Antonio daily.

While I look sleep-deprived in the camera, my mother greets her piano students with a bright smile and sunny attitude every day throughout the five hours of her afternoon lessons with a two-camera setup, studio light and a Mac. As I fight to motivate myself to start my homework, my father never seems to slack off as he spends most of his day in constant video meetings with his coworkers with the door shut to his makeshift office.

No part of their headspace seems devoted toward bemoaning the lack of time that quarantine curses me with — instead, they plow ahead with goals in hand. I’m ashamed of myself of watching my family persevere through quarantine without a gloomy attitude, while I’m moping the entire time. But there’s still light at the end of the tunnel. My sister always finds the good in any quarantine moment, and my parents don’t spare any thought toward caring about the negatives. Their tenacity has shown me what I need to do if I don’t want to succumb to pessimism.

Graphic by Justin Kim

I’ve discerned the solution to my quarantine slump: time will only fly by if I let it. In simple words: I can’t manipulate time, but my perception of it is something I can control. A positive mindset of cherishing the hidden gems that I’ve failed to perceive in quarantine and refusing to let the losses pile up is the solution. I’ve started getting back into reading. I’ve refined my artistic talents. I’ve finished the SAT. All in all, I’m currently living in the middle of a pandemic, and persevering. That should be enough to make me smile.