By Monica Chan (VI)

On Friday, the thirteenth of November, I had a free period first block. My mom told me to “drive safely, it’s Friday the thirteenth.” The night before, our robot had run into a few bugs, so I decided to use my free period to go into school and try some fixes. I was really groggy that morning, bitter about sacrificing the extra hour of sleep I could have gotten as I sipped my coffee driving to school. As I turned on the robot, I posted an annoyed selfie on my private Snapchat story, captioning it, “Why am I here?” I then put my phone down and proceeded to test my code. It was all still normal. 

When the announcement was made that we were transitioning to fully remote learning, our robotics team worked in a frenzy. In a blur, we packed away the necessities, and I pulled my car around to the arts wing to load it up with everything we thought we might need in the next month. As I drove out of the familiar Pingry driveway, the sun was just setting, the sky a depressing shade of purplish grey. The time was 4:58, the first day that week I’d headed home before 5:30. It was during that drive home that it all settled inside my mind. I thought back to that picture I had posted on my private story, and a sense of regret swelled inside me. I thought to myself, “This morning may have been my last normal hour of robotics.” That’s when I realized the false sense of security that had brewed was suddenly gone. I felt the bottom of my stomach drop to the floor.

As a junior during the initial lockdown, I thought that at least the 2020-21 school year would be normal. I’d still have a chance to savor that last bit of high school life. I’d treasure it. I wouldn’t complain again about the long hours and the late nights. Yet, as school started, we all fell back into the pattern of complaining about our coursework, the face shields in AP Physics, and how Computer Science now took second lunch. We droned on the things we had all missed about being at Pingry. We hadn’t savored it, even though we had all said that we would. We became absorbed in ourselves again. Returning to school gave us a false sense of security about high school and our stay there. All too soon, the awe of our return wore off and we returned to our normal habits and dreaded class. My annoyed expression on my story exemplifies that idea. In retrospect, I regret posting it, and complaining about the extracurricular I had so sorely missed during the full lockdown. 

 Friday, November 13th, 2020. We all knew something unlucky was going to happen, but it wasn’t the fact that Pingry closed. It wasn’t the fact that our team was going to miss our robotics competition, or that Form VI would miss our in-service day the next Monday. It was the universe telling me I hadn’t kept my promise. It was showing the entire community how delicate our bubble really is, how fast it can all evaporate. 

The robot sits near my workspace in the kitchen now, along with boxes of materials that we still have labeled from our trip to the 2019 World Championships in Detroit, a much simpler time in retrospect because we didn’t have to savor it as we had promised to do now. The robot is a physical reminder of the normalcy of school that I try to emulate at home, just like the rest of us are attempting to build our own Pingry bubble at home. Except there’s no laughter from my team, no frustrated sighs when the machines don’t work, no amusing confused expressions of the freshmen when code doesn’t work as expected. And that gap can’t be filled when we are remote. You can’t reform a bubble when it is popped; you can only blow a new one.

Art by Olivia Hung (V)