The Day I Needed Illness-Repelling Earrings: A Senior’s Last Day of High School in 2020
This guest blog is written by Chloe Kozal, an Ohioan who recently responded to our call to document the COVID-19 pandemic. She has written about her experiences on March 12, 2020- an unintentional last day of high school.
Nothing is normal now. That first sentence of my diary entry on March 12 fully summed up what was arguably one of the strangest, most memorable days of my life.
I woke up that morning not in my bed, but on an inflatable mattress, swaddled in handmade crocheted blankets. My Grandma had taken over my room for the night, because the night before my Grandparents had come to my first art exhibition to celebrate two years of my artworks from junior to senior year in the International Baccalaureate program at my school. The night before we had found out that my Nana wouldn’t be able to come to my exhibit because the assisted living place that she lived at was closed to outside visitors for two weeks.
This week was supposed to be extremely exciting. My art show was on display at my school. All of the grade levels at my school would get to tour my exhibit and my classmates’ exhibit, some of my extended family visited the exhibit and our basketball team was going to states that week, and we were going to have a pep rally for the team in the afternoon.
I can still remember vividly what I ate on March 12, what I talked about, and what I wore that day, down to the accessories. That day I chose to wear my special eguzkilore earrings.
When I was a sophomore, my family hosted Luna, a Spanish exchange student. For Christmas this year Luna had sent my family and I a package, which among other things had these special earrings. The eguzkilore flower is similar to a sunflower, and in the north of Spain, it is said that the flower can protect you from bad spirits, witches, weather and illness. I had a feeling that morning that I would want that extra protection.
This year we hosted Hannah, an exchange student from Germany. Both she and Luna had given me lucky coins from their cities, and I slipped those into my skirt pocket that day.
That morning the senior class got 15 minutes to tour the two exhibits. Looking back, I feel especially lucky that my senior classmates got to see our artwork before the school closed (the coins must have helped me). I finished up my homework during study hall and then I went to Journalism.
I was the editor for the school newspaper, and I felt comforted to be in the journalism room with my staff and faculty advisor. We discussed current events as we worked, such as how Tom and Rita Hanks had tested positive for COVID-19 the day before. I took a little time off from my article writing to create a Google drive folder of all of the documents we would need if we had to work on the issue remotely. I hoped that I would never need to use that folder.
In AP English, we discussed the book we would be reading next: Cry, the Beloved Country and then I went to Math class. During Math class, word got out that the tournament that our basketball team was scheduled to travel to for states was cancelled. However, we still had an assembly to celebrate our team’s accomplishments this year. We all watched a video in the gym that celebrated our school’s history at the states championship. I remember feeling flooded with emotion- sorrow for my classmates, and memories of the very first time my school went to states. My mind wandered back in time when I attended the very first states game when I was in elementary school.
When we arrived back in my math teacher’s classroom, we heard on the PA that our school would have distance learning until April 14. The reaction to this news was very mixed in the hallways as I traipsed down the stairs from my third floor math classroom to my locker on the first floor. I shoveled all my textbooks and binders as best as I could into my green backpack, and grabbed the rest in my hands, chatting with friends along the way about how I’d see them in April. I walked slowly up the stairs, trying to not drop my lunchbox, books, and my jacket through the holes in the open staircase. I met with Hannah and my mother in her art classroom on the second floor to drop off my heavy backpack.
I went down to where the exhibit was with my classmate to get photographs of my exhibition. I cannot express how truly blessed I felt that school was not cancelled before my exhibition and before I could take these pictures. In IB, the exhibition was a very large portion of my grade, and IB needs physical proof that an exhibition took place. I don’t know what would have happened if the exhibit had been scheduled for the next week. I also felt blessed because Hannah found an unopened box of two dozen homemade cookies from the exhibition the night before. We handed out cookies to frazzled teachers, crying students, friends and helped ourselves to the cookies too. The soft, chunky chocolate cookies felt like divine intervention- someone was looking out for me that day in the midst of all the chaos. Hannah probably aptly called the cookies kummerspeck- comfort food in times of sadness or chaos.
When Hannah and I arrived back in the art room, there were still lots of things to do. When you’re an art teacher’s daughter, you have to help out a lot with art shows. Jurying for one of the biggest shows of the year was supposed to happen that weekend. The three of us took countless trips up and down the stairs to put all the artwork into Mom’s car. I’m still not sure how we fit everything in there, but somehow we managed to pack portfolios, large matboards, plexiglass, humongous 3D works, frames, three backpacks, and a large cookie box into the car.
In my diary, I typically write using the “stream of consciousness method”, writing everything that crosses my mind once my pen is on paper. I expressed my many scattered thoughts during this time, many of which most Americans felt too. On March 12th, I wrote “ The coronavirus has taken over the past two weeks in America … the world is shutting down. I saw the US economy go from a bull to a bear market fast. Everything is being cancelled. Purell is almost nonexistent. We will now have online classes. I don’t know what will happen to my senior year or graduation. I’m least concerned about that. I’m terrified that anyone I know will get it.”
I couldn’t have predicted that March 12th would be my last day as a senior, nor could I have predicted the many hardships that I, my family and the world experienced during quarantine.
I couldn’t have predicted that March 11th would have been the last time that I could have seen my Nana in person. She succumbed to the virus a little over two months after, on May 14th and joined our ancestors.
Even now, months later, there is a great deal of sorrow and uncertainty in our lives. However, I know that one thing is constant: I’ll never forget my last few days of high school.
Chloe Kozal is a freshman at Bowling Green State University who has always had a passion for history, journalism and art. She is often described as an old soul, and enjoys writing letters, reading and playing games in her free time.