Editor’s Note: The Source is pleased to publish the winning essays of the Charlotte Amalie High School students who competed in the Alpine Essay Contest, offering their perspectives on living through a pandemic, and their hopes for the future as we prepare to enter a new year. The following essay by 12th-grader Teague Hewlett is the final of four we have presented in recent days.
When our elders tell us to appreciate our lives while we still can, most of us take it for granted. It’s not like the realms of hell will randomly fall upon us one day, right? Well, 2020 proved us wrong. Some of us managed to stay positive and work our way through the world’s population dropping day by day. On the other hand, a few of us fell into the detrimental hands of depression, anxiety, insecurity, and fear.
Before the pandemic devastated the lives we once loved, I considered myself a nonchalant person. I didn’t share many emotions, and I didn’t know how to express myself to others while remaining respectful and not raising suspicion of mental abnormality. When the lockdown first began, I believed the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. No more school, yay! But it wasn’t until the lassitude and depletion of my sanity came to pass that I realized the seriousness of this pandemic. I couldn’t bear to get up anymore to stare at a screen. I would lie in my bed and do shoddy work in hopes of getting everything completed before my grades suffered. I had no will to eat or even play games for a while, as I enjoyed doing every day before. My social life plummeted to rock bottom like an airplane after both of its engines failed. I felt meaningless, numb, isolated, inconspicuous, and hopeless.
Toxic behavior and communication have become a norm in this society. You can’t openly speak about your feelings, or you’d be considered weak and vulnerable. But I learned that’s not entirely true. While my parents were purchasing more masks inside a convenience store, a young man approached me. He didn’t attend my school or live in my area, nor did I know him from any social media platforms. He was relatively a stranger to me. As I stared into the sky in despair, he plopped down next to me and asked me if everything was OK. My mind automatically transferred to my primary response to this question. “I’m fine,” I murmured. I slightly glanced to my left to see a shadow still present, meaning he hadn’t left yet. I returned the question and asked him if everything was alright. “Everything’s perfect,” he chuckled, “although I’ve heard people say that they’re fine when they aren’t, so you’re going to have to find a different response,” he then whispered.
I buried my head into my legs, hoping he would get the hint and leave me alone, but he was as persistent as a wildfire. He mimicked me and buried his head into his lap in hopes of getting a response out of me, and that’s when I blurted out that I wasn’t OK. I explained that my lack of daylight and stressful atmosphere shoved me into a hole of sadness and sorrow. He caressed me on my back and held his phone in front of my face. “Type in your number, I’ll call you and make sure you’re doing alright every day, and if you want to talk, I’m always available,” he consoled. After I typed in my number, he got up from beside me, headed for the gates; before he exited, I asked for his name. He turned around and chuckled, then kept on walking. I sat there in puzzlement as a stranger just offered to be my therapist and in awe that someone cared.
The next day I received a phone call; it was him. He asked in a soothing voice how I felt and if I’d been eating. I was hesitant to open up to a stranger, but I found trust in him after his little act. We began speaking for days, and my confidence started to build back up, and I was able to turn in all of my past-due Journalism assignments after being motivated all week. After the realization that I was now making significant progress, we got ice cream together as a reward. I could not bear to continue a friendship based on succinct preliminary knowledge, and besides, I only knew his first name. I then looked over and asked him why he chose to help me and stuck with me this entire time as he vigorously licked his ice cream cone. “My cousin was depressed… he was my best friend. I know the signs, and you were just doused in them. I didn’t get a chance to help him, and he committed suicide a while back, so if I get a chance to stop someone else from going that far down the rabbit hole, I’ll take it,” he replied while refusing to stop licking his ice cream. I was stunned by his story and how calmly he told me about it. He told me he was just a kid trying to help out, but I should see a professional. I took his advice and visited a virtual therapist who is spectacular at her job.
I took my depression for granted, and it took someone with first-hand experience about my issue to open my eyes to how much I mattered. So, I take back what I said. Not everyone in this community is toxic and views you as weak in dreadful times. I can blame the pandemic for creating a path to my depression, just as I can thank it for adding a red carpet to that path to overcome my depression. If we never had to restock on masks, I wouldn’t have met my new best friend, and if he hadn’t helped me in my time of suffering, I plausibly wouldn’t be here writing this today. Find your people; keep them close. Because when you’re at your lowest, those people will get you through it all.
— Teague Hewlett is in the 12th grade at Charlotte Amalie High School. His teacher is Ms. M.C. Dawes.