The Beforetimes to Now

Imagine this: an 11-year-old boy hears about an opportunity to be in his school’s production of Newsies. He stays late one Tuesday afternoon with other kids who have similar intentions. He sits outside the chorus room getting increasingly more nervous, and when he is called in, he performs to the best of his abilities. A week later he receives a letter stating he has been cast as Les, one of the main characters. Over the course of the next few weeks, he stays up late to practice and spends his break time memorizing his lines. Meanwhile, there is a pandemic brewing in Wuhan, China. The week leading up to the performances, D.C. had its first two cases of COVID-19. As a precaution Sidwell Friends School let the fifth-graders take home their computers—a major red flag—and later in the week the school sends an email stating that students would not be going back to school the following week and that the Newsies production would not be having its normal three performances. Instead there would be one performance for families only.

That put a damper on the mood, and our performance took on a somber tone.

After the performance we didn’t get to celebrate together. Then we stayed home for spring break, and when break was over, we didn’t come back to school. We resumed classes on Zoom, a platform that neither the students nor the teachers knew to use. Initially, in quarantine, I kept in touch with most of my friends, and we had weekly calls to play games. Over the summer I moved almost all my belongings to the basement. I did this for two reasons: my room was starting to feel very cramped, and the second reason was that I didn’t want to deal with my parents. Since third grade my relationship with my parents had started to deteriorate. It all came to a head this past summer when we could barely sit through a dinner without me or my father starting an argument. Over the summer I also stopped talking to most of my friends due to the fact that it just took too much energy to try and maintain a conversation with them.

During the time when I was in the basement, I started to realize how depressing the reality of my situation was: I was a sixth-grader who spent most of his time in a basement because he didn’t want to talk to his parents. Over winter break, I moved everything back upstairs because I realized that I needed to face my problems head-on. Another thing I needed to work on was reaching out to my friends. I haven’t rebuilt all of my friendships, but I hope I can.

AJ Valbrune

AJ Valbrune (he/him). Grade 6, Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

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