The first day of class this fall—just the other day, it seems, though we are already at the end of the first trimester—I asked my students to reflect on the previous spring, when the new coronavirus disrupted their lives. I paused. “I’m sure,” I told the six teenagers, high school sophomores or juniors, “that you know the phrasal verb reflect on.” Nods all around. I asked for a synonym, and after a moment someone volunteered think about, someone else consider. “Very good!” I said, trying to warm them out of their reticence. The students were more reserved than eager, which was what I expected given their ages. They were returning students, though all but one had had a different teacher before and didn’t know me. “What were some changes in your lives?” I asked.
When called on, they mostly spoke of missing their friends. One spoke of missing sports practice. No one talked about their families, not about growing closer or about getting on each other’s nerves during confinement.
“How many of you are worried about the virus?” No one.
Last year, I told them, back in March, in the last week of classes, when suddenly everyone was talking about the coronavirus, long before anyone wore masks—last year I asked my classes if they were worried. Of all the students, only one was: a girl with a parent in health care. I turned to the one student whom I’d taught before. She’d been in that class with the other girl. “Remember?”
“I wasn’t in that group,” she said.
I cocked my head. I remembered her sitting beside the other girl. “You were,” I said, and named the students who’d shared the class, to jog her memory, though how much jogging can it take to release memories of five months’ worth of class, and recent to boot? She repeated that she hadn’t been in that class.
Impossible that she wasn’t, I thought. I could picture her entering the classroom, typically arriving late, and I could hear the mixture of challenge and chagrin in her voice as she yet again apologized. Of course she’d been in that class. I stared at her.
“I was with that group the year before, not last year,” she said.
I was astonished.
And then suddenly it all made sense. Of course, the previous year. I smiled, though masked as we were I don’t know that she realized it. “Goodness,” I trilled, “how time flies!” She rolled her eyes. Seventeen. What did she know about time?
I couldn’t take offense at the eye rolling. It was just yesterday that I was 17 and rolling my eyes at these grownups who were forever talking about the passage of time, forever both surprised and resigned, first resisting, then doubtful, then blasé, shaking their heads as if at an old joke. Just yesterday. Or possibly the day before.
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.