Opening Up | Teen Ink

Opening Up

March 14, 2023
By GabiGuidero BRONZE, Bellevue, Washington
GabiGuidero BRONZE, Bellevue, Washington
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Opening Up
I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I’ve been given the ability to be back on my school campus and share being 16 with other people my age. To hear the same voices I’ve heard since middle school, but with new aspects to them — both literally and metaphorically — because we’ve all changed. We might seem the same on the outside, play the same sports, have the same laughter, groan at the same parts in movies, but we’re not the same. We lived — and are continuing to live — through something that doesn’t leave people the same. But I have reason to believe that it leaves people stronger. COVID is an unpredicted event that I think we’re all still learning to adapt to; that takes time. But COVID also allowed me to get to know people I never would have gotten to know before, and have experiences that I might not have felt to this depth pre-pandemic. Somehow, COVID opened me up — and I want to share why.
September is a month when leaves are indecisive, still clinging firmly to their trees, like baby birds to their nests, but gradually taking on a yellow tinge that hints at a desire to fall. September is a time when Seattle breezes laze through the air, not yet biting, instead remembering their summer getaway. September was the fall of my sophomore year.
My hair was pulled tight in a high ponytail, a school bag full of real, crisp paperback books on my back, my hands red and shaking a little from the cold. But, if I tell the truth, it was really from fear. On that first day, I felt like I was one year behind — like the feelings I was feeling should have belonged to a fifteen year old girl, ready to take on her freshman year.
Except, COVID happened. And that is putting something meta-complex, mind-bending, and heart aching into a fragment of a sentence; something that doesn’t feel like it should fit, or that it deserves to fit in a sentence fragment, but it does.
I remember piling into advisory with my friends, class of 2024, with our crackling school-bus yellow course schedules and our teenage energy and our face masks — abiding by social distancing rules when all we really wanted to do was hug one another. But even then, I remember feeling lucky, because we hadn’t had the luxury to do that for an entire year. I was lucky just getting to see faces that weren’t my brothers.
Things felt normal — which I recognize has become a very, very overused phrase. Maybe, a more accurate adjective would be before.
Being back at school, I began to realize just how much I missed. I was able to learn a lot about myself over the pandemic — academically, physically, and mentally — but emotionally, I was behind. Everyone in my class was — and continues to be — behind, because how can we be expected to grow socially when we have no social contact?
My highschool has an outdoor program, where small groups of students from across grades get to take a week-long trip somewhere in Washington and hike, raft, or backpack. I was able to take one of those trips recently, and it shocked me — I never knew that I could learn so much, over such a compressed amount of time, about people I didn’t know before. I learned a lot of little things — who snored, who tended to roll when they slept, and who was tall enough to give me some shade while hiking — but some big things, too. What people feared, what they hoped, and why they made the choices that they made. Somehow, over the course of a week, people went from strangers to people.
That scared me. As someone who is fantastic about sharing everything but the things that really matter to her, someone who loves meeting new people but tends to run away when they get too close, who wants to connect but fears getting hurt — that scared me. My trip taught me that I could grow to care about other people — really care — in six days.
Usually, that caring process? It takes me years.
COVID gave me personal growth, because I learned that when people open themselves up, it’s hard not to care. In fact, I did try not to care — sometimes, even now, I find myself trying to stop caring, because caring hurts. And once you care about someone, that caring is, to some degree, forever.
I would be happy alone; COVID taught me that too. As an introvert, I could live alone and be just fine. But this trip taught me that I don’t want to — it taught me that I’m happier than just fine when I care about others. My life became fuller.
I encourage caring; caring can bring you a friend, and a whole new perspective on how the world works. If you let it, it opens your mind up in a lot of ways. Your friend’s lived a different sixteen years.
Friendship is a two-way street. This trip taught me the value of caring about how someone was — and the simplest way I can think to express this concept is a question. I ask people “how are you?” frequently, but there’s a difference between asking, “how are you?” and expecting — or maybe, hoping for — a “good” and really caring about how someone’s doing. Caring to that depth allows you to feel something deeper — feel like your heart’s warm and fuller when you talk to a friend.
But, when you care about someone in that way, you also give them little pieces of you. For me, it wasn’t intentional — giving away little parts of myself is a concept that makes me want to run and hide. But it did happen, and the worst part wasn’t the giving, which expanded my capacity to care, or the ache when I realized that I did give, and when the friendship stumbled that it did hurt. Frankly, it did a little more than hurt — my heart felt a little withered, as if it wasn’t quite set in place anymore, and my hands developed a tremor, which was shocking, and my body felt like a computer on low power mode that wishes it could shut down but isn’t quite allowed to because the user is determined to have some grit and make it through.
No — the worst part, and the best part, was understanding that I chose to care. I chose to open myself up, and I got a little burned — which happens. But understanding that I chose that pain for myself — I chose, and so therefore the hurt that I felt was my fault, was the worst. And the best, because it showed me that I had the capacity to care that much.
COVID gave me that. COVID is multi-layered, like a fruitcake — there are bitter parts, tough parts, and parts that you would honestly rather forget were introduced to you, but there are also sweet parts. The parts that don’t break your teeth surprise you, because they teach you that your teeth are tougher than you think they are. That you are capable of caring more than you think you can.
COVID can give, too.
            Room 205 in Allen Gates — my math room — has seen me at my worst. Like any teenager, there’s a lot that goes through my mind when it comes to semester course selection. But personally, the idea that I wouldn’t be able to do a class has never been one of them.
That was before I met Honors Math — Honors Math and I have gotten to know each other very well, very fast. Vividly, after my first unit test, I remember skipping up the steps of the main building to collect my test paper.
                                                                        C / C -
I think that sums it up. That, and the fact that I skipped. I knew so little of the material I was supposed to know during that test, that I wasn’t even aware that I didn’t know it. I didn’t know enough for my brain to start ringing alarm bells.
That was the first time I thought I had to drop a course. I thought, what’s the point in taking a course I’ll be miserable in? When every day I walk into that math room, I’ll think to myself, you have to fight. Keep fighting. When I didn’t want everyday to be a fight.
If I had been the sole decider, I would have dropped that class, and I would have spent the rest of the year in a lower level class, having an easier time with less stress, but knowing me, really not — because what if. What if I had stuck it out? What if I fought harder, and really tried to learn the most I could? To learn so much I could explode, and then choose to cram in some more?
What if.
Thank goodness for good fathers, who give animated pep talks about facing adversity.
Thank goodness for great mothers, who tell you they’ll love you no matter what you choose, but how that really isn’t the question anyway.
The question is whether you’ll love yourself.
That might be ever so slightly to the extreme; love is a strong word that I tend to avoid using.
It means too much. But I hope someone reading this, who might be facing a similar experience, might get the point.
I chose to stay in that class. I choose to, everyday. And it gets better. Turns out, one test won’t make or break your math career, and while the class hasn’t gotten any easier, I’ve gotten better at understanding how much time I need to put into it. It’s gotten to a point where I’m starting to see that math is beautiful — how you can take functions and invert them, or stretch them vertically and horizontally, how you can reflect them over the axes and compose them — and how math expands the way you think. I’m learning so much.
But that’s the happy epilogue, and epilogues are misleading in that they tend to ignore the adversity and just show the moments where you have it all figured out. That’s not the whole truth, so I won’t ignore the hurt and I’ll acknowledge that yes, there are tears, and yes, there are late nights, and yes, there is pain. School can hurt. But to me, it’s worth it.
Except, I don’t think that’s the question to ask yourself if you’re trying to choose your challenge, because a good outcome comes from thoughtful intent. It doesn’t matter that I think it’s worth it, or that I’m feeling good about my rate of academic growth. That’s my life.
I hope that by reading this story, you’ll feel some hope, because there’s always hope.
But for choosing, I think you should ask yourself how much you want your challenge. At the end of the day, it won’t matter whether your parents want it, or whether your friends are doing it, or whether you think it’ll take you somewhere you need to be. That won’t help you at 1am, when you’re still up studying and beginning to wonder why.
You have to be able to remember that you wanted your challenge; you wanted to give yourself the chance to grow your brain, but also grow your character; you wanted to expand.
So you have to think. How much do you want this?
I used to think school took everything from me. I used to play club basketball, was on the varsity golf team, took voice lessons, and had time to watch movies on the weekend with my younger brothers. I don’t, really, now. I think it’s something about being in highschool; where your schedule seems to fill itself up, even though you’re not entirely sure what it’s full with. I’m taking two honors classes this year, and this fall those two honors classes — along with the rest of my schoolwork — should have been my priority. But, being a teenager, I got a bit distracted.
This fall, I lost myself in varsity golf, daily two hour practices and drives home, where I found myself stumbling into my desk at 7pm exhausted, and still needing to do homework. My priorities were skewed, because I know golf isn’t my end goal. I can’t and won’t go further than the highschool golf team, because I’m not good enough and I don’t love it enough.
I also lost myself in friendships. I spent so much time getting coffee or shopping with girlfriends on weekends, so much time thinking over the right birthday presents to give, so much brain space caring for other people, that while my emotional capacity for empathy grew, my priority — my academics — suffered. I know that one can argue emotional growth might be more valuable than academic growth. I argue that both are valuable, but there is a balance to having both.
It’s December now. I’m still taking two honors classes, and I still maintain my friendships, but I’m in a different place — I’m no longer sitting in class not fully sure what I’m doing; I don’t hesitate before answering questions; I’m investing my time in my brain. I feel the academic growth that I was missing — and it feels great.
But I also feel the cost. I feel what I’m missing as I devote the majority of my time to school. Golf doesn’t run during the winter — we’re in our off-season — but basketball does.
I miss basketball; I loved the friendships, the team, and the rush of being on the court. Hearing the ball swish through the net.
It was crisp. Clean.
Choosing school does not mean I don’t love basketball; sobbing in the car rides back from watching my friends play in their basketball games, after hours of smiling and cheering them on, is a testament to that. But it also means that I chose — I choose my academics.
It hurts so much sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe; like my chest is going to explode or collapse from the accumulation of everything I feel like I’m missing, whether I really am or not. Because, as I’m growing to learn more and more, everything has a cost. The more time you give to one thing, the more time you take from something else.
I’m choosing my education. It’s not taking anything from me; I’m giving to it, and I see the progress I’m making. I feel good about where I am.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
We all only have 24 hours in one day. I wish there was more time; I wish I could do it all. I wish I could have education, family, friends, and sports and do them all well. But I can’t.
Sometimes I get sidetracked, and sometimes I try. But every time I do, I end up feeling like I’m either not doing all of them justice, or that I’m completely drained. Like I don’t have any more to give.
It’s not true that there isn’t enough time — there is enough time.
But only enough for the things that matter most.

COVID has taken a lot from all of us; it took being fifteen from me. But it also gave me growth; it taught me that I can care about people, more than I ever thought I could; that academics can hurt, and how I can choose my challenges; and that to be really good at one or two things, you have to be alright with not being great at everything else. My eyes are open wider than they were. And, I hope that by reading this, you may be able to recognize the aspects of your life that COVID changed for you too. 

The author's comments:

I am a junior living in the greater Seattle area.  I am Mexican Italian Chinese and Filipino, and I care a lot about the intersection of race and identity.  I enjoy writing poetry and memoirs.  

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