(Jamie Jung)
Orange County School of the Arts

Column: Another pandemic birthday

The day I am writing this, May 24, 2021 is the second birthday I have spent during the pandemic. By this time, most of everyone will have had at least one birthday during the pandemic in order to understand how I am feeling. 

I remember last year, how I sat in front of a dining table too big for only four people, singing and clapping at a cake with a glowing one and four. My Instagram DMs were filled with “Happy birthday!” messages followed by cake and confetti emojis, but I knew it wasn’t the same as hearing those messages out loud on their smiling faces.

I was desperately holding onto a splintering rope of broken promises that in just a few more months, everything would be back to normal. I had only one wish on my 14th birthday: Please don’t let my next birthday be like this. Obviously, the birthday fairy had chosen to veto my wish that year, letting another year roll by in sickness and isolation. 

I’ve spent my one and only 14th year of my life the best I could in this given situation. Life as a freshman student at a new school during distance learning was the worst combination of possibilities, but I could figure it out. I always did.

So I logged onto class every morning at 8:30, signed up for as many extracurricular projects as I could, even filmed a TEDx speech at my school, wrote poems and short stories and screenplays, and filled any extra hours with reading. And even then, I wasn’t burnt out. I didn’t have the time to be. 

Looking back, I could describe myself as over-ambitious. Or maybe it was my time to distract myself from an empty space around me, in my mind, in my Instagram DMs and iMessages.

As a new student in a distance learning environment, it’s hard enough to keep up with friends that I won’t share a classroom with again, but it’s harder to make new friends through blank boxes on a computer screen. It was only a matter of time before the intervals between texts from my old friends grew exponentially. Until I eventually let go. 

So now I sit again, in front of a dining table too big for only four people. But those extra seats are filled with bouquets of pink and gold balloons, and my mom records my candle lit face with a smile as my dad and brother sing and clap at a cake with a glowing one and five.

I smile because I remember my Instagram DMs, unusually full with happy birthdays from old friends who texted me only on holidays and new friends that I’d met a couple days before. But they were all friends the same. I remember my family who has spent every birthday with me, pandemic or no pandemic.

I remember that as of May 24, 2021, I am 15 years old. And as I blow out the candles, I have only one wish: Please let me be happy like this on my next birthday.