I still get emotional at the sight and the thought of it. She had quietly fussed with her outfit. She landed on a black tee shirt and jeans and a black, knit Vans beanie. The details, though, would go largely unnoticed through the lens of the Chromebook camera. One by one, faces filled her screen, with a similar lull to what she projected to them from our kitchen. This was, as it were, my daughter’s first day of middle school, and the first day for each of them.
Outside of my quiet steps in and out of the room, that heaviness was clear — she was entirely alone, laptop open, and notebooks and pencils sprawled out. I don’t want to think it ghoulish of me taking her picture just then. There was a sadness there I didn’t want someone else to later dismiss or gloss over. This was her day. A burgeoning teen. And in my summation, this sliver of time will stand among the worst of the moments she’s likely to have about school. And of any of her growing up.
Whatever excitement had been boiling and building cooled to a frosty, stone-faced stare. More than two-thirds of the faces looking back at her, she never had met. That was what her entree to middle school was supposed to present — a convergence of foreign sovereignties from the area elementary schools. All of it lost. The hopes and excitement of making new friends. The showcase of personal evolutions from pre-teen to teen, and the style from then to the present that since was adopted. All of it — awash and muted through the Chromebook screen.
Those moments were stolen, from her and all of the rest of them. And sometime after this was over — whenever that would be — no one should be able to soften or outright dismissed it. That knee jerk is there now though, and likely because the deciders who closed the schools down then, for so long, haven't wanted to face up to what it was they had actually done to them.
So it was, that one picture which summed it all up, at least in my mind, to serve as the cover for the essays I wrote, in chronicling this time in the lives of this group of kids. So there it is, the story behind that one picture I took on that first day of my daughter’s in middle school.
— Jason James Barry
It remains important to acknowledge what it is these teens went through. And so, with the start of the new school year here, I've reflected on the not-so-easy recent ones - in a collection, entitled "A Season in Madness: Essays on the Year of Isolation, Introspection, and Closed School." Available on Amazon.