Thursday Connectors: Transformations – A Student’s Life
By Farzana Hakim
Hi all, Farzana here for another round-up of Thursday Connectors. And what brilliant writing I have to share this month! I’m seriously excited, because I’ve always believed our voices, especially those of young people, are so important. They need to be heard to pave the way to betterment, diversity and inclusion. Creating a platform for young people on my Connectors page today is definitely empowering, both for me and for the young writers who’ve connected.
What could be better than using creative writing as a tool for expressing opinions, experiences and emotions?
Our Connectors today, come from the UK. They are, indeed, powerful pieces of the written word, telling the story of how the pandemic has affected and transformed student life.
Being a mother of two University students and one secondary school-age child, I can easily list all the anxieties and emotions my children have had to endure during the different stages of the lockdowns: the Coronavirus highs and lows. I can only praise the resilience and courage our youngsters have shown during the uncertainty and chaos we’ve all had to live through.
It’s been a tough couple of years. But I’m super-glad our Connectors today have found their voices through writing. So, first up is a beautiful poem from Erin, who is in sixth form. Her poem is most definitely written from the her heart and perfectly sums up a student’s hopes and anxieties.
Hi, Erin. Let’s connect:
From A Student
They had told me to take that road, just like the ones before me
everyone had walked the same path, and now they were flying free
I’d always known how to take that road, and where I wanted to go
but my fear of taking those first steps, just began to grow
I needed to take that road, because the paths behind had shrunk away
but I just waited instead of doing, wasting away the days
then, my feet became heavier, and without the strength to lift them,
I watched as the forest took over, standing there, frozen
the once clear and sunlit path was shrouded with branches and thorns,
as I stayed, the plants disobeyed, and the wind laughed at me in scorn
the fear of not reaching the end, had prevented me from beginning
and now my path was much harder, and no one was really winning
I kept saying I would take that step, and everyone believed I would,
but the voice of uncertainty, dancing in my head, doubted if I could
I so desperately want to reach the end, but still I stand here and wait
and now I have a new fear, a fear that it’s too late
So now I fight, against this voice, for I know nothing it says is real
the paths before seem much easier now, what will this path reveal?
(c) Erin White, 2021
Thank you so much, Erin. You have a beautiful way with words and I’m glad you have written this poem from your heart. My advice to you is to keep writing; you have a super talent. Well done!
Our next Connector shares another beautiful poem, showing how this pandemic has, and is still, disrupting the lives of students. It comes from Liam, a final year student at the University of Sussex.
Hi, Liam. Let’s connect:
I Feel A Senseless Stress Approaching
I feel a senseless stress approaching
Whilst dreams of summer keep encroaching
My lover’s kiss is in the distance
And Uni deadlines remain persistent
Locked inside, here by the sea
I glance outside and watch gulls fly free
I feel a senseless stress approaching.
My dreams of summer keep encroaching
A scenic walk helps ease my mind;
along gentle shores and garden paths that wind
Countless thoughts atop St Michael’s Mount
yet only one must I recount
That having nature by my side
Reminds me where our souls reside
My other thoughts lived in nature’s moment
Caught in arching trees and the waves around this Beaumont
© Liam McGregor, 2021
How superbly you put your emotions into this poem, Liam. Well done. Keep using writing as a means of expression. Excellent creativity!
And now, I’d like to connect with Ciara Campbell, who has a short story to share, covering themes of mental health, general health and emotions associated with living on a university campus during lockdown. I first read this when I was judging Pen to Print’s short story competition. It certainly stood out from the rest, due to its honesty and relatability to the situation then. Ciara’s story came third in the competition and I believe it needed to be shared here as a ‘youth’ Connector.
Hi, Ciara. Let’s connect:
The structure of Ten Adelaide Avenue has survived many crises: mould, house parties, that one time when Lauren burned pancakes at six am on Shrove Tuesday and nearly called the fire brigade. Caitlin is afraid that this time is the last straw. The relentless thump-thump, thump-thump on their bedroom roof doesn’t stop; one more lap and the roof will give in!
Yes, it’s only ten am but it’s hard to drag themself away from their cocoon of blankets while poring over their medical law notes, climbing the stairs to the bedroom directly above theirs. The two of them have been flatmates for nearly two years now, so there’s no need to knock. Caitlin pops their head in the door to see Lauren concentrating hard as she runs tiny laps around her room, decked out in sports gear and all.
“Hey, hey. Aren’t you supposed to be studying? Do you want to study together?” Caitlin asks.
Lauren halts, fixing them with that confidence only doomsayers have. “What’s the point? Who cares if we pass our law degree? We’re all going to die of Coronavirus and if we don’t, well, no one will need rules in the post-apocalyptic stateless world that comes after!”
‘I’m the only person here at risk of dying,’ Caitlin thinks to themself, but restrains the comment with a practised sigh. “Do you have your fidget spinner? Second screen? I know physical exercise is your favourite way of managing your anxiety, but it’s not exactly a good idea to go outside at the minute.”
Lauren flops down on her bed. “Cancelling my gym membership was the worst day of my life. Even worse than when we failed Tort Law in first year.”
“We’ve had worse days than that,” Caitlin says.
“Oh, here it comes again.” Lauren’s voice is sharper with sarcasm; another familiar measure, her taking out her frustration on her only flatmate. “Here comes the sob story. Come on, you’ve been out of chemo for what, a year? There’s no cancer left in your body. You’re fine. Don’t start crying about how you’re at a higher risk of the virus than I am.”
Caitlin flinches, wincing. “I’m not going to answer that,” they say instead. “I’m going to go back and study.” With that, they return to their room, a cramped tiny prison. The Coronavirus has been an enclosing circle: first other countries, then this country, then this state, then this town, then this street. Two more steps: this house and then this room. Caitlin knows the science, the risk groups for Coronavirus, how many immunosuppressive drugs they took during their survival.
Their fight against cancer was a fight only they could do. The doctors were assistance, the drugs were vital, but whether or not Caitlin would live depended on the strength in their body, whether or not they were desperate to live. They were. They found out that inside them there was a fundamental want, a yearning to live. Caitlin wants the whole world. They want to become a high-flying international medical lawyer, working in Big Law, in London and New York and Hong Kong, all in the same week. They want everything out of life.
Here they are in a 10 ft x 12 ft room and that is all the world is. A dark room, fairy lights strung out, a desk piled high with law textbooks and colour-coded highlighted notes. The two of them have had fights before and Caitlin has learned not to respond to Lauren’s antagonism. Lauren used to go out twice a month for check-ups on ADHD and anxiety (before the quarantine). Medications are not what is best for her body’s sleep schedule; she regulates them with running and therapy and visiting the penguins at the zoo. It isn’t exactly Lauren’s fault she’s irritable, but sometimes Caitlin wants to lean over the table and hiss: ‘You use that as an excuse to be a goddamn jerk!’
Usually, the tension dissipates after a break, after Lauren goes out running and Caitlin attends an extracurricular law seminar. There’s no escape this time. Caitlin only leaves their room to shower or to cook and every time they stumble across Lauren, the girl has a strange proud look of hurt and anger on her face. She takes to pacing relentlessly, crashing down the stairs and thudding back up, trying to move as fast as possible to achieve the impossible runner’s high in a confined space.
Then one day, Caitlin brings themself out of a studying-focused haze to go downstairs to heat up scotch broth in the microwave. What’s wrong? The flat is silent. No pacing. Dipping white bread into the soup, steam hot on their fingers, Caitlin considers. There are dirty dishes tossed in the sink. Caitlin disinfects the entire bathroom before they use it, cleans the clean plates and cutlery once more before eating, just to be sure that no viruses will pass onto them.
The door opens and Caitlin breathes in a wave of fresh air for the first time in months. They should be relieved, but instead a shock of panic zips through their heart. Lauren slinks in, mud on her trainers, cheeks glowing pink. She seats herself at the opposite end of the table meant for two, where they have spent years having dinner and arguing over legal definitions and drinking beer, a defiant and hostile tilt to that proud face. “What?”
“You were outside,” Caitlin says, an admission of fact and a judgement all in one. “You know you shouldn’t be. It’s against the law. Are you a law student or not?”
“I needed to. What kind of life is it where you don’t have the freedom to do what you want?” There’s a glimmer in Lauren’s dark-green irises, shadows in the whites of her eyes.
Caitlin snaps. They lean over the table, voice hard. “You need to go disinfect your clothing. You need to go wash your hands. Do you understand what you’re doing to me? Do you understand the virus you can carry in here on your clothes, your hands, your cells? Don’t you understand the threat your existence poses to me?”
“Don’t you understand what this confinement is doing to me?” Lauren cries. “I’m not made to be locked up! I’m an extrovert, I want to meet people, I want to see places, I want to run and run and not stop and stay still!”
“You don’t think that I want that too? Don’t you understand that some things are more important than your freedom? Isn’t saving my life more important than what you want?”
“I’m done,” Lauren snaps, standing up. “I’m done. I’ll grab my things and go somewhere else, to another damn house, until this quarantine is over. I don’t care what the law says! I cannot stand being here in this house with you and your fragile damn body a second longer. Stay in this fridge and shield yourself from the world. You’ll die once the quarantine lifts, once real life comes back. I wish you bad luck!”
Caitlin shrinks back. Lauren’s back, disappearing. Thumps up the stairs, crashes, thumps back down. The slamming door. The silence, stretching on and on, the soup going cold. Caitlin’s shoulders relax. This flat is still a prison but the threat is gone.
(c) Ciara Campbell, 2021
Thank you, Ciara, your story is as powerful as its title. I’m sure so many young people will be able to relate to the emotions showcased.
Excellent stuff today! I’ll be back in September, after a small summer break. So, until then, take care and stay safe.
Issue 9 of Write On! magazine is OUT NOW and available online
What could be better than using creative writing as a tool for expressing opinions, experiences and emotions?