The Small Branches on the Oak Tree

by Ayla Kowalsky, age 12
The Small Branches on the Oak Tree Ayla Kowalsky is twelve years old and lives in Westchester County, New York. She has been writing since she was six years old, and likes to write novels, especially realistic fiction. Alongside writing, she participates in theater, piano, and soccer.

“Uncertainty aside, we all know what we want to happen. Undeniably, we all want life to go back to what it was before.”

The-Coronavirus began as a sprout in the ground, wriggling its way to sunlight. It began to enlarge, growing big, unwieldy branches. But tucked by the sides of those leaning boughs are thin, unseen twigs. Every branch represents one aspect of change, but those twigs represent the things that have changed that are given barely enough attention. Uncertainty about what “normal life” looks like in the future is one of those twigs.

In just two months, I’m supposed to be packing up half-broken fans, too many batteries, and a green-and-white uniform stained with clay to head to sleep away camp. Camp has always seemed like some faraway, magical castle with golden turrets, but even more so now, just because at camp there’s fresh air and connection to real live people. To think that in two and a half months I could be laughing on the beach at the lake with my friends seems unreal. That’s probably because there is a great chance that it is unreal.

Every day there is constant uncertainty. People are uncertain about where to get food. People are uncertain about their paychecks. People are uncertain about how much longer quarantine could go on for. Some days, my parents suggest that we still go shopping for new camp gadgets, or try and email new campers about what to expect. Other days, they discuss the newly discovered “camp insurance,” a company to help you regain money that was paid for camp. All of a sudden, camp insurance is a necessity. Outrageous, some might say, outrageous to spend seven weeks living in the same room as ten other girls, sharing bathrooms and dining rooms and bunk beds.

I like to think of the two months looming between me and my golden-turreted castle as a rubber band. While the coronavirus persists, the rubber band of time stretches until it’s long and worn, but the second I’m back at school, the rubber band will snap back to normal shape and all of a sudden I’ll be at camp. 

But everyone’s been wondering about whether or not those days will ever seem normal, whether or not the rubber band will go back to shape after being stretched so far and for so long. I’m wondering whether I have seventy days until camp or four hundred thirty-five days.

Uncertainty aside, we all know what we want to happen. Undeniably, we all want life to go back to what it was before. We all wanted to celebrate recent holidays together, and we all want to celebrate upcoming ones together.

We would all be able to hug each other without worrying about infecting our loved ones. We could bring over crackers and appetizers without trying to keep them as clean as possible. Of course, this is what we want to happen. But we’re uncertain. What will probably happen is a virtual July 4th zoom with virtual backgrounds that portray fireworks. 

I saw a post on social media of a teenager predicting how quarantine and the Coronavirus will progress. They said that by June, it should all be cleared up. The post had a decent pile of likes. The main reason for people to like that post is because they agree, right? Or maybe it’s what they all want to happen.

The wood in our houses is weary of being knocked, and our fingers weary of being crossed. There’s not much we can do except hope that what happens is what we want to happen, and to stay away from the rest of the world.

We’re not supposed to go near anyone. We’re not supposed to enter public spaces without a mask. Kids aren’t even supposed to enter anywhere except their homes. The people of New York State have been quarantined for about four weeks now. It’s hard to remember what “normal” is.

Before now, normal for most kids would be going to the bus and heading off to school, going over to a friend’s house, doing homework, coming home to a family dinner. Is that how we picture normal now, though?

Because kids have been missing out on interactions outside of our families, we can only imagine the future being filled with interactions like hugging and high-fiving. Back to the rubber-band question—it’s improbable that the future holds these things. I will have, and maybe others will have, developed a need to restrain ourselves from going too close to other people or using public objects or facilities. Chances are that the second we get out of quarantine, we’ll be nervous to hug and constantly hold hands. Avoiding another outbreak will be crucial. 

Few people notice this, so it is a small branch tucked between two larger boughs of “normal life” and “human interaction.” The end of quarantine might not be what we expect it to be.

Quarantine makes us think about the uncertain future. It gives us many minutes a day to dwell on what we wish would happen. It activates our brains to exaggerate what the past was- and place that exaggeration into the future.

Will life ever be back to “normal”? Will what we want to happen come to life? Will we be able to immediately see our friends and distant family?

These twigs, these questions, will continue to grow in number and size. They will wave around quietly on the oak tree, waiting until the day we learn the answers. 

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