It was the name of our group chat: Senior Year Rejects. A fitting image of eleven-year-old Daniel Radcliffe headlined our messages. I explained to my mother, “get it, senior year rejects because we are seniors but not really?” My smile was wide and toothy, but tears threatened against my eyes for reasons I did not care to think about. I was on a mission. Cruising at 5 above the speed limit I turned onto the highway. The windows were down just enough to feel the breeze on my head. A large bubble tea sat next to me, and each time my hand reached it fumbled around before bringing the straw to my mouth. It was Oregon-warm. Warm enough for a t-shirt and cool enough that my grandmother would complain incessantly. I bumped the music up a few notches - goddamn. A laugh bubbled up inside of me and I let it pour out. It covered my music, and my drink, and filled the whole car, spilling into the Oregon-warm air outside my window. My journal from the summer of 2020 recalls that I spent most of my time “waiting for dinner." It was dark, too late to be in a public park, but we were far from done. We had gotten our second doses, my senior rejects and I, and we would be damned if we went home by curfew. We passed around to-go containers, chopsticks, and gossip. We took pictures with the flash. I commented on my dislike for the way my nose scrunched up when I smiled. They told me it was cute. We gave each other hugs. Life has just stopped, and it's jarring. I wake up and walk three steps to go to class and walk three steps back to my bed for the break. I haven't seen my friends for a month and I'm fairly sure they hate me. I was home alone. For the first time in months. I had already cleaned up from dinner and decided to scroll through Spotify's Taylor Swift dance party playlists. Selecting one, I put my phone in my pocket, speaker-side up, and scooped up my dog. I jumped onto our bench, singing, and swaying, and looking out the window. 'I hate your stupid red pickup truck…' My head was nodding and my finger pointing and my feet tapping. I bounced my way from the dining room to the kitchen to the living room and back again. Feeling weightless as the song wore on, I could not help the smile that began to stretch across my face. It was dark outside. I could only see the streetlights beyond the windows. It was me, and my puppy, and we were the only creatures on the planet. I've been wearing the same pajamas for a week and I've started taking classes in my bed. It's been two weeks since I saw anyone besides my family. I always loved dystopian novels. Now that's what life feels like except it's not exciting. Instead, it's scary and frustrating, and lonely. All of this makes me feel so much older than I am. I feel like a different person than I was at school. Sometimes I go to sleep at 8:30 because I am sick of being awake. Boredom is an actively overwhelming emotion. The heat from the stove was stifling the kitchen. Yet, I had to wait for the water to boil before the dumplings could go in. Though the first (and maybe second and third) attempt at these soup dumplings resulted in more tears than I care to admit, I had finally gotten the hang of it. And the amount of tears was almost zero. The kitchen was hot, but the window was open, drawing in a hot breeze and the smell of flowers, grass, and summer. Combined with the garlic and ginger now encased in homemade dumpling dough, the intoxicating smell permeated the whole house. I was in my element. I had designated the kitchen as mine since the morning. The music kept my mood light, and the prospect of dumplings in just a few minutes had me jumping in my skin. I love to watch my family eat my cooking. Their first bite and then the immediate smile and praise they turn to me. Even my brother who'd tell me (and has told me) if my meal was not up to par. I wait for their words of approval before sipping the broth from my dumpling, humming with happiness at the soft, rich flavor. When I was little I would save all my money. I was cheap from the get-go, as I like to say. Though honestly, despite my hate for school dances, I had my heart set on a stunning prom dress. So I saved and I saved and I saved. And then school got canceled before prom my junior year and I thought at least I have senior prom. Well, I don't think I have to tell you how that turned out. We were in Bend. Post-vaccination, summer after senior year, and it was Oregon-hot. Despite the temperatures being 85 and climbing, my two best friends and I decided to hike a ridge in Sisters. The sweat trickled down my back, and the heat made my legs ache, but the twenty questions kept my going. Step after dusty step, we scrambled up the rocks and dirt until we came to the top of the hill. Serene. The only word to describe it. The lake far below us was far too inviting, and we could see well over the treetops. We were silent. We stood far apart. There was no awkwardness. I think we were just thankful.
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