This interview is one part of a series written by our 2020 CBF Summer Ministry Intern, Emmaline Rogers.
Quarantine has turned many pivotal milestones into drive-by experiences. From graduations to proms to dates to hanging out with friends, most teenagers’ lives came to an almost full stop when schools closed. For many, their safe place was school or extra-curricular activities. When those shut down, kids and teenagers were isolated from their friends and modes of self-expression. Some are being forced to pick a college without having ever set foot on the campus. Some are facing the division of their friend groups and separation from their home as they leave for whatever step they’re taking after graduation. Six feet of distance becomes very easy to excuse away if that distance is about to stretch into hundreds of miles.
William Keith, like every other school-aged kid, stepped out of spring break into quarantine. Christian Brothers’ High School’s academic transition was, for him at least, not very complicated. “Every day kind of felt the same during quarantine, felt like I was just kind of reliving it… I had school from 9:30 to 1:30…” He, like every other high schooler I have talked to, struggled to get work done in a non-school setting. “…when you’re home all day, I mean it’s kinda like ‘oh I don’t really have any schoolwork’ but I still did, so [it was hard] to stay really on top of that…when you’re laid up in bed for almost [the entire] day.” The best way he found to manage it was, “Right after I got done from school I would check my computer to see what I had to do and get it done first before I did anything else so I wouldn’t forget.”
Any social interaction became infinitely more complicated during the pandemic. William described the experience that many teenagers have resorted to: “Every once and a while…if a friend was just driving around just to get out of the house, they would stop by, but they’d be six feet away, they’d be parking their car on the street and I’d be in my yard and we would just talk, so…Not being able to interact with people was pretty difficult.” He and his family started quarantining as soon as they got back from their spring break trip to the beach. Recently, however, his parents have eased up a bit on the restrictions. “They prefer no one come in the house, if people come over,” William said, “because I mean we have a pool, so if I want to have a few friends come over to swim they’re okay with that because we’ll be outside, but they don’t want anybody entering the house.” Outdoor activities have become the safest way for people to get together. “Probably one of the first things I did was I went fishin’ with some friends, I’ve started doing that more, because we’ll be outside.” But even when following all precautions, the temptation to be close to each other is incredibly strong, a pull that crosses generations. Later on in the interview he said, “Over this quarantine, too, me and some friends that are on the football team too, we’d go out to this place in Collierville to throw, which I think is very nice, because I mean we’re building chemistry by doing that, we’re still trying to maintain our distance with each other but I mean sometimes we just have teenagers who just don’t think, sometimes you might break that distance.”
The safety of the outdoors has also allowed the CBHS football team resume practices; William plays wide-reciever. “It’s very strict, a lot of rules,” William said. “So we have this check in at 6:15—” I interrupted to confirm that this was 6:15 A.M. It was. “So we have these dots that line up outside the entrance to the field, you know, they’re six feet apart, they ask us these questions, are you having any coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath, all that, been around anyone that’s sick, and then, ‘course you’ll probably say no to those questions, and then you’ll go get your temperature taken with one of those [thermometers that don’t] actually physically touch you, and you have to wear a mask through this whole process too, but once you get down to the field you go immediately to your, I guess you’d say, your assigned spot on the field, and these spots are kinda like maybe ten feet apart ish, and there’s five groups on this field, each group’s on twenty yards apart, so. It’s pretty separated, they’re doing a pretty good job of trying to keep everybody as spaced out as possible.” I asked if it felt safe to him. He profusely said that it was. “The main thing is just, you know, coaches get onto us a lot, when we leave the field everyone wants kind of to walk out as one big group and wait for friends that are in other groups…so they’re trying to keep us spread out as we’re leaving the field too.” I asked him how he felt about that. “I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
At the time of the interview, he and his family were looking forward to a trip to the beach. William mimicked his mother’s voice to convey how she was trying to prevent any of them from getting sick before they were able to take the vacation. I asked him what he and his family had kept themselves amused during the most restrictive part of their quarantine. “We’ve done a lot of fun things, not anything crazy…we’ve done a lot of swimming. A lot of family nights…It’s either board games, or we’ll hang outside for a really long time, or we’ll watch a movie or something. My mother and sister are big on their HGTV so they’re always watching that, so I’ll sometimes join them to watch that…They like ‘Love It or List It’ or regular ‘House Hunters.’” His favorite is “Probably ‘Love It or List It,’ too. I remember they fell asleep and I just started watching, I was like, hmm. This isn’t bad.” William has also been learning how to cook, and both grilled out and made a breakfast spread for his family.
“I definitely you know, just being in quarantine, I definitely thought of things differently, that’s for sure,” he told me. He mentioned briefly how he thought throughout the past few months that medical professionals were not receiving enough praise and thanks for all their effort, then he told me something that he and his family have been doing to help people during the pandemic. “We’ve done sack lunches for the homeless because it’s got to be really difficult for them to get food. I think, actually, I think that’s really what’s come into perspective for me, because every Wednesday night we make lunches and we take ‘em to Second Baptist or St. Mary’s and we just drop ‘em off there, so I mean that really feels good that you’re helping someone, because it’s got to be really difficult for them to be able to provide for themselves during this time. I think it’s really cool that we’re still being able to serve…” He and his family pack these lunches as an assembly line, each person with their own responsibility. “Every once and while we’ll switch jobs…we made my brother do the actual making of the sandwiches today.” Sandwich making is the least desired job because it requires the most effort. His mother was the one who signed up their family to make the lunches. “She has been all about helping people through the quarantine, I mean we’ve done two food drives, we went down to Jonestown, Mississippi, this past weekend…this town doesn’t have a grocery store in miles of it so you have to drive thirty, forty-five minutes to go find one…” I asked how those experiences have been. “100% positive,” he said, “but it makes you see, like my mom was saying multiple times, that, you know, we’re really lucky we don’t have to wait in a food line at six thirty in the morning to get food.”
William is looking forward to his junior year. He expressed reservations about how safe it would be if CBHS didn’t adjust much to accommodate the virus, but he admitted it would be nice if everything went back to normal. He’s excited for “looking at colleges, definitely football season, if there is one. But you know, just to continue the high school experience you don’t get to witness as a freshman or a sophomore.” I asked him what his reaction would be to a cancelled football season. “Maybe cry a little?” he said. “But I’d probably keep working out, just doing what I need to do to get better.” He told me about various CBHS traditions he loved that now seem so farfetched in the light of covid-19. “Personally if we play games next year without a crowd or a student section, it’s just not going to be the same kind of energy, you know?” he said. “…I guess just as team we’d have to build each other up when we’re not on the field, kind of just be our own student section, as a team, on the field…We’ll be doin’ something.”
No one knows what sacrifices the upcoming school year will demand. William is bracing for the worst and hoping for the almost unattainable. But, having already gone through self-isolation, he knows how to manage life spent mostly within the walls of his own house. The future may not be optimal, but William can whip up a delicious breakfast and he knows where the best fishing spots are. He faces the unknown, but not empty-handed.