by Marieko Amoah

As we return to our laptops to do work instead of watch Netflix and fill our minds with intellect on par with the greatest philosophers, my fellow students and I must face the struggles of our past. 

It is within my family blood that I carry a great burden. Our curse has been allergies. From ages four to seven, I had to take Claritin almost every day. I discovered that my suffering was all my dad’s fault. He has a four-page list of everything he is allergic to, and because of my terrible genes, I had asthma and a constantly swollen face. And although my immune system doesn’t know what it’s doing, I do. 

In my family, we’ve cultivated and nurtured a sense of germaphobia, which has become a sudden benefit during corona-time. I remember being traumatized in first grade when my teacher showed me the bacteria on my hands with a blue light. From that day on, I swore to never again be undermined by germs. 

I continue to uphold this mindset during the germ-ridden times of COVID. I wash my hands EVERY time I use the bathroom. I use soap and hand sanitizer before I eat (even though the hand sanitizer reeks of baby powder and leaves my hands sticky). I spray my phone down with cleaner or alcohol EVERY time I go outside. I wear inside and outside clothes as I’ve convinced myself any foreign germs I encounter will not touch any part of me. 

While my germaphobic ways have protected me for the most part, I have uncovered new challenges this year. Upon returning to Nobles, I’ve never tried so hard not to cough or sneeze in public. Seriously, I have to swallow my pain when I detect the pungent odors of the school hand sanitizer or when I accidentally choke on speedily-sipped water. Every germaphobe cell is on high alert. 

But allergies aren’t the only thing that scare me and my fellow students during COVID Nobles —it’s the masks. No, not the sweat, heavy breathing, or the pressing fear that I may sneeze into one. It’s their horrible fashion sense. 

Masks have become an unwanted accessory — a necessary evil. I could have the perfect outfit on (which feels much more special since I only have in-person classes twice a week), but the sheer presence of my mask could tear it apart. I have seen cute dresses get trashed by colorfully-patterned masks. Newly discovered and explored styles have been beaten down by an ugly, non-matching, wrongly colored (and shaped) mask. 

Look, I believe effective germ protection and comfort are key, but sometimes compromises must be made. Unless you’re a pre-med student or wearing scrubs as your Halloween costume, please, stop and buy a reusable mask that matches your outfits and personality.

The thing is, masks don’t just damage an outfit, they also present issues in the new socially distanced classroom environments. I’m a quiet person by nature —an introvert in the purest form. So you can understand my exasperation and disappointment when I’m repeatedly told to speak louder in class since my mask stifles my volume. Not only are introverts being affected by the struggle of masks, even English teachers with voices loud enough to fill Lawrence without a microphone are being silenced by the mask. 

It’s not entirely the mask’s fault. The tents are ruthless. If you ever have the miserable experience of sitting in one, I encourage you to listen to the whispering wind. Do you hear it? It’s telling you nobody’s ever going to hear your voice. It’s saying it’s okay if you can’t hear your teacher because they can’t even hear themselves. 

Despite the hardships, I know I’m not alone in my suffering. Turquoise and pink flamingo masks paired with striped shirts, consistent awkward silence in tents, sticky hand sanitizer, and needing to walk what feels like two miles to class are reminders that everyone is moving at the same pace in terms of becoming comfortable in the new Nobles.