Quarantine is making me revert to my middle school self

Quarantine+is+making+me+revert+to+my+middle+school+self

Illustration by Nora Talbott

With students covered in pimples and adhering to pointless social hierarchies, I’ve never met a person who considers middle school, those three painful years between the fun of elementary school and the freedom of high school, as a lifetime highlight.

Allow me to provide you with a brief snapshot of myself in middle school: too tall (5’9 in eighth grade isn’t a good look, especially when all the boys are inches shorter than you), too loud at the lunch table (but too quiet in class, even when I knew the answer), socially awkward (I’d’ve rather died than tell a boy I liked him) and completely reliant on the perception of others for my happiness and self worth. If my peers liked me or I got a starring role in the school play, I was happy. If I saw my friends hanging out without me on Snapchat (an inevitable right of passage for any tween misfit, unfortunately), I’d spiral into a pit of despair. Basically, I was an anxious mess.

This period of preteen self-loathing is a breeding ground for obsession. If you were born in the early 2000s, you entered middle school during the golden age of young adult dystopian literature, with books like “Divergent” or “The Hunger Games.” If you were there, you know that these books weren’t just fun diversions in the eyes of our peer group. They became much more than that, prompting entire communities of rabid tweens to cling to these characters as if they were real: writing fanfiction, dressing up and rereading until they could quote from memory. Others focused their energy on contemporary bands. One Direction fans had one of the largest communities on Wattpad, a popular fanfiction site, full of the vivid, ridiculous and occasionally erotic (if somewhat anatomically misinformed) fantasies of 13-year-old Harry Styles fans across the globe.

As we’ve sunk deeper into the strange melancholy of quarantine, safe at home yet resentful, scared and most importantly, bored, many of us have begun to revisit the pop culture that defined our middle school years. The resurgence of shows like “Glee,” evident in countless TikToks regarding the often absurd and offensive storylines that defined the series (it’s satire, but TikTok doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word) exemplifies the fact that, in this terrifying and uncertain (an overused but accurate descriptor) time, we’re searching for the comfort these franchises provided us during one of the most difficult developmental periods of our young lives. In the last week, I’ve blown through a complete reread of “The Selection” series, a very popular dystopian trilogy from my middle school days. It feels so safe to revisit this franchise years later with the knowledge that everything works out fine in the end. I’ve also been listening to The Beatles again; the familiarity of every song is like a balm for the pandemic-induced anxiety.

The coronavirus pandemic is a lot like puberty. Feeling isolated from our friends and worried about the future, we retreat further within our minds, binging shows and devouring books that we used as a source of comfort when we hated ourselves. It’s a timeless coping mechanism I’d recommend to anyone feeling overwhelmed by our current situation. If nothing else, it’ll remind you to be grateful that you’re not 13 anymore.

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