“No, I’m afraid the SAT will not be administered online”

Siddharth Srinivasan

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All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy me is personified and made assailable in the College Board.

One late September afternoon I found myself on hold with the College Board’s SAT department. Every week prior I called — to see if, by any chance, will the SAT be administered online in the future? This was the longest they had kept me on hold.

When I first called, I thought the notion of being on hold for so long was impractical and distant. No point in paranoia. I was, of course, distinctly aware of the possibility that I might be placed on hold, but never had I considered for how long I would be isolated in limbo.

I am holed up in my lifeless bedroom, seated on a bed fitted with gray sheets and gray pillows. The outside world, framed like a still life, is gray. I can see past my street, across the linear expanse of houses and highway and up to a wall of trees stuck in that awkward season between the summer bloom and autumn wither; tree bark breaking out in livid rash. Overcast hangs like leprous tissue, a flock of birds hovers. From somewhere comes a lawnmower’s drone, steadily decreasing in urgency, rev and throttle apparently absent. It hasn’t rained in days.

I remember April, with its verdant lawns; when sunlight embellished the air and the sky was uncracked and ovular like a cosmic robin’s egg. The colors of the world mocked me for being trapped in my gray bedroom. As an introvert, I initially took isolation in stride. I learned new languages, read new books, watched new films. But as the days turned to weeks and the weeks turned to months, I am reminded of a world seemingly forgotten. There are oceans, continents, mountains ranges, forests, rivers, lakes, countries, metropoleis, towns, streets, campi; Room 193. I haven’t seen it all and what I have seen are now all too distant memories.

Where will I be when WJ’s halls overflow once more? Come June, I won’t be robed and accomplished and sweating and wistful, I’ll be straitjacketed in a suburban asylum.

The College Board’s hold music is nauseating, and as the reality of the situation — perhaps even more grim than I ever would deign to expect — becomes clear, I am swept away by a violent seiche: I might not be able to take the SAT and I can’t visit colleges in person and I won’t be able to visit family and I’ll never see my friends again and I missed at least an entire season of soccer and I won’t be able to go to the library or watch movies in a theater and I have a Statistics test tomorrow and I still don’t know how to drive a car.

And I’m still on hold. The narcotic music synchronizes with the lawnmower to create a perfect dissonance. As if hypnotized, I descend two sets of stairs and appear in the living room. I am directly below where I was before. If you were to unravel the globe and chart my location, before and after, my coordinates would be unchanged. But now, I have lost my vantage point. I can’t see past the house squatting across the street from me. I am unchanged, but somehow everything around me is duller, more dessicate, dying of some spiritual atrophy. An algor materializes in the room. It is clear I am doomed to be on this call for the remainder of eternity. When a real, living human being finally answers me, they’ll be met with a rattling of bones and a chattering of teeth and the wind jittering through the gaps in my ribs.

Each minute I spend on hold is a minute I could spend learning German or reading Toni Morrison or working on my college applications. Every second I waste is a second of stagnation; every second of stagnation, a meter of regression.

I yawn as I recline on a couch, muscles and joints rigid. All of a sudden, my leg throbs. It’s the College Board: its cowardly customer service tactics have addled my senses. I’d like to see the College Board gutted and shriveled. Let Neptune strike ye dead, barrier to knowledge, shackle on human progress. Tens of thousands have been marooned by your vice. Vessels buoyed by hope and confidence, capsized. I’d like to harpoon you with a serrated rebuke.

Steady now: a voice manifests on the other end of the line. I ask “Will the SAT be administered online in the future,” the voice replies no, “Thank you” and the call is dead.

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