iLearn World-2021 全国作文比赛第一名作文

Online vs. In-person Learning (Creative Writing)- By Christopher F.

(Christopher Fu is an iLearn World student and also won a Silver Key at the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in 2021)

I wanted to laugh, to tear apart the dignity and self-esteem that my classmate was probably bathing in on the other side of the Zoom meeting, but I just couldn’t. As I was sitting down, tuning out of my boring history lecture, I thought of when I could freely saunter down the trash-filled hallways of my high school, Milmore High School, and rip the backpacks off of anybody I wanted. However, it’s June 2021. The pandemic happened. Quarantine happened. Online learning happened, and there’s thankfully just two weeks of school left before the summer. And, the disappearance of my beautiful daily job as a bully disappeared. The soothing salve that would usually ease my emotional pain was gone, causing the pain to scream in my head even more and leaving bullying an empty grave for the pleasure I had once experienced. Before the pandemic, my mom was my only parent and family member. She had no siblings, and I didn’t know anything about my dad, much less his relatives. My mom had already spent every night at the bar, stumbling through the door at two in the morning. Then, she had to wake up five hours later to work at a cramped, derelict Italian restaurant down the road. Now, with the pandemic, my mom had immediately lost her job, causing her to sit at home all day long with a pile of crumpled bills on her lap and a six-pack of beer on the table next to her. As I’m having class in my room, I can hear glass shattering and paper ruffling, and when I lie in bed, trying to prepare myself for the next, boring day of online learning, I can hear loud snoring and static coming from the broken TV. Every morning, as I go down to make breakfast, I pass by her drunken body limp on the threadbare sofa with the bills strewn across the floor and the empty bottles of beer stacked on the table. I was alone in the barren battlefield of life that I had to live in—an uncaring mom, no dad, and no true friends.

Before the pandemic began, as I stuffed my classmates into their own lockers at school, seeing them scared and cowering from me rinsed away my own fear and fury. I could see their faces, stricken with terror, but I still laughed as I scrambled the lock on the door so that I could return home, happy and content. My fake friends followed me wherever I went, but I knew it was just because they thought I was powerful and scary, and that by following me, they thought they would become more powerful and scary themselves. Now, bullying is a habit, a daily routine of going through my targets and injecting my heart and mind with doses of relief by building obstacles in the paths of those people’s lives.

Every day, I went home relaxed until I walked through the door, and as I saw my mother’s body still draped over the couch, I thought back to the enjoyment I had lathered in as I had bullied my classmates that day. Once quarantine began, I had to push away from the comfortable shore of in-person bullying and sail to more rocky islands after all of my classes went online. Soon after this transition, I had landed upon the idea of cyber-bullying; however, I sent one cruel message to an acne-covered boy named Ollie and received no reply. I sent one after the other, but as I looked at his face during our Zoom class, I could see no change in his calm, attentive face. He was wearing that stupid Yankees cap and Spiderman t-shirt, the two pieces of clothing he always wore everywhere. At Milmore, I used to constantly rip off his cap and fling it into a toilet and smash his almost liquid mashed potatoes into his shirt, but he simply walked in the next day with the same shirt and cap on, potato stains or not. Probably some weird gift he got during one of his extravagant, special little birthdays. Disgusting, I always thought.

Now, in these last two weeks of school before the summer vacation, I decided to send one last message to Ollie using the Chat feature on Zoom during class, just to stir up a laugh or two in my humorless heart. This time, I reminded him of all of the “fun” we used to have in in-person learning, waiting for his face to twist in embarrassment and anger, but instead I got a message back.

“You can’t intimidate me with your buddies now that we’re online,” he wrote, “so I can say this. I want to be free from fear and suffering, and I recommend you do what I’m doing now and face your problems instead of shoving them onto other innocent people like me.”

Trying to digest the message, my eyes flickered to Ollie’s face, expecting to see triumph and relief, but all I saw was a trace of sadness, which immediately ignited a flame of anger in me, his words feeding that fire until it was blazing, threatening to burst out all across my skin and burn him through the screen. I wanted to slam him against the side of a dirty locker and swallow the sweet joy that would come from hearing him scream and flail helplessly, but of course, online learning stopped me. Lucky him. However, as I flipped my gaze to Ollie’s face again, his face was plain, not rising in joy and happiness. Why was he not smiling, smirking, laughing at me like I always did to him? For years, I had been stealing his lunch money and hiding his backpack in high places; there was certainly no reason for him to relent and not inflict all of his pain on me right now, even if that pain was in the form of online messages.

I leaned forward to look even closer at Ollie’s face. I saw his lips turned slightly downwards and his eyes drooped pitifully. Those were signs of pity, not sadness. Was Ollie pitying me? I was supposed to have the power. I...I...I was supposed to be in control, but he was pitying me as if he was my equal, not a victim subject to my relieving acts of bullying. He was pitying my weakness, vulnerability, and insecurity. With the understanding that Ollie was not attacking me, the irate fire pounding in my heart was slowly extinguished with buckets of water being dumped from my mind. The lump of reason that had evaded me for my entire career as a bully now entered me, making itself known to my heart and mind. With his face full of pity and his message coated in a hard shell of sincerity, Ollie seemed to be thinking of how all bullies have their own problems on the inside, causing him to pity my weakness. His brief moment of rebellion, despite the example only being a facial expression and a brief message, slipped the new phenomenon of determination into my heart, an emotion that had never been given to me before, not even by my own mother.

After school ended, I spent the entirety of the summer pondering Ollie’s advice, trying to figure out how I could become free of my fear as I was desperately searching for a job to get the money to pay the bills due months ago and the ones coming up at the start of the school year. Eventually, after a month of searching (which meant one more bill to pay off), I got a job helping a garbage truck take the garbage in my neighborhood, and as the truck huffed and puffed its way down hills after hills of roads, my face constantly creased in thought of how I could support the family instead of just pushing my stress onto other people. With Ollie’s act of defiance causing me to confront my family problems, I thought back to how he had overcome my oppression. He had stood up, both feet dug deep into the dirt, and overcome his fear in order to force me back.

Back when we were still in in-person learning, I had seen Ollie’s tear-filled eyes when I stole his backpack and declared him weak in my mind. However, witnessing the bravery that had emboldened him yet had never stayed in my own heart to help sort out my problems showed me his true self, not just the pitiful version of him that I lavished in seeing while I grabbed him in a headlock in front of his single friend. Before, I had held the torch of power above my head, pushing Ollie back; now, he not only held the torch, but he handed me another so that we could both see in the darkness of our futures. The dark, unknown sea of my search for freedom swallowed my hopes and washed me back up on shore to find the new school year, not knowing if I should continue being a bully or keep sailing to unmapped freedom from my fear of solving my mom’s problems. Towards the end of the summer, I got an email from Milmore saying that the school was being fitted with new COVID protocols and that everything was going to be cleaned, so all students should try to make the effort to be as clean and sanitary as possible.

So on the first day back at school, I walked in through the front doors of Milmore to find the old, decrepit lockers replaced by shining, blue ones. I looked down the hallways to my left and right and saw that all the crumpled papers, empty soda cans, and tiny candy wrappers that had been sitting there for years had been swept up, the windows cleaned to reflect the gleaming sunlight, and the floors polished to welcome the soles of the hundreds of sneakers.

I walked over to my locker I had been assigned and was just starting to put my books in, worn and torn as usual, when somebody tapped the locker next to mine. I heard somebody say, “Hey, how was your summer? Do a lot of thinking?”

The voice sounded familiar, and to my surprise, I turned around to see Ollie. He had never dared even walk down this hallway before when I was around, and now he was standing right next to me. Wow, he really had changed.

I looked down and mumbled thoughtfully, “Yeah...yeah.”

I didn’t want to seem weak in front of him, but I also wanted to thank him for setting me down the right path.

My face creased and my body shaking in nervousness, I glanced up at his calm eyes and muttered, “Hey, I’m going to be at Danny’s Pizza down the road after school. You know, if you want to join me.”

Anxiously waiting for his reply, I shuffled my feet and turned my gaze towards the floor. I was just about to walk away when he spoke.

“Yeah, sure. You know, I hope you really did do some thinking over the summer. Online learning was rough, but it was really, really nice to be so free after being trapped in-person for so long,” Ollie remarked purposefully as he leaned on the locker next to mine. He was wearing that Spiderman t-shirt and Yankee cap again, and for once I saw how the worn grey of the shirt acted as a podium for the red and blue superhero and blended into the shining blue and white threads of the cap.

My face lit up at his remark, and I marveled at how Ollie had moved past the years of torment that I had inflicted upon him and had already started to attempt to make amends and rebuild our relationship. I looked up at his face, and all I saw was a healthy grin and eyes full of bliss. I had never noticed he had blue eyes before. The detail must have escaped me while I was slamming his head into his locker. In this brief moment of equilibrium, I remembered his message.

Thinking back to the summer, I remembered how I had tried to choose between bullying and actually trying to fix my mom’s problems so my mom and I could both be revived. I looked up at Ollie’s face, and I tried to imagine how I would feel if I grabbed his backpack and threw its contents at him. I was expecting the usual rush of excitement, glee, and joy; however, as I stared at his calm, friendly grin and his relaxed posture, a sudden urge to learn from his personality encased in bravery and determination shielded my heart and mind from any other cruel intentions. His act of rebellion against my oppression had shown the glory and content at the end of the road of bravery, revealing that path as a true, virtuous, and long-lasting path to peace. Then, I thought of the origins of Ollie’s message. At first, I had been discouraged by the shift to online learning because I could not draw any satisfaction and relief from bullying anymore. However, it turned out to be a saving grace for both me and him. Lucky him...lucky me.

I looked Ollie right in the eyes, clasped his hand in mine, and said, “Great. See you there. Hell, we might even talk about ourselves. About the surprise of the pandemic, about the good that came out of quarantine. I think it would really benefit us both after all that’s happened.”

Ollie looked right back at me, determination and confidence burning in his eyes.


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