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UNIVERSITY LIGGETT SCHOOL \ BLOG \ BLOG

Green Haze

By Olivia Johnson ’24 with introduction by Elizabeth Wagenschutz

As an upper school English teacher, I am fortunate to read so much writing, in all genres, from our students. I am repeatedly impressed and moved by the depth of thought, intentionality of craft, and creativity of language these 14- through 18-year olds share with me. Then there is the bravery students display when they reveal some of their deepest fears and worries; their vulnerability is powerful, and it makes their writing stronger. At times they will explore their very identity and sense of self in a simple
vocabulary writing assignment, and I am honored to read their words and witness their developing character.

I’m also incredibly lucky to see our students’ creative expressions in writing as well as visual art and music/video as the moderator of the Lambrequin, the literary and art magazine for the upper school. This year, more so than any other, their submissions reveal our students processing the incredible challenges, struggles, and fears of our current world. This makes sense, of course, since creative expression is one of the outlets that helps our children–and all of us, really–to make sense of the strife we are experiencing. As we put together this spring issue, we are grappling with the pain and the hope expressed in so many of the pieces.

Despite being over a year into the coronavirus and its extenuating circumstances, we still struggle with what we must do to get through. Social distancing and the fear of the unknown hit our teenagers particularly hard. We navigate our way through this time as best we can, and we are so very fortunate at Liggett to be functioning “normally” in many regards. But it’s not really normal, and we do not yet know all that we have lost.

But just as winter always melts into spring and hope greets each morning, my students use their writing to make meaning and find purpose. Their words and engagement renew my faith. The nonfiction unit in Core 1 gave ninth graders an opportunity to practice their own creative essay writing; one of my ninth graders wrote about her role as a witness to the suffering and loss of this pandemic. Her piece below is inspired by Brian Doyle’s essay on 9/11 titled “Leap.”

 

Green Haze By Olivia Johnson ’24

Her daughter and her grandchildren waited for the call saying her heart gave out. They reached for each other and their tears met in a puddle on the floor. Their eyes were blurred but they felt their arms around each other keeping them grounded.

Her heart never gave out. Others’ did. The people outside tried to keep track. Only a few at the start. Then hundreds. Then they lost track. Bodies hit the floor one after the other, the virus creating a green haze.

The doctors recorded the spreading haze. A nurse who held the dying boy in her arms told the doctor that his light was gone and haze had grown. She cradled him to her chest like a mother would her child as the green haze swaddled him in a cloth and carried him away.

Sara Lopez saw the alluring haze reach for her hand, pulling her into a sleep-like trance. Richard Kisser was caught in the glowing beam on his mission to find a cure. Scott Isaacs didn’t plan to be serving on the front lines, fighting the virus and its captivating beam. Billy Porter looked up and saw the virus sweeping across the nation, pushing him to the side and leaving him without a way to make money. They saw the streets grow quiet, and clubs go dark hiding from the stunning glowing green haze. Everyone seemed to be cascading towards the end of a bottomless ocean. Nothing but the brilliant green haze could be seen, as the world was cradled in its embrace; shadows cast upon the waves created a beautiful devil’s wing, gnarled and twisted.

Millions of people’s lights were extinguished by the thick shroud of mist covering the nation. A doctor was killed by someone whose light had already been extinguished; however, their body still held on that green mist. They both gravitated toward the bottomless ocean quicker than most, their bodies crashing with the floor, skin breaking, bones cracking, bodies piling up on the dark ocean floor surrounded by a bewitching green haze.

Those still on the surface murmur prayers, for the howling souls at the seafloor, but also their souls screaming for a break. Those on the surface keep coming back to those whose hearts never gave out, they keep coming back to those whose hearts continue to play its triumphant, harmonious, soothingly tranquil song of everlasting love.

The sound of a loved one’s heart beating is the most powerful, the most comforting, the most beautiful message imaginable during a time when grief seems to be plaguing the nation with its green haze. The heartbeat is the one thing that gives us hope. Telling us we’re still alive, and that we can keep fighting. It is the heartbeat that connects us, that tells us we are not alone, allowing us to love. It makes us into beautifully worthy instruments capable of creating a beautiful song.

No one knows how long the green haze will linger. No one knows how many lovers, friends, wives, husbands, family members will fall victim to its bewitching gaze. Maybe it will be gone tomorrow, maybe in a day or two, maybe in a year, maybe it never will dissipate.

Her daughter and her grandchildren reached for each other, and her heart never gave out, and I hold on to that.