At night, I sit down to a delicious dinner that my boyfriend made. He works from home, which means I get to enjoy his delicious cooking on most nights. Our evenings are the kind of simple that most people our age long for. As we lay on the couch, curled in each other’s arms with our cat keeping our toes warm, it’s hard to imagine life any differently. Here we are, safe in our little apartment, which has been our lockdown refuge for the past two years. The first few lockdowns were hard to get through. I think everyone felt a bit like a caged animal. But as they became more frequent and the world outside became crazier, our little home started to become a sanctuary. We worked on little improvements here and there, making it ours. Maybe it’s our age or the darkness of the days, but we often tend to lean towards a night in than dinner out. Hard to beat playing our new VR and ordering in from our favorite Pho restaurant.
But then the night comes and as I drift into an exhausted sleep, my mind is taken to a different reality. To war. Every night I dream of war. I wake at 3am sharp sweating and need to open the balcony door for some cool night air. The cat meows as he rubs my leg and reminds me I am safe. We are safe, we are not at war. For now. After a precious few more hours of sleep, I’m pulled into the day with the beeping of my alarm. Everything seems normal, but my mind is still stuck in my dream place and it takes over an hour of my morning ritual to fully wake up enough to drive to work. At school, my attempt to convince myself that things are normal, is instantly shattered. Just pulling into the parking lot, the school feels darker, heavier somehow. As I walk to the entrance where everyone used to stand and greet “good morning” it is now quiet as teachers silently enter, preparing for the battle ahead. The front hall is filled to the brim with toilet paper, toys, shoes, clothes, diapers, and many other essential items that have been generously donated. I try not to look at it, reminded that I have everything I need at home already. A few parents are shopping through the piles, too embarrassed to make eye contact.
The rest of the day goes by in a blur marked only by moments. My new Ukrainian student asking if he can take extra snack home because they don’t have enough to eat. Watching my new colleague’s face drop in pain as I try rhyming get with jet… We know those very well now she says with a laugh that turns into a darkened face. One of my little girls starts crying at the end of the day. “what’s wrong my love?” I plead with her for understanding. “I don’t know, there’s just so much sadness everywhere!” She confesses to me as she folds into my arms. All day I have students clinging to me for extra love and comfort, while acting out because they are in a new country, new home, and new school and at their tender young age, don’t understand most of what’s happening. Are we even safe now? They ask me through tears.
I barely make it to the car before breaking down in tears. A few times it’s happened on the way to the parking lot. The tears stream down my face as my heart bleeds. How can such horrible things be happening? My mind is filled with the pain of these poor souls who don’t deserve any of this. But also guilty because I want to go home, I long for my other world where I am safe and have food and loved ones next to me. A privilege I didn’t know could be lost so easily.
At the end of the day, I collapse on the couch. “Laska, we need to put some bread in the freezer. My student’s grandma was shot standing in line for bread yesterday. We need to make sure we have enough bread in case the war comes here.”