On goodbyes


Berit Oxley '22

Here I am on the left with Claire McDonald ’21, the Shield’s managing editor and my right-hand woman. It wasn’t too long ago that we were the only sophomores in Journalism. (By the way, thanks, Claire, for allotting me a corner of your car to decorate.)

The first time I had the Jersey Mike’s Original Italian sub was at my first layout weekend for the Veritas Shield. A timid sophomore in a room full of juniors and seniors, I picked out the first sandwich I saw on the Postmates menu. Little did I know at the time, I would consume the same ungodly hunk of processed meats (Mike’s Way, of course) at almost every layout weekend for the following two years. Even during the pandemic, I would order the Number 13 before my Zoom editing sessions to keep the spirit of FSH journalism alive. The Original Italian sandwich became synonymous with journalism for me — a ritual of sorts, a pillar of consistency and stability, something I looked forward to even during the most grueling of weeks.

Through journalism, not only did I become an acolyte of the cult of Jersey Mike’s. I also asked a lot of people a lot of questions, some I’m proud of and others I would rather forget. I wrote about a few topics that were completely foreign to me, like hip-hop history, Nike branding techniques and St. Francis guys. As Aristotle once said, “There is wisdom to be found in every corner, even at an all-boys Catholic high school.”

I also made some of my best friends. Undoubtedly, the roof was raised in Room 20 on more than a few occasions. From scanning articles for stray Oxford commas until my eyeballs felt like they were going to implode to taking “Euphoria”-inspired photos in the school bathroom to working out my calves running to the admin building on distribution day, I cherished every moment (or at least I do now).

The time has come, however, for me to retire my Veritas Shield lanyard. My tenure as editor-in-chief is over. The hours I spent poring over articles on Zoom with the infamous Claire Prestin McDonald, giving other students pep talks before their interviews and pestering girls about article deadlines are behind me. It’s time to say goodbye.

This past year, I’ve thought a lot about the importance of saying goodbye. The pandemic, in its cruelly paradoxical way, deprived many of us of our goodbyes in the midst of so much loss.

For my sister’s graduation last year, her middle school held a Zoom ceremony and a subsequent drive-through send-off. As we drove by the front of the campus, teachers waved from behind masks and danced with bedazzled signs to the tune of “September” by Earth, Wind and Fire. When we got to the end of the line, Ava got out of our car and anemically smiled for a picture in front of a poster that read, “Congratulations to the class of 2020!” Then, she slumped back into the passenger’s seat and we drove away.

When my mom asked Ava how she felt as we drove down the street, she replied, “I don’t know. Numb?”

I couldn’t blame her; I felt her emptiness. That was the end, a story of three years concluded in three minutes. The jokes about attending graduation in pajama pants didn’t make up for the lack of closure.

There were smaller losses this year and there were larger ones. The biggest loss I experienced this year was the death of my friend Jack. In middle school, Jack was the class clown, the type of kid who would break his own arms if he knew doing so would get him a laugh. I recently went through my phone to find old videos of him and came across a clip from a project we filmed in eighth grade. Jack is standing in his uniform polo shirt, scowling into the camera. I start filming and almost immediately begin laughing. Jack grins, revealing his set of clear braces, and shouts, “I didn’t even do anything!” He constantly made me crack up, sometimes without even trying.

At our after-school creative writing workshop, I had to strategically sit myself at the furthest point away from Jack if I wanted to complete any work. Otherwise, I would spend two hours every Thursday afternoon on the floor of the school library, laughing until my stomach felt like it was going to come out of my throat. At his vigil, I was reminded that when Jack would get excited, he would sometimes produce a screech that he himself had termed “the seagull.”

I hadn’t seen Jack in about two years when I found out about his death. The last time I saw him, he was performing in a production for his high school. I remember how, when another student fumbled over his lines, Jack riffed and said something, a quip that eludes me now, to make the audience laugh. As I watched him, I was in awe of his stage presence, the fire behind his gaze that pulled the audience like moths into the world behind the curtains. His lanky body assumed an unusual amount of coordination as he enunciated his lines. He was so present in each moment.

After the show, I said hello and congratulated him, but we were separated by the awkwardness of a foreign social setting and our adolescent need to appear cool and unbothered. We shuffled our feet and avoided eye contact for a few minutes while making small talk, and then I left to go home. That was our last exchange.

Even as I approached his house and saw the murmuring crowd of people with candles and plastic-wrapped flowers, I didn’t believe he was gone. Even as I greeted kids I hadn’t seen in four years and hugged Jack’s parents, I didn’t believe he was gone. I didn’t want to. My eyes kept scanning the front door of the house, and I hoped that Jack might come bursting out of it, yelling that there had been a mistake and that he was here to stay.

But he never appeared. The twilight faded into blackness and one by one the crowd dissipated. I imagined his family sitting together after everyone had gone, feeling the emptiness of their house. The irrevocable void where Jack once was.

I didn’t get to say goodbye to Jack. I often wish I could laugh with him again, like we did in middle school. At random times, I will think of him and cry a heavy, trembling cry, knowing that he is gone. I am so grateful for the joy he gave me, for the laughter we shared. I am so grateful Jack was part of my life.

As I look upon the eve of my high school graduation, a part of me wishes I could freeze time and wrap my peers in an eternal hug so that I never have to say goodbye. After the last 12 months of isolation, having these few weeks of school in person has reminded me of the unique sense of community (the sisterhood, if you will) at FSH that I love. On our second week back, someone I rarely talk to gave me a bite of her mom’s quiche during lunch. The quiche was fluffy and delicious, and eating it filled me with what I can only describe as blissful delight. In that moment, as I consumed that bite of cheesy heaven and spoke with that girl, I thought to myself, I never want this feeling to stop.

But if this year has taught me anything, it’s that goodbyes are inevitable, and because the metaphorical bites of quiche in this world must eventually end, each morsel of human connection means so much more. The summer sun will set, and the people I’ve spent the past four years with will drive off to different parts of the country to begin anew. Although I’m scared for that day, right now I embrace those I love and savor their warmth, because it’s the only thing I can do. I learn scootering tricks with Claire, bike around Pasadena with Bridget, eat tacos late at night with Berit and make niche jokes about the 1995 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy) with Katelyn. I cheer for Big Sam when she makes a layup on game day, and I laugh with Alyssa as she mocks me for fumbling with the tongs as I fry our bulgogi. Moments like these are sacred because they are ephemeral.

Time is fizzling out, and every day I find myself pausing to appreciate the things that faded into the haze of normalcy, like taking in the San Gabriel Mountains from junior patio, eating under-salted teriyaki chicken from the cafeteria, romping around Crane Field with friends and getting jolted out of my seat on the bus every morning as we drive over that one bump on the freeway. I feel sad that these things will no longer be part of my routine, but I also know that I’m ready to move on.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people from all walks of life; to taking weird, fun classes just because; to eating UCLA dining hall food and to knocking on the door of the Daily Bruin headquarters. I’m excited for the moment of my first article pitch. I know I’ll probably pace around my dorm room the days prior, running through possible ledes. I know, out of habit, I’ll think of texting Claire beforehand to walk through my ideas. I’ll pull out my phone and dial her number, only to remember that she’s too busy partying at Berkeley to pick up, so instead I’ll opt for the next best plan and hallucinate a hologram Claire McDonald. She’ll appear in her white polo with a tennis racket slung over her shoulder, and she’ll pat me on the back and say, “Come on, just do it already.”

I feel like just yesterday I was waking up at 5 a.m., the early-senior-year glow plastered on my face, opening up my laptop while thinking to myself, The grind is starting. The camera tracks my face as I sip from a steaming cup of joe and click-clack away at my keyboard. Then, smash cut to me trying on my cap and gown. Too soon, Spielberg. Too soon.

My time on the Hill and at the Veritas Shield is done. I must say goodbye. I am ordering another sandwich from the menu, but I will never forget what the Original Italian has given me.