The Bubble Pops


“Unfortunately, since you guys won’t stop talking, you have to have silent recess time,” Mrs. Moriarty says. She’s a feared second-grade teacher, but in a roundabout way. I like her. Even though she’s petite and bordering elderly, she commands respect. The truth is she has a bit of a soft spot, but she sure does not mess around. Her colorful patterned skirt billows in the wind. 

I sit gingerly on the wood planks, afraid of getting a splinter on the back of my legs. I lean forward uncomfortably, as I can’t lean back on my hands behind me because of the dirt. Everyone around me is doing the same, sitting quietly abashed. 

Lydia lays her head on her knees, her face turned towards me. Her brown hair hides her face from Mrs. Moriarty. Underneath her breath, she murmurs, “This is so unfair.” I agree with her, but I can’t say a word. Mrs. Moriarty is facing me with her eagle eyes. Instead, I just make meaningful eye contact and nod. My eyes then flick over to a couple of people who were being unruly in the first place and now, consequently, all of us had to suffer. I know them inside and out, which is the only way I know people in our small town. 

All the other classes are gleefully shouting and running around in the sun. I can hear the balls bounce behind me on the four-square courts. There is something about the air that is inherently fresh. The warmth of the day would just start to make your skin prickle with sweat if it weren’t for the cool breeze causing the canopy of bright green leaves to sway. I am supremely jealous of the freedom the other kids have. I look up at the three trees above us and analyze their buds growing. I notice their tiny white flowers littered on the ground by my feet on the asphalt, and I pick their petals off with my nails. 

Years later, we pass by that same elementary school. The sun hides behind some clouds at the end of the day. My shoes scuff the sidewalks as our voices all clamor over each other. We walk down Lake Street in an intimidating pack of middle school children. In our ten-minute walk, we pass the post office, the chocolate shop, the police station, the baseball fields. We walk past strangers who aren’t really strangers, as everyone is connected here in this bubble. And if we chose to walk down a side street, any side street, we could probably name almost all the people that live there.

The bell jingles as we walk into Frank’s Deli. It’s nothing special – the tile is generic and it’s slightly dingy. You can hear the buzz of the air conditioning persistently. The same family owns and works at the neighboring pizza place, Bertolli’s. This is where we always get pizza: it’s the kind that is so greasy, but it sits satisfyingly in your stomach. Inside Frank’s, we browse the aisles full of candy, ice cream, and bubble gum.

“Will this be all?” asks the cashier, the same man we see every time. We nod and hand him an assortment of bills and change. 

Outside, Keystone Field sprawls before us, sandwiched between Lake Street and the Metra train tracks that head into the city. By the depot building, there’s a playground with a structure shaped like a train. We clamber onto the top, leaving our backpacks on the ground, and eat our bounty. 

Even later, I pass by that same park on the ride home as a high school student. It’s bitterly cold outside. All the trees stand stark in the wind without their leaves. I turn to Lydia in the car. It’s a worn Subaru, but it is exponentially better than her last car which quite literally up and died on her. This car is dependable, like her. 

“What the fuck was that?” I ask in disgust, knowing there is no response. These past months have been so racially charged with the docu-series of “America to Me” coming out and exposing the racial inequity built into our school system. Today was a tipping point when they found graffiti calling a faculty member a racist slur on the tennis shed outside. 

Both Lydia and I are at a loss for what this means in the grand scheme of things. I pick at my seat belt contemplatively. I still think I know everyone in this town. The bubble quivers. 

The next day we drive up North Boulevard to school early in the morning. The Chicago skyline is a slate grey cutout against the sky in the near distance. With how short the days are in winter, sunrise was only an hour or so ago and the day feels new. I am expecting something different. 

Instead, there are recurring hate crimes that entire week. It is becoming truly unbearable. Rumors spring up of someone bringing a gun to school. I look up from my phone at lunch with my heart clenching in terror, hands shaking, and realize I do not know where I am. I have been going to school here for four years. I get up and walk out the door of the room into the hallway, where I still cannot recognize my surroundings. It is dead silent. No one is milling about. There is an air of uncertainty and uneasiness laid thick everywhere. My disassociation makes me want to sob. 

I live in a little bubble of strangers who all say hello to each other in the street and put up signs of acceptance and love in their yards. They tout on their websites how inclusive the bubble is, how welcoming it is. And yet, there are children raised in the bubble that think it’s okay to publicly share swastikas in the middle of an assembly, to scribble racist slander about faculty on walls, to write “white power” all over their school that prides itself on diversity. 

The bubble pops.

Anika Carlson is a junior at Syracuse University, majoring in International Relations and Information Management & Technology (also minoring in Italian). Anika is from just outside Chicago, Illinois. Besides school, she is involved with a social sorority on campus, a member of U100, a member of Dean’s Team (the ambassador program for College of Arts and Sciences) and she also works in Recreation Services here on campus.