The quarantine chronicles: Ponderings on loss and leaving home for college

A cartoon family of four embrace in a group hug. The second person to the left side of the image is holding a brown, sleeping dog. Around the embracing family is the outline of a house, and outside the outline are a cyan sky, white puffy cartoon clouds, and green blades of grass on the ground.
(Yasmin Elqutami • The Student Life)

I was never eager to go to college. More aptly put, I was never eager to leave home.

By the time the second semester of my senior year rolled around, everything was moving so fast and I couldn’t do anything to stop it. All I wanted to do was to stop time from slipping away, but that made it even more slippery, and soon enough, I was left with empty hands.

So after putting it off for as long as possible, I packed my life into the trunk of my moms’ car, and drove eight hours south to Claremont.

When the moment finally came for my moms to leave me, all I wanted was for some reality to exist where I could jump back into the car with them and never see Claremont again. But it didn’t — they left.

Alone in the iconic Toll Hall browsing room of Scripps College, I felt like my heart had been wrenched from my chest. (Note: The browsing room isn’t the best crying spot at Toll Hall. I recommend one of the side benches in Star Court instead — I’ve never had my crying interrupted there.)

How do you deal with being displaced from everyone and everything you’ve ever known and loved in one fell swoop? For me, I fronted OK-ness as hard as I could and walked around making small talk for five days. When the forced socialization was over, I called my friends and cried. 

All I can remember thinking then was that no one there loved me. I wasn’t OK. At home, someone in my life would have realized this, but those people were over 500 miles away.

I called my family every week, dreading our calls despite wanting to talk to them. I knew they were saddened by my absence, and I didn’t want to add to the sadness by letting on how lonely I felt.

Over time, I began to have more OK days. I made friends and started to find the kind of platonic intimacy that I was spoiled to have in abundance at home. I missed my family, but it wasn’t the overwhelming feeling in my life.

While I wasn’t surprised by in-person classes ending, hearing that campus life as I knew it was to be ended abruptly was really upsetting, and I know I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. 

Recently, though, I’ve been trying to appreciate the positives of my scholastic displacement. In saying this, I acknowledge the place of privilege I inhabit in having a safe, loving and well-resourced home to return to, and I wouldn’t place the burden of thinking positively on anyone else in these times. No part of me wishes for the enormous loss that this pandemic has caused.

That being said, I want to be able to hold the devastating reality of this pandemic alongside the knowledge that within this terrible circumstance, the time I’ve been given to be at home is a gift.

Leaving home gets less painful over time, or at least that’s what I’ve often been told from adults in my life who are fortunate enough to have healthy relationships with their parents, including my own. I don’t question either of these claims for a minute, but I do worry over them. 

While I don’t want to be sad about my physical separation from my family for the rest of my life, I also don’t want to be OK with being separated from the people I love most in this world, because how could that ever be OK? I don’t want the grief to leave my body, because if it does, does that mean that the love I feel is any less real?

Over the past month at home, I’ve easily slipped back into my pre-collegiate self, and as nightmarish as this may sound to many, this has been the silver lining of being booted off campus. Though many stressors are very present in my life because of COVID-19, separation from my moms and my sister isn’t one of them. For better or for worse, time feels almost suspended in this moment of almost soothing monotony.

In moments where I feel the greatest sense of grief when thinking about my family, I tell myself that I can always move back home after college, and things will revert to how they used to be. 

While Bay Area rent prices are extremely ridiculous (so moving back home could very well be in my future), I know that I’m telling myself a lie, because I know that things won’t be the same when I am 22 years old and a college graduate. 

I don’t think this because I anticipate somehow turning into a full-fledged adult in three years, but because I know that just like time never stagnates, people don’t either. Nothing is ever sure, and each perfect moment in time is gone as soon as it comes. I know that I will ultimately be OK in my life, and also have times where I’m not OK, and I will have to confront the fear of loss that comes with each state of being.

But for now, I’m going to revel in the familiarity: I’ll wake up, walk my dog, call my friends, help my family make dinner so we eat at a reasonable hour and lose time online while my moms get their late-night dose of questionable TV. I think I will grapple with the loss on another day. 

Jessica Shen-Wachter SC ’23 is currently academically undecided but would decidedly trade her left pinky for physical contact with friends.

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