Right when many of my friends headed back to their parents’ houses to shelter from this global pandemic, I chose this moment to move out.
It was actually before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. that I made the decision to leave my parents’ place outside Seattle for Los Angeles. Once the crisis hit, I had to re-make the decision, again and again. Having lived with my mom and dad pretty much all my life (besides college and a year in New York), I expected there’d be challenges to being on my own, like getting the right furniture and emotionally adjusting to the fact that if I want one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes, I have to cook it myself.
What I didn’t expect was how this pandemic would change the world around me, have ripple effects on my mental health and have me butting heads with my loved ones who want me to come back.
PREPPED AND PROUD
On March 16, I wake up to a video link from my older brother in our family group chat. He and my mom have been sending articles about the pandemic for weeks. Most of which I’ve been avoiding. Not to say I’m not preparing for a potential lockdown. I bought my fair share of non-perishables and other essentials that will last me about a month (which I am really proud of myself for doing!). I even decide to splurge on fancy stuff like Fiji water.
I’m fine, they’re exaggerating… I’m not trying to feed into this paranoia, I think to myself. I’m not sure what leads me to actually watch the 16-minute video he sent. It lists five ways the coronavirus will affect all of our lives. Watching it puts me on edge. To calm my nerves, I drive out to 99 Ranch Market. It’s an Asian supermarket that soothes me with its cans of quail eggs, bottles of fish sauce and jars of honey ginger tea that American stores don’t provide.
(MIND) RACING OVER RICE
I am able to find my comfort foods just fine but have one item left on my list: a 10-pound bag of rice. I push my cart toward the rice aisle. When I get there my stomach drops because the shelves are completely empty. I am getting used to seeing aisles with massive blank spaces, thanks to everyone else’s panic buying. But at this store that always has everything I need and now they don’t have rice?
I feel queasy. My heart beats rapidly and I am practically panting down the aisle. It doesn’t help that, at the same time, my brother is texting me long paragraphs about how important it is to prepare for the worst-case scenario. Feeling overwhelmed, I take my items to the checkout. The woman standing behind me in our very long line talks about how weird all of this is. I buy my things, quickly unload them into my trunk, get into my car and burst into tears.
I can’t control my breathing. I can’t conceal my loud sobs. I don’t know how to stop the millions of thoughts flooding my mind. All I know is that I am having a panic attack and there is nothing I can do but ride out that wave of anxiety. Once I am finally able to stop crying, I call my boyfriend, who is back in my hometown. Even though we’ve happily been a long-distance couple for the past three years, moments like these make me wish I never moved. Hearing his voice makes me cry again but his support gives me the strength I need to continue my day.
COME BACK HOME
I end up going to the movie theater later that day to distract myself from the outside world. On the way home, I drive by a long line of people wearing face masks standing outside some kind of store. As I drive closer, I see it is a gun and ammunition shop. Oh great, another reason for me to freak out. I am emotionally drained by the time I get home where I cry even more. I feel helpless and send a picture on Snapchat to some people saying I am really sad.
My brother is one of them and he calls me right away. He asks what’s wrong. I say I don’t want to talk about it but he encourages me to. I tell him about what happened earlier that day and how his messages made me feel. He listens intently and after, suggests I come back home. I’m not into the idea. I feel safe where I am and prepared for lockdown (minus the not having rice part). Why would I put myself at risk by leaving? Needless to say, I am resistant. But not for long because I don’t have enough energy to put up a fight, so I tell him I’ll consider it and leave it at that.
HOME IS HERE
The following weekend I catch up with one of my hometown best friends. I tell her the same things I told my brother. Like him, she listens intently. But also like him, and to my surprise, she suggests I go back to my parents’ place in Lynnwood. “You should come back home, at least for two weeks.” I get angry. Correction, I am FUMING.
I tell her I appreciate her concern but what she said is triggering. I think of my move as a big adulting step but comments like hers make me feel like it’s actually childish. Like I have too much pride to consider my safety. But I know that when I’m home my anxiety is worse because I tend to lose my identity in that of my parents. I love them but I know moving away will give me the distance I need to appreciate them while growing independently from them.
I tell my bestie I need space. I call another friend and my sister in the meantime, venting about my frustrations while shaking with anxiety. I don’t think they understand my “home” is here. But you get that, right? It just seems like they want me to go back just so they know that I’m safe. But I know that I’m safe. Shouldn’t that be good enough?
TWO HAPPY HEARTS
Throughout all this, the one person in my family I am not really talking to is my dad. But one Saturday morning, when I am deep into journaling, he calls. “Just want to let you know that Daddy misses you! I’m working on new projects around the house and thought I’d call my baby girl to see how she’s doing.” It’s been about two weeks since my panic attack at that point, so I am able to talk about it (along with everything else) with ease.
“It’s your new home,” he says. “If you feel good about where you’re at, that’s all that matters. It sounds like you’re doing just fine. When you’re happy, I’m happy. You are my heart and because of that my heart is happy.”
I cry tears of joy. I can’t ask for a better exchange of words. Wow, he actually gets it.
LOSSES AND GAINS
It’s been about two months since I started living on my own. Like everyone else in the world, I’ve lost a sense of normalcy because of the virus. I’ve lost the world that allows me to go to my sanctuary (the movie theater) or to smile like I usually do with strangers because a.) I’m not really going outside b.) If I am, our mouths are covered with masks.
Despite those things, I’ve gained so much.
One: insight as to how much my loved ones care for me and respect my feelings. My brother hasn’t made any more suggestions for me to temporarily leave Los Angeles. My best friend and I have cleared the air. My dad gave me the ultimate form of acceptance of my decision to stay. Of course I miss them, my boyfriend and everyone else, but I know I have a lot more growing up to do on my own before being with them in the flesh again.
Two: I’ve gained a true home. Lynnwood, Washington will always have a special place in my heart and it will forever be my hometown, full of memories with people I love most in my life. But Los Angeles gives me a deep sense of belonging and the freedom to be my unapologetic self. There’s truly no place I’d rather be quarantined. While a part of me is sad that I don’t get to explore this city I want to get to know better, I know the time for that will come eventually.
I’ll admit that there are days when I’m still in denial of this new reality. There are others when I accept it. Regardless of what kind of day it is, I know I’m not alone in the way I feel and want you to know that you aren’t either.