Quarantine Chronicles: Finishing College From my Childhood Bedroom

On March 18, I moved back into my childhood bedroom. As I unpacked my suitcase and backpack and placed the cilantro plant I had started growing in San Diego on my windowsill, I felt like I was watching a movie of my motions rather than experiencing them myself. 

It’s not that I have an issue with being home. My parents are extremely supportive, and my younger sister, Bonnie, is my best friend. I recognize that I come from a place of privilege, considering that I come from a stable household and that my family has the ability to quarantine and work from home. I don’t need to worry about food, housing insecurity, or a faulty Internet connection interrupting my classes. Many of my fellow classmates unfortunately cannot say the same.   

Rather, as I cleared out my bookshelf of old high school binders to make room for my college notebooks, I felt a deep sense of conflict. On the one hand, being home was nice. I found myself feeling comforted at being able to partake in everyday household rituals, like eating dinner together, or helping my dad make pancakes, or going for a walk around the block with my mom. Stepping back into life here was familiar — after all, I grew up here. 

Yet another part of me resisted this abrupt change. I couldn’t help but feel like I wasn’t supposed to be here. I noticed that now my knees almost hit the underside of the desk I used throughout high school. Having not brought all of my clothes from San Diego, I was forced to revisit what I left behind in my closet when I moved out. Surrounded by memories of my childhood, I felt almost like a teenager again, only trapped. As someone who enjoys being busy and being around people, I was used to being on campus or with friends most days from about 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., often later if there were events I wanted to attend. Practically every aspect of my life involved my daily campus interactions. This sudden shift to a confined existence back in my hometown made me feel like I was losing all sense of my life, and somehow my identity, pre-quarantine.  

Looking back, I should have been kinder to myself, rather than giving myself counterproductive pep talks to “power through.” In that first week home, I repressed as much tension as I could until something happened, usually a minor inconvenience, that just made me cry. And then I felt guilty, because it felt selfish to feel frustrated over personal matters when so many others are dealing with far more serious situations. 

There wasn’t any singular moment that broke this vicious cycle. I’m still struggling with trying to not repress my emotions as I navigate my final weeks of college and look toward my future. But about two weeks into quarantine, Bonnie made a decision on where she was going to go to college in the fall. Getting to watch my sister’s excitement and joy as she opened her acceptance letter made me feel the most normal I had since this whole thing began. We didn’t rush to worry about whether or not her school would be able to resume in-person classes in the fall, or wonder what the logistics of her future dorm life would be. We simply celebrated. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I would have missed that moment if I was still in San Diego. Bonnie would have certainly called me, but a phone call would not have captured the genuity of that moment. 

Then I realized that as strange as these circumstances are, this will probably be the last time all four members of my family will be living under one roof. Bonnie will be beginning college in September — hopefully being able to live on campus by then — and I’m applying for jobs that, if I get them, will lead to moving out again. As much as I still wish that I could see my friends and attend classes on campus, this new perspective has helped me in not only accepting the situation, but also appreciating and opening up to my family more as we all adjust to this new lifestyle.  

For instance, Bonnie and I have taken to going on almost daily two-mile walks around our neighborhood. When I first moved back home, I started walking this course by myself, convinced that some fresh air and solitude would help me cope. Now, Bonnie joins me and tells me all about her classes and worries, as well as cracking jokes about the kids in her Zoom classes. Like me, she is also experiencing the sudden removal from her campus life, knowing that she won’t see a lot of her classmates again since they’re graduating and going to different schools. I’m glad for the chance to be able to support her during this time and equally grateful for her supporting me. 

I’ve also been able to spend more time with my parents. The first three weeks I was home, I was still finishing up my honors thesis, part of which is about my grandparents who passed away when I was in high school. Revisiting themes of grief is difficult even in the best of times, but trying to write about them from my childhood desk during a pandemic was verging on overwhelming. Being able to talk with my mom about our family history not only helped me with the process of finishing my thesis, but allowed us to connect over remembering shared memories. Reviewing these memories also reminded me of just how much of a rock my mom is for our family and made me appreciate her efforts more to take care of us now. 

As for my dad, I’ve been enjoying being able to talk with him in person again. My dad would be the first to tell you that he isn’t a big talker, and so whenever I called home from San Diego I always felt like I wasn’t able to converse for very long with him on the phone. But now that I’m home, I’m noticing that we talk far more often and about a wider array of topics. For example, the other morning as I was washing my breakfast dishes, he walked in and began telling me all about a Steinbeck book he’s been reading. He’s also been very interested in a history class I’m currently enrolled in about pirates and remembers to ask me each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for whatever facts I’ve learned. The way our conversations begin so spontaneously and easily now reminds me of the mornings my dad drove me to high school, when we’d sometimes linger in the drop-off just so one of us could finish a sentence. 

I’m fortunate — my time in quarantine, while undoubtedly stressful, has been made better by the presence of my family. I know my experience is not relatable for everyone, but I hope that if there’s one message I hope readers take away from my Quarantine Chronicle, it’s to appreciate your loved ones during this time. Family isn’t always something defined by blood; it’s whoever you love and feel like you can be yourself around. If you don’t live with whoever that is for you, call or text them, because trying to power on by ourselves is not a sustainable way to get through this. And we will get through it.