It sounds ridiculous, I know. As I’m writing this, there have been 120,000 and counting COVID-19 related deaths in the United States, there is no sign of relief, and I’ve been stuck in the house for near four months. How, you must ask, has my life been saved?
Remember the panic of March? Do you recall the closures and the fear and the purgatory of “will I lose my job?” and “how soon will I get unemployment?” For those whose mentalities have not been scratched by this classic worry, congratulations, but for the millions who are still currently out of work, I stand in solidarity. I lost my job in March as an intern at a production company with duties like “go mail this” and “take notes there,” I didn’t have a lot of hope that I would ride out this wave of firing, but it was an unfortunate blow. It was the first time I have ever been fired, and while I wasn’t truly fired (my position was eliminated) I felt more disposable and unnecessary than ever before. Just days previously, my school campus closed and all classes were held online for the rest of the Spring semester, and that same day I’d been told officially to work for my boss at home. It seemed simple enough: classes met on Zoom every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and I could read for work in between. I wasn’t thinking of my living situation, which was most unsuited to this transition.
I moved to Los Angeles as a college drop out and dreamer with big plans to be a casual actor and screenwriter. I even got on stage at the Comedy Store once. My living space was a shared room — shared between four or five people at a time — with four other rooms divided between just as many. There could be, maybe, fifteen people living in the house at one time, but I was never the wiser. I, also, didn’t really find it that strange or upsetting. My mother was a transient, a mentally ill woman who was always on the move — from what, I don’t know — and all my childhood I’d been living with strangers. Either it was the other down-and-out families in the homeless shelter, or the losers my mom befriended and housed when we, ourselves, had a home, or my grandparents who intervened sometime in my teenage years. Bottom line: I had low standards of living. A twin-sized bunkbed, a third of the closet, and a communal bathroom for $450 a month was how I lived in Los Angeles, and honestly I didn’t hate it.
But, with the oncoming of Covid, I realized the shortcomings of my situation. I couldn’t go to the library, or campus, or work. I had no desk space, no privacy, and, above all, I didn’t use the kitchen. There wasn’t any room, honestly, and it either had rats or human thieves in the cupboards. My diet consisted of street food, Denny’s, Postmates, and the occasional non-perishables I could stash in my bed for a long weekend in bed. Suddenly, with the stay-at-home order, everyone became a cook, and I was stranded in the hoopla of stockpiling where I was unable to hoard or cook anything. Luckily, I called my grandmother to update her on my conformation to the local mandates.
The fear of death had gotten to her quickly, and it had a lot to do with living in Hawaii. The islands were hypervigilant about invasive species and diseases — and for good reason considering smallpox, leprosy, and colonization of the late 19th century — and were quarantining anyone traveling from the Mainland. She, herself, was a news buff and loved her New York Times and CNN morning reports, so it wasn’t surprising that she cancelled travel plans to my Aunt’s house in southern California in fear of contracting the disease and dying. It was a surprise, but when I told her about my classes going online and my work-from-home order, she suggested (I would never say plead, and you wouldn’t either if you met my grandmother, but it was close) that I ride out the virus with my Aunt and cousins, move into her guest room, and help them adjust to a new norm that none of us could have imagined. Also surprisingly, I agreed.
I normally distance myself from people not so much because I don’t enjoy company (that’s definitely a reason, but it’s not the reason), but because I prefer alone time so much I prioritize it. And being alone in Los Angeles is quite a trip — so it surprised me how readily I packed up (horribly, I’ll add, because I took a carry on bag of clothes, a pair of rain boots, my computer, and nothing else) and took the train down to San Diego county. There, my Aunt was finishing up her last few shifts as a waitress and faintly wondering if her 13-year-old son would have to participate in online classes. In the end, he did need to and, just as we expected, he didn’t do a very good job at all. Regardless, he’s filled to the brim with the ego of an eighth-grader already.
Back to the point, I suppose, of how Coronavirus saved my life. Simply, I moved out. My lifestyle could not handle the remote working and eventual job loss, nor could it facilitate my needs as someone who never cooked or needed space to breath and study. Now, in my Aunt’s kitchen with a fridge and a stove and pantry and counter top, I cook almost every day and I’ve gotten rather good at over-easy eggs, although they aren’t as good as the ones made at Denny’s, while finishing the Spring semester with a flourish of A grades. Some days, when I roll out of the guest room’s queen-sized bed that I still believe is too large for a single person, and shuffle to the kitchen, I wonder what would have become of me in Los Angeles. I took the bus and lived shoulder-to-shoulder with lackadaisical actors and musicians who were reckless with their health, I starved between meals I couldn’t really afford at McDonalds or Dennys, and I was, at the core, miserable with my situation when I got a chance to stop and breath. Now, I have almost too much air. I don’t know what to do with the space, but as I look around the room, I see my art supplies, calendars with test and submission dates, and a desk I’ve made my own. I can conform to any space without much issue, but I have finally gotten a space I can make up to my needs. Behind me, there is a door that closes and I possess an inherent authority as the one who can close it. This, to me, is brand new.
Rest in Power all who’ve lost their lives to Covid-19. I am sorry for your loss, but it might have been the best thing that’s happened to me. I was forced to make a decision I had no idea would affect me so dramatically, and I am pleased to say that despite the contentions within my Aunt’s house, I have a freedom I’ve never once experienced. I suppose now I understand Virginia Woolfe’s famous A Room of One’s Own.