As a university student in America when COVID-19 struck, my mind was elsewhere. It was nearing finals week and the end of a rough winter quarter, all news concerning the coronavirus seemed rather far removed from my own little bubble. In fact, it was not until the state’s public university systems began shutting themselves down that I began to feel a creeping sense of foreboding.
Like many other students attending UC Riverside, I am not from any of the surrounding cities. I am originally from San Jose, a Bay Area city in Northern California that is easily a six hour long drive from Riverside.
Ever since I started college, my life has been awkwardly split between these two very different cities. Unlike the majority of my native Southern California friends who are able to drive home every weekend to visit family, or pick up a belonging that they may have left behind, I don’t have such a luxury. Knowing this, I have always refrained from commenting when one of these friends complained about not visiting home in a couple weeks.
Still, I could not truly complain, as I made the conscious decision to attend a university away from my childhood home and outside of my comfort zone. I was confident of that choice, but now as the global pandemic worsens, I find myself doubting it.
Needless to say, with the rapid outbreak of the virus came a host of other issues all in the span of a couple days.
With spring quarter being held online and the real threat of quarantine looming over everyone’s heads, most people I know decided to go home, including my housemates. Of course, as fate would have it, two of them decided that they were not going to pay for the remainder of the months left on our lease. This is obviously a major predicament, as the possibility of finding any subletters now is slim, and our landlord is staggeringly unforgiving, refusing to entertain any notions of freezing rent or terminating the lease in spite of the dire circumstances.
Given the fact that only one person has their name on the agreement, I too could choose to leave this mess behind. My parents are urging me to move out and stop the monthly payments as well, however, I happen to be good friends with the person who is on the lease, and I would feel guilty abandoning her.
If this were not enough of a complication, I am now unsure of my housing situation for the next year. I will likely not be in Riverside for the next couple of months, and I still do not have a secured living space for the following school year.
The housing fiasco aside, I initially hesitated to go back to San Jose due to my restaurant service job in Riverside County, but then that too was forced to close indefinitely. A part of me was relieved as it meant I could go home unhindered. However, I am now facing the issue of unemployment, and I do not qualify for paid sick leave. So like hundreds of thousands across the country in various situations, I had to file for unemployment insurance, and I still have yet to see any tangible benefits.
Then only a couple days later, I was informed by my parents that I had to help my younger sister move out of her CSU Fullerton dormitory, lest they be charged extra for her living space. So being a dutiful daughter, I made the drive from Riverside to Fullerton and helped my sister vacate her room. We had to stuff all of her belongings into my car and take it back to my house in Riverside.
Per my parent’s request, we set off for San Jose the next morning. Both my sister and I had to leave a great deal of our belongings at my house in Riverside, seeing as my car could not accommodate everything. Now it must be said — I am happy to be back home with my family during this time of uncertainty, but we are a family of five people, plus a medium-sized dog in a relatively small, ethnic household, and I share a room with my sister. Since the entire state is now under a mandated shelter-in-place, there is considerable tension.
I know that this is not an uncommon story for countless individuals across the nation right now. Remember that your feelings and struggles are always valid, but they are smaller in the face of global illness. The best we can do right now is to take care of ourselves and each other. The rest will have to wait.