Moving in the Time of Corona

There’s been a plan in place for a long time. But a global pandemic doesn’t care. Nothing has happened how it was supposed to.

Packed moving boxes.
Everything must go! One way or another.

My 24-year-old firstborn has been living alone for about a month, since his roommate left to pursue opportunities in California. Meanwhile, my son’s lease on the Iowa apartment (250 miles from us) was coming due at the end of the month, and he has his own dreams waiting for him in Bellingham, Washington — a job transfer and friends who were ready to welcome him. The plan was for me to help him move to our house next week, where he would just sort of bounce, heading out to drive halfway across the country after staying here for a week or two.

He’s moved a few times in a few years, and each time has felt stressful and rushed. This was supposed the move where we would have time to plan and pace ourselves. Maybe even do a few fun things together before he built a life so far away from us.

Instead, my workplace shut down as of last Tuesday and one of his two jobs came to an abrupt early end. As COVID-19 spread and more places shut down, we both worried about potential travel restrictions. Neither of us wanted him to get trapped alone where he was, not even knowing if they’d let him remain in the apartment past his lease end date. This move became the most stressful and urgent of them all, a harried flight from disaster instead of an embarkation on the adventure he had envisioned.

I drove up last Wednesday (in rain all the way, natch) with the goal of getting him out the next day, a countdown timer ticking loudly in my psyche. Once I arrived, I saw we’d need more than a day. He’d already gotten rid of a lot of stuff and packed many boxes, but had thought he’d have more time. My husband had removed the last two rows of seats from our old Chevy Venture, and strapped our large retro car-top carrier on the roof. My son doesn’t own a huge amount of things, but when we were limited to what we could fit in his Toyota Corolla and my van, it meant a fair amount of triage and winnowing, while racing the clock in case travel restrictions went into place. The new departure goal became Friday morning. 

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Somehow, we got it all packed.

It’s a real struggle to execute a move in two days time with limited carrying capacity when no thrift stores are accepting donations and even the city landfills are closed. We did things I’m not proud of, including solving the dilemma of how to wedge a mattress into an apartment complex dumpster. It was a thin, cheap mattress, and our solution to making it fit involved the use of enormous zip ties. I have seldom done anything in my life that felt more sketchy. My son said that if we were in “The Good Place” our scores would definitely go into the negative over it. I told him I felt like we were only a few short steps away from burying a drifter in the desert.

We ended up filling trash bags with items I normally never would send to a landfill, seeing no alternative at the moment. Cheap but usable bowls and plates from Target, gone. A stack of three-ring binders, gone. Bathmat, gone. On and on. To mitigate our guilt a tiny bit, though, we did at least sort out the recycling, and we left the apartment sparkling clean. I scrubbed and vacuumed before we drove away.

The drive home was almost surreal in its normalcy. Due to road closures, I ended up on some rural state highways, which meant going right through the heart of a few towns, where everything seemed to be proceeding as usual. Small town Missouri felt like a whole different universe than the one I’d been living in. Around noon, I stopped for a bathroom break at a convenience store with a restaurant attached to it. I was all business, walking straight in, touching nothing I didn’t have to, doing my business, washing my hands for the amount of time it takes to say the Star Trek opening monologue (silently to myself,) and then straight back out. Meanwhile, the restaurant had tables full of people eating lunch. Other convenience store customers were browsing the aisle for snacks, filling up on fountain drinks. You’d never know there was a pandemic on. It was so very disquietingly normal.

Now the whole family is back in our home again, sitting in limbo. I’m off work until some uncertain future date. My husband, who is essential to keep networks going so that others can work and learn from home, is ensconced at his desk in our living room, doing his work remotely. My younger son recently interviewed for a job that seems unlikely to exist now. My newly returned older son is impatient to get on with his new life, but we have no idea when that will be possible. Like everyone else, we wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Addendum: As I was writing this post, my city’s mayor announced a shelter in place order beginning tomorrow morning, running through April 24. So now I know one thing. I will not be returning to work until at least April 25.

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