Leaving LA: College Cut Short

I loaded two large suitcases into the back of my compact Mazda. They peeked out of my rear windshield when I shut the trunk, making my wagon look comically stuffed. It would have been funny if that had been my first trip to LAX that week, but it was an image that got old after a couple times. It started to get quite sad to look at, frankly.

That was my second time driving a friend to the airport that day. Just a few days before, I— along with several of my peers— had been at my internship for the last time. Some knew and got their goodbyes; some did not and left without final words. I was in the latter group, which is unfortunate because I am a sentimental person. I like closure, and I like journeys that have full arcs. Everything grinded to a halt so quickly that I barely had enough time to gather my bearings before I left. It was like evacuating in preparation for a natural disaster, but the cause of catastrophe could not be located. That is a terrifying thing to experience— running from something you cannot visualize.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 symptoms can take up to 14 days to appear after exposure. Although no one from my internship site or at ELA had exhibited any symptoms, it was hard to tell whether anyone I came into contact with had been exposed to coronavirus. I had heard some whispers about people who had tested positive at other internships sites, but not a lot of concrete information.

“We all probably have been exposed to it” was a phrase I heard, and uttered, a lot. There’s no real basis in this claim, unless you have confirmation that you or someone you had direct contact with tested positive for the disease. However, the sense of acceptance attached to this phrase makes you feel like you have some sort of control in the situation. 

Most of my friends were not afraid of getting sick, rather they were afraid of going home to their older or immunocompromised family members. The risk of getting on a flight and flying into coronavirus hot spots like New York, possibly getting exposed in transit, was nerve wracking for a number of people. Some even chose to limit contact when going back to their families. Self-isolating at home, but away from the rest of your loved ones, brings little comfort. 

With all the panic and suffering going on in the world, having my final semester of college cut short feels like a small problem compared to what everyone else is dealing with. But it was still devastating to have the last major experience of my college career come to such an abrupt end. As my friends left the ELA campus, one by one, it became increasingly unbearable to live in such an empty space. Four years of hard work culminated into an anti-climactic move out and unfulfilled goodbyes.

My friends and I had just gotten used to the large expanse that is Los Angeles. I was beginning to like it very much— the flea markets, the food, the (non-rush hour) drives, the museums, the work. For people like me, it was a trial run to see whether I liked LA enough to work there or if I wanted to pursue my original plan of working in New York. At the beginning of the semester, my friend, who had graduated two years prior, met me for a drink to catch up and talk career advice. She, like me, is a journalist and has made a career writing in Los Angeles. 

“There are a lot more writing jobs down here than you think. It’s not all in New York,” she said. 

That conversation gave me a lot to think about. The biggest worry I had at the time was finding a job post-grad. Planning for the future, now, feels nearly impossible. Some jobs are available, but some publications have halted or reduced hiring indefinitely. My anxiety about future work has increased tenfold, and I still have to worry about the tasks I have presently. There’s so much to handle at once, all the while there is a global pandemic going on.

My suitemate and longest college friend Gina is a Leo, meaning she is one of the most dramatic people I know (not a bad thing, it makes life exciting!). Upon learning the news that ELA students would have to leave within a week, she woefully said that she’d never be as young as she was one week before. 

On Friday, March 6, my partner was visiting me from Boston, and I was showing him all the wonderful things to do around LA. Everyone was out around the city, and everything was business as usual. On Friday, March 13, we all received an email saying that we had to vacate the campus within the week. LA life came to a stop for everyone, and even the usual heavy traffic disappeared as the coronavirus shuttered physical work spaces indefinitely. 

Considering how things went from wonderful and endless to frightening and empty within the span of a week, I think Gina had the perfect response. College is a time of endless possibility and opportunity. ELA is the perfect place to test out jobs you might (or might not) like. It is a great encapsulation of what it means to be young and full of potential. Now that things have ended and the future looks so uncertain, it is difficult to maintain the youthful optimism that has motivated us throughout our college careers. 

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