Home.

Fear. Fear, frustration, and fury. An amalgam of these three emotions consumed me, on March 15, 2020. Still reeling from the buzz of the fruit punch at a pool party, I remember hearing a gasp escape from my friend's mouth as she shoved her phone into my face; I saw the headlines, and felt a sinking feeling in my gut. "All colleges within Karnataka, India will be shut down until March 31, due to the rising number of COVID cases." I slumped down onto the bed, a multitude of feelings and questions all hitting me at once. As my friend Jo went downstairs to break the news to everyone, nearly tripping with excitement, I wondered what it would mean for me. Hoots of joy over not having to attend 8 AM classes for the next 2 weeks filled the house, but things turned sour for me as I realized I may have no place to go. Thoughts of having to spend months in the college hostel alone started drowning out every other notion in my head. Calls were made, tickets were booked, and bags were packed all while I was still finishing up my beer, trying to catch up with just how swiftly things were changing. An hour ago, my friends and I were grumbling about having to wake up early for class. Now texts about carpooling to the airport were buzzing around. Jo ran up to me, visibly shaking with excitement. "We're going home! I can't wait to eat my mom's food again!", she screamed into my ear to make herself audible over the deafening blast of music. I smiled at her, unsure of what to say. I saw realization dawn on her face, she asked me,"Oh no, aren't your parents in Saudi? Where will you be going?" "I'm not really sure yet, I can't get a hold of my parents. I may just stay here." She gave me a look of sympathy, patting my shoulder before moving on to someone else. There it was. Sympathy. It was very quickly followed by my own frustration. Why was everyone going home anyway? Wasn't it more socially responsible of us to stay put? I was so frustrated with my own predicament that I got angry at anyone who shared their travel plans, or showed me even an iota of sympathy. March 16th. My parents finally picked up and told me exactly what I expected: Stay put, don't travel now. Of course, it was the rational thing to do. The only other family I could turn to within the country was my brother. Yes, I could stay at his place, but I risked him getting infected too, and I didn't want that. The guilt would be awfully overbearing, wouldn't it? Thus, it was decided I'd stay put at the hostel until the storm was weathered. After all, the official notice stated that colleges would only be closed for two weeks, which I can handle. At least, I thought I could. March 17. The hostel was now mostly empty. Students filed out of the place as quickly as they could, replacing the halls with an eerie silence resembling a ghost town. If you're anything like me, you would tell yourself initially that you'll get by. You'll manage. However, as hours pass by, and sunrises turn into sunsets, you'll realize you can handle a lot of obstacles in life, but loneliness is not one of them. I'd stay on the phone with my mom for hours every day, until she went to make lunch, dinner, or whatever the next meal would be. As each day passed, I became more and more miserable. Trashy pop songs would play on speaker just to drown out the silence. I lived off of ramen and cereal most days, unable to find the energy to eat a proper meal. Everyday, I told myself that the ordeal would soon be over, and that colleges would reopen soon. How naive I was. A week passed when another announcement popped up: "The lock down will be extended until further notice." That was it. The breaking point. I understood what this meant- I could be stuck here for months. After thoroughly explaining to my parents the recent turn of events, and the fact that I'd inevitably lose my mind if I had to spend months in this tiny, humid, ant-infested room all by myself, they booked tickets for me to go stay with my brother. March 22. I waited at the airport, gleeful about finally returning to a space of comfort and human contact. I scrolled through my phone, looking for new updates concerning the pandemic when my phone vibrated with a text from Jo. "Hey, I hope you're doing okay. Just received news that my uncle passed away due to COVID. You're travelling today, right? Stay safe. I love you." Shame heated up my face. For a week, I whined and fussed, all because I didn't want to live alone. Meanwhile, people were losing lives to this disease. Guilt chewed up my insides as I settled into my seat on the flight. I realized that I was living in a bubble, ignorant of just how gravely this pandemic was affecting others. I was always taught by my parents to place myself in another's shoes, to climb into his skin and walk in it to feel as one and yet, when it mattered most, I chose not to. As the flight gained height, my yearning to go home vanished, now replaced by guilt and regret. Oh well, I was going home.

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Mike Lyles

Author of “The Drive-Thru is Not Always Faste...

Staresville, United States