I’ve lived in Colorado, some 1,700 miles away from my family, for more than a decade now. That means I know to hug my mom and dad and sister a little bit longer than a normal goodbye would warrant before I leave them.
You never know what may happen. Eight years as a professional journalist has taught me that much.
But I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the coronavirus crisis. It’s erased the comfort of knowing that home is just a few hundred dollars and a few hours on a plane away. I can’t really hop on a flight to Philly right now.
I’m entering month 11 of not seeing my mom and sister. I was lucky enough to spend some time with my dad in late January during our annual ski trip to Utah, just as the coronavirus was wreaking havoc on a Seattle nursing home.
We wondered aloud during that vacation about how bad it could get as we enjoyed a couple of secluded days on the slopes. Bad, but not that bad, right?
My father, a doctor, had a pretty good sense that things were about to dramatically change.
Eleven months is definitely the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without seeing my immediate family.
There was a time when going away to sleep-away camp for two weeks was unbearable for me. I remember being 11 or 12 years old and my dad convincing me in a department store parking lot near my hometown of Wilmington, Del., that I’d be able to handle it. “You’ll make new friends,” he reassured me.
In reality, I just didn’t want to be away from him and my mom.
He forced me onto a camp-bound bus and out of my cocoon of safety. He says it was the best parenting decision he’s ever made. I had a blast. A few years later, I spent a summer in China. Then a summer in Costa Rica. Then I went to college in Colorado. And, now, I have a career in Denver.
This, however, is just too much.
In reality, I know I’m one of the lucky ones. So many people have lost their jobs. So many people have lost their homes. So many people have lost family members to COVID-19. I’m sure they’d put up with far more than 11 months of missing their loved ones for a chance to see them again.
I’ve told the stories of some of the people who’ve died. I cried when I left Fort Morgan after visiting with Juan Marin’s family in May.
Marin, an immigrant meatpacker from El Salvador, lost his life to the virus, but not before achieving his slice of the American Dream. It was wrenching to see all he had accomplished snuffed out in a few days. His adult children were devastated.
I have so much to be thankful for. And yet…
I don’t know when I’m going to see my family again. I don’t want them to take a risk and visit me. I don’t think I’d ever forgive myself if they got sick on the way. I’d definitely never forgive myself if I was the one who infected them.
But, to tell you the truth, Zoom and FaceTime aren’t really cutting it anymore. Those frequent calls have become fewer and fewer as the pandemic drags on. I’d like a hug. I’d like a hoagie. I’d like to come home.
I know for sure that once we get out of this mess — be it a year or two years, or whenever from now — my family’s goodbyes are going to be really long moving forward. Just in case.
Jesse Paul is a staff writer for The Colorado Sun who covers politics and the coronavirus.
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