By Tristin M.
In early March of 2020, when I first heard about this pandemic from the staff at CIP Berkeley, it felt surreal - like I was in a bad dream, and what I was hearing couldn’t possibly be true. At that time I honestly had no idea how awful things would end up becoming... so when the staff announced a week later that they were sending everyone home for their own safety, my initial reaction was shock and horror. I'm relieved that I listened to reason though - because when my dad called me soon afterwards, and confirmed that this situation WAS actually happening, I packed my suitcase in a hurry. I kept telling myself that a "cloud of death" was coming fast, and that I had to be ready to escape before it arrived. Keeping an image of that "cloud" in my mind helped me pack faster.
Things happened quickly following the phone call from my dad: in an effort to keep me safe, he drove the 6-hour-long trip South from his home in Oregon, picked me up at my apartment in Berkeley, and drove us both back. He had explained over the phone that he and my stepmom thought I'd be safer staying up North with them for a few months, because (we hoped) there were going to be less people with the virus in Oregon than there would soon be in California at that time.
I spent the next 5-1/2 months at my dad’s house feeling anxious, sad, scared, and having no real contact with the rest of the world, except for my virtual modules. My stepmother was the only one who ever left the house to get groceries and medicine for the entire time I was there. It was hard, but after the first month or two, I got used to the isolation - with the exception of helping my stepmom take our Husky/Shepherd-mix Shae on short walks (even though whenever we did, we had to avoid everything and everyone.)
I spent the remainder of the Spring and the entirety of the Summer semesters attending those virtual modules, cooking and experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, doing creative projects, playing video games, watching movies, spending time with my family, and helping my stepmom walk and train Shae. I was able to have some fun with my family, and Shae too - but I had to miss what would have been my first summer semester of living in Berkeley. Because of that, it was pretty much the most disappointing summer of my life.
My dad and stepmom tried their best to make it as fun for me as possible, but we were all in a nearly-constant state of fear. We had to leave all of our mail in the garage for a whole day before opening each letter and package, disinfect our grocery bags, and treat everything that came from outside our house like it was radioactive. My family watched the CNN news channel every night for updates on what was happening in the rest of the world, and a lot of times, we had to turn off the TV because the news was too depressing. In short, this past year was long, lonely and hard, but it was too frightening to be truly boring.
However, through all of this, I learned a lot about love, acceptance, and selflessness - and the most important lessons I learned from this past year are as follows: no matter what happens, we CAN’T give up - on ourselves or each other. Fear can divide us, but after it has passed, it can strengthen the love that brings families closer together. And as long as we stay safe and continue sharing love and making memories with the ones we care about, we’ll have a reason to go on in this world. I hope that if we can do that as a species and learn to work together, we’ll also start learning new ways to not only survive, but also how to really, truly LIVE. And I know, more than anything else, that this is exactly what I’m going to do.
Now that this pandemic is almost over, and I’ve lived through it, I know where I can go and what to do if this kind of thing ever happens again. I’m extremely grateful to my dad and stepmom for giving me a safe place to stay while this nightmare was happening. I love them for it with all my heart, and I’m SO glad that none of us got sick!
To wrap up, here are some of my thoughts regarding how I've been feeling for the past few months: despite my plans for the future being delayed by a whole year, I refuse to give up or let my dreams be crushed. More than anything else though, I won't ever let myself fall into the infinite, downward-spiraling, dark hole of despair that I see so many people these days on TV shows and the news, as well as in real life, becoming victims to. But still, even now, while I’m working on reaching my goals (now that I can finally do so without it being as much of a risk to my health), I’ll do whatever it takes to continue to stay as safe as possible. And when it's all over and we're ALL safe again, I'll give everyone I care about the huge hug I’ve been waiting to give them for the past year.
The College Internship Program is a comprehensive transition program for young adults on the Autism Spectrum and with Learning Differences. Our Mission is to inspire independence and expand the foundation on which young adults with Autism, ADHD, and other Learning Differences can build happy and productive lives.