I couldn’t sleep last night, but that is nothing new. I had this sense of the life I’ve known and had the privilege to enjoy for the last 20 years disintegrating piece by piece around me.
This feeling started creeping into my consciousness a few months ago. My twenty-seven-year-old son told me he was thinking about letting his apartment in San Francisco go along with his good tech job, and instead, moving to Berlin, as in Germany, as in another continent. I understand this. When I was in my 20’s, I had the opportunity to travel before the responsibilities of a family grounded me.
He told me that his group of friends was breaking up, and Covid-19 was the catalyst. Many of his college friends from Northwestern had moved to San Francisco out of college to pursue jobs in the tech industry. Now with remote working, they no longer needed to stay and pay the insane rents. Some were moving back home to the East Coast or to the Midwest. Some were going back to grad school. A few were getting married and moving out of the city.
Over the last couple of weeks, visions of Ben and his girlfriend Maizie moving into their first apartment together filled my mind. They maneuvered the competitive San Francisco rental hunt expertly and found themselves an enviable one-bedroom apartment off Alamo Square Park, one of San Francisco’s millennial havens. Ben, in particular, devoted so much energy toward each item of furniture they purchased, creating a beautiful interior for the first time in either of their lives. They have a tight circle of friends with whom they’ve shared dinner parties, poker games, camping and Airbnb trips. I thought they were settling in for the long haul. I felt fortunate to have them just across the bridge while many of my friends’ kids were a plane ride away.
Covid-19 has changed all that. Certainly, I am not talking about dire health or job and financial issues, and I am grateful for that, but there is an insidious mental toll of the pandemic.
Although he is young and finding a way to pivot, I saw a flicker of sadness in his eyes when he told me that his group of best friends were splitting up. Maizie and he feel sad to give up the apartment and many of the things that they’ve only just bought, but their world has changed. They are tired of working day in and day out in long full-time jobs. Trading off who works in the bedroom and who works in the living room, all the while appreciating the fact that they’ve been able to keep their jobs.
My daughter, who is three years younger than her brother, has decided that she wants to do the same. She had been living with us for the past year since Covid-19 and beyond, but had been itching to move out, as is natural for her age. Her plan had also been to move to San Francisco with her best friends once she got a permanent job. As of a month ago, she got her wish and found an apartment, but with remote work continuing indefinitely, she is watching her brother’s example and may follow in his footsteps to somewhere far away from me.
I tell myself I understand. It’s a unique opportunity to do something different in a world that has changed overnight. I have always encouraged my children to be independent, as I was, and to have their own experiences. I have my own tight-knit group of friends that had been growing stronger each year over the last twenty years. I expected that we would rely on each other as our kids found their own lives, separate from us. We’ve traveled together, watched basketball, baseball and football games together. We’ve discussed everything under the sun over cocktails and wine, and whether laughing together or holding each other up during the difficult times, it’s been a constant. One I’ve taken for granted. I feel like Covid-19 has harmed that too.
Like many people in the world, I haven’t hugged a friend in nearly a year. I have only seen in person the majority of my friends a handful of times, outside, and some, not at all. I haven’t been in a group all together with them since December 2019. Two holiday seasons ago. I’ve suggested meeting in a group somewhere outdoors, but no one has bitten. Too many of us for comfort. We’ve had so many birthdays, graduations and wedding plans disappear. Now some of my own friends are talking about moving. Covid-19 has affected them, as well. Many of them have a constant worry for their elderly parents. One close friend’s mother passed away last week only days after contracting it. My safety net, the way I hoped to navigate through my children separating from me, feels threatened by Covid-19 too.
My brother and sister are my ultimate mental safety net. In recent years, my brother and his family moved further away from me from Colorado to Boston. Now, he and my sister in Florida are both on East Coast time, three hours later, which often makes it hard for us to connect. My brother’s fiftieth birthday was last September. My sister-in-law’s fiftieth was two weeks ago. I haven’t seen either his family or my sister’s family since August 2019. This is the longest we’ve been separated in fifty years. Our parents died when we were young, and that has kept us close, but not now. We have celebrated every one of each other’s milestone birthdays together with our families. These last milestones were celebrated with a phone call and a present delivered by Amazon.
Then there is my final, and most important support system, my husband. Covid-19 has strained that relationship at times, as well. Our entire marriage, starting with our long-distance courtship, has involved spending time apart. We met when I was living in San Francisco and he was in the Navy in Virginia Beach. He returned from a six-month cruise in the Indian Ocean three weeks before our wedding. After the early years in the Navy, he sold Kitplanes and traveled the country to air shows. After that, it was children and a mortgage and a job in real estate traveling around the country and abroad to meet with clients. I have mainly worked from home, in need of my solitary space. Since Covid-19, we have both been home and home and home. There is no separation. We argue over stupid things. I wear a mask more diligently and wash my hands much more vigilantly than he does. He was a fighter pilot, after all. He is the bigger risk taker out of the two of us. We argue about that sometimes too. We are trying to figure out how to enjoy this constant time together, but Covid has reset the rules of our formerly more independent lifestyle.
My own part-time job ended with Covid-19 a year ago. Now I’m just waiting and wondering where I will land or where Covid will land me. I am working on embracing more mindfulness, the principles of the impermanence of life, and practicing gratitude for all the things I do have.
In the meantime, I sleep poorly, tossing and turning, trying to keep my familiar support system from dissolving while Covid-19 sprinkles acid on our lives. In a few months, spring will come again, and with it, the hope of more vaccines and a renewed sense of life. For now, I’ll just keep meditating on that.
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- Be Kind to Your Mind: 10 Groups and Individuals Tear Down Mental Health Stigmas
Robin Breuner is a freelance writer and an occasional contributor to Marin Magazine. Prior to the pandemic, she worked as an author host at Book Passage. She is currently at work on a memoir about navigating a home renovation through the ups and downs of Covid.