The phone rings…
My caller ID flashes “mom,” and I press accept. Around 3:30 p.m., she would often call, so I didn’t think much of it, “Your dad and I are coming to visit you at college, and we want you to stay the night at the hotel with us.”
The and had me confused. Why did I have to stay with them?
So, like most 19-year-olds, I met their and with a “but you go to bed earlier, and I’ll just be lying there awake in the dark. My dorm is 10 minutes away. Why don’t I stay until you’re tired, then head back to my place?”
I explained this a few times, resulting in a firm, “too bad, pack an overnight bag.”
The day they arrived went well. It was like any other day, but my dad gave my mom a look at some point. It was the silent knowing look he often gave before telling bad news. My brain started grasping for things it might be. Was it the dogs? They were old and had a few health issues already. I looked back at my mom and could tell she was working up the courage to speak.
“I guess you’re wondering why we’re here this weekend. I’ve had a tough time lately. I found out that I have breast cancer. I will be okay, and the outlook is good, but treatment will be tough.”
Lots of questions and silent hugs followed. Once I realized my mom was going to be okay, some of the worries subsided, but knowing she’d have to go through treatment was hard to swallow. She was strong, she always was, but this felt uncalled for — unfair.
Before, I was worried about lying in the hotel room and not being able to sleep. Now, I realized this was most likely my parents’ reality for the past week since learning my mom’s diagnosis, especially for my mom, who didn’t know what to expect. Suddenly, where I went to sleep that night didn’t matter anymore.
A Period of Isolation
Covid hit four months after our hotel visit. Colleges sent students home, and classes went virtual. The second semester of my freshman year was a nightmare. I accidentally packed two of the most challenging writing classes into one semester. I felt like I was moving in slow motion, and assignments weren’t slowing down to match my speed.
I was sleeping around four hours every night — if I got lucky. That year, even before my mom’s diagnosis trying to focus felt impossible. Mixing a lack of focus and sleep with a workload that kept piling on regardless of my mental state made me miserable.
Before Covid, I confided in a few friends about my mom’s diagnosis, but soon after, we were thrown full force into a pandemic. One of my best friends at the time still lived in my hometown, but she hosted parties every weekend. She didn’t understand why I couldn’t hang out and would always say: tell your parents I’ve been in quarantine and come over. I wanted to see her, but my mom was immunocompromised, and I couldn’t risk bringing Covid home to my family. Those eight months, we’re pretty lonely.