“Almost there…” I was laying on top of a large, gray suitcase, my fingers yanking on the zipper. With one last pull, I managed to shut it and let out a deep sigh. Rising to my feet, I grabbed the handle and dragged it towards the middle of the room. The large gray bag was a bright contrast to the faded cardboard of the surrounding boxes and the combination resulted in a daunting pyramid of packaged items. Even with the packed boxes, I could see even more college necessities peppered against the white carpet of what was only my room for a little while longer. Two beds rested against opposite walls, one pair of sheets crumbled and twisted across the mattress and the other neatly tucked on all sides. Even after sharing a room our entire lives, I couldn’t convince my sister to make her bed. With that thought still in my head, the door behind me opened and my sister poked her head into the room.
A sheepish grin crossed my face as we glanced at the scattered mess still on the floor.
“I’m getting there, what’s up?”
“Mom needs you.”
“What does she want?”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, she just said to get you.”
“Yeah okay, here, first help me gather some of this stuff up.”
We scurried through the room, collecting fallen pens, scrawled letters and knickknacks from who knows when. Then we dumped it all into a mini pile next to the boxed one. I hadn’t actually accomplished much, but the room at least looked cleaner.
I ran to the top of the stairs and yelled down. My mother’s voice echoed back up.
“I cleared a space for those boxes, so start bringing them down.”
Putting my sister to work, we both grabbed a box. The cacophony of grunts and shifting that followed our progress was perhaps a little embarrassing, but I chalk that up to months in quarantine. After taking the last box, I returned to our room. The falling sun leaked orange light across the floor and I felt the bareness of the room. Not that it was entirely empty, my sister’s belongings were still cluttered on her side of the room. And, one half of our closet was still full, but that only added to the vastness.
For the millionth time that week, it sunk in. I was moving away to college, away from my family and away from the familiar. There were so many memories in this house, in this room. How could I leave that part of me behind? I fondly rubbed a scratch on my bedpost, the time my sister got a kitten and it went a little crazy. A tear welled in my right eye.
“You’re reminiscing, aren’t you?” My sister had returned to the doorway.
“Maybe, so what?” I crossed my arms.
She stuck out her tongue and joined me by the bed.
I grinned, “You’ll miss me, just wait.”
“What! You don’t say!” She held a hand to her mouth in mock surprise. “In this whole room to myself? I won’t know what to do.”
I slugged her shoulder, growing quiet. We were as close as twins but the two year age gap became all the more apparent in times like these. I just wanted to take her with me.
That night we played a family card game. My sister sat across the table from me and my parents on either side completed the square. Hearts. A two of spades had been led, then a king. Risky business but by the look on my mom’s face, she’d had little choice. I looked at my hand. The ace could sweep, but I knew the queen was still out there. And there was no one I was racking up that many points. I cut a glance towards my dad who was still waiting for me to go, he was deathly still. That decided it, I played the seven. Sure enough, my dad slammed down the queen.
At the end of the game, we counted points, my dad kept track.
“How many did you have?”
“None!” I crowed. The table collectively groaned.
A laugh escaped my lips, “Don’t worry, once I’m gone, the rest of you can start winning again.”
My mom covered her ears, “No! We don’t talk about that yet.”
“Mom, I literally leave in a couple days.”
“Shush, you’re going to make me cry!”
This was a common conversation in our house.
I grabbed my phone from the kitchen counter and wandered into the next room.
My grandmother’s full voice filled my ear, “Ready for college?”
I fingered a hole in my jeans, “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Nervous or excited?”
I laughed, “Both.”
“Well I just wanted you to know that we’re thinking of you, and have fun!”
“I wish I could give you a hug.”
A light chuckle accompanied her words, “Soon, soon.”
“Love you too.”
After the call, I went back to my room and sat on the bed. I supposed in the end, I was excited for college. Excited for a new start and new experiences. A slow smile started to creep across my face and that night I went to sleep with sweet dreams.
The next morning I stumbled down the stairs,My long hair was a tangled nest and I had a blanket still wrapped around me. Usually I try to sleep in, but the bear inside of me with the need to hibernate had been coaxed forth by the smell of bacon. My one weakness.
The news was on the T.V., the volume low as my dad reclined against the couch. He looked about as worse as I did.
The smell of bacon grew stronger and greasy crackling soon joined it.
My dad grunted on the couch and I turned towards the kitchen.
I turned back as my dad lunged for the remote, cranking up the volume of the T.V.
“Emergency broadcast. A new outbreak of Covid-19 has been identified ranging across America. This strand has an even faster response rate and has yet to be delayed. All citizens must stay inside your homes. I repeat, stay inside until December 1st. Information may change so stay tuned for more announcements.”
My mouth dropped.
“No, no, no.”
My mother and sister had stuck their heads into the living room and their faces held a mirror expression to mine. My sister furrowed her brow.
“But that means...you’ll have to do college here.”
I groaned. “What about the kids who already moved in?”
My dad shrugged. “I guess they have to stay in their dorm rooms until December.”
I shook my head, backing up against the wall.
“I refuse! I already paid rent for the dorm room. You know what? I think I can make it.”
Three pairs of eyes sent me doubtful looks.
“Really! I’ll drive down super fast, run into the room and quarantine myself there. I made up my mind, I am going to college this year.”
A couple hours later I was ready. A bandanna tied around my forehead and a mask pulled up over the bottom half of my face. I was wearing snow gear, the long pants, long shirt and gloves creating a puffy hazmat suit. I felt like an overstuffed ninja. With one last look at my family, I opened the door and sprinted towards my car.
“Okay,” I whispered. “College or bust.”