BY ARNOLD TREVIÑO
As a child, I always dreamed that one day I would be able to move out of my parents’ home and head straight for the “Big Apple.” In 2016 I got into drama school in New York City and a childhood dream was slowly becoming a reality. I packed my life away into three suitcases and my parents dropped me off at the airport. I walked through the security gate, my eyes were starting to swell with tears, and I turned around to wave goodbye to my parents before I embarked on my new journey.
Now, four years and a master’s degree later, I’m quarantined in my overly priced apartment in New York City, 1,984 miles from San Juan, Texas, and 10,475,520 feet away from my loved ones and not a mere 6 feet, as recommended by the CDC.
My dedication to the arts came at a costly price. I knew I had to spend time away from my family to focus on my career, but we struck a deal where I at least had to be home for Christmas. Well, 2019 was the first time I had ever missed a Christmas in my 26 years of existence. I knew I had to make plans to visit in the new year.
On March 19 of this year, I lost my job, along with several thousands of other service industry workers in New York City, and was instructed to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus. I applied for unemployment benefits and because so many people were laid off at the same time, it was a nightmare. It took almost two months for me to receive my benefits, so I had to use what money I saved for rent and for a flight to McAllen to stock up on groceries and other necessities.
Many people in the city had the luxury of escaping to their summer homes in the Hamptons or upstate New York to ride out the quarantine. I, on the other hand, knew that there was absolutely no way I could make it home because less than 24 hours after I lost my job, I had developed severe symptoms of COVID-19. I had a fever and terrible body aches, the kind that make you want to stay in bed all day. The kind that make you rely on the help of loved ones because you can’t do much for yourself. Only this time, I was completely alone. I was isolated — alone, sick, and terrified of potentially having to call an ambulance for myself because I couldn’t breathe properly. Thankfully, the symptoms have now passed, but the loneliness has not.
Who knew that I could feel so lonely in a sea of nearly 8 million people?
As I’m sitting at home and writing this, I can’t help but think about the tamales, the pan dulce, my abuela’s enchiladas, the breakfast tacos from Stripes, the raspas, the heat, Whataburger, mis hermanas, mis abuelos, mis tios y tias, mis sobrinos y sobrinas, mi padre y mi madre.
I knew my childhood was special, and a big contributor to that was the vibrant history and culture that defines the Rio Grande Valley. I was so eager to leave, but I didn’t know what I was leaving behind. It, unfortunately, took a global pandemic for me to realize how much I miss the place that is my real home.
The hustle and bustle of the city slowed down and it feels odd to not ride the subway or pay for an overly priced salad at brunch. What was considered normal to most is now a luxury that I miss terribly. I have such desire for normalcy again and not knowing when this is all going to end is what frightens me most. I don’t know when I’ll be able to safely hop onto a plane and go home, but I do know that when the time comes I will happily let the Texas heat embrace me as I run to embrace mi familia.
Arnold Treviño is a native of San Juan currently residing in New York City.
Editor’s note: The coronavirus pandemic has changed everyday life across the Rio Grande Valley. To document that change, The Monitor is publishing personal accounts from journalists and everyday citizens. These are the stories of ordinary life in an extraordinary time. If you have a story to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.