What seems like a lifetime ago (it was March 12, 2020, less than two weeks), Emma and I were sitting at the café table outside of the art studio where she took art lessons until Covid-19 closed everything down. She was talking about what was becoming a familiar topic: how much she missed her friends in Mongolia. I finally worked up the nerve to ask her a question that had been on my mind for months: “Would you consider moving back to Mongolia?”
With that one word, a load was lifted. I had been pursuing other possibilities for work overseas, in places ranging from Malaysia to Greenland, but I had been wanting to move back to Mongolia from the day we left. I think it took a while for her to come around to it, but now that she had, I’d write to Mongolia International University’s president and the Media and Communication department chair and ask them about getting my job back (they still hadn’t replaced me). I’d write to her old school in Ulaanbaatar and ask if there was room for her in the 9th grade class. I’d do all this, and we’d sell the house and move back over sometime in August.
But it was becoming more apparent just how bad Covid-19 would be, and how much it would disrupt everything. It will be a while before we know just how bad (probably sometime well after the worst of it), but a few days after we had that conversation, things started shutting down around us. On March 12 the director of her school sent out an email that there was a confirmed case of Covid-19 at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas, not far from her school, and that we should wait for further news of the school’s plans. At around 10 am on March 13, we got the word that the school would close until April 13 (the Monday after spring break), and that teaching would be moved online starting the following Wednesday at the latest (it did). The school was following the lead of San Diego Unified School District, and Carlsbad Unified also informed me that they would be shutting down as well. (I enrolled Emma in the local high school for next year in case nothing else worked out, so I’m on their email list.)
Since then, though, my own life has been surprisingly normal. March 13 was going to be my last day of classes at UCSD, but I had cancelled them because of the virus. Many classes had moved online during the last week, but there was no clear directive from the university, so I held my classes on campus until March 11, and then showed up on the 13th for the one student who didn’t get the memo (there’s always one). There was indeed one, and we had a nice, socially distant conversation for about 20 minutes before we headed out. I left campus not knowing I would likely never be back, because now the campus is officially closed for the spring quarter and we’re not supposed to go there.
So all I was doing from March 14 to yesterday (March 24) was wrapping up my courses and grading final papers. It was a time I would normally spend holed up at home, anyway. The only difference was that Emma was home with me and will be 24/7 until things change. The grading took forever somehow. In between papers, I would pop online to see what was happening in the news and with my friends. Then I would grade another paper. And so on, until 8 am on March 24, when I submitted my grades and was done.
My only job for the foreseeable future is to clear out our house and get it ready to put on the market. And keep writing, of course. I met with a realtor on March 18, and he seemed to think I’d be able to sell the house pretty easily. I asked him about putting it on the market sooner rather than later, so we are aiming for mid-May, which means my plans are accelerated. Which has me panicking a bit, because all the places I would normally donate to are closed down because of the virus. I rented a small storage unit to hold boxes of the stuff Emma and I want to keep but don’t want to move to Mongolia (family photos from my parents, irreplaceable family treasures, and so on). I’m sending my brother the antique Swiss furniture I got from our parents – a desk, their beds and night tables, a beautiful hand-carved wooden commode (not the kind you pee on, the kind you store stuff in). Also some of his art that I had because when I cleared out my parents’ house to put it on the market, I pretty much moved most of their stuff in with me.
Emma and I have been going through things since we got back from Mongolia last summer, and we’ve gotten rid of a lot. But we have a lot more to go through. I’ve been sorting out the boxes from my parents, which has taken an emotional toll. But it’s also felt good. I feel lighter than I have in a long time. But there’s still a lot to do, and our garage is piling high with donations that have no place to go. In the worst-case scenario, I will end up renting a larger storage unit, and we’ll come back at some future day to get rid of it all. I hope that’s the worst-case scenario, anyway.
I am not listening to people who are telling me I won’t be able to sell the house, or we won’t be able to fly out this summer. Because I can’t listen to them. I need to keep moving forward. People who know me well enough (which is maybe 2 people) know that I can conjure up the worst imaginable future scenarios all on my own; before the 2016 US election my favorite genre was dystopian science fiction. (Now it’s fairy stories, or I don’t even know, but something happy that I haven’t discovered yet). I don’t need to hear that we’ll be trapped. I just don’t need to hear it. I don’t know how long this crisis will last, just that it’s a lot longer than we think right now, and that it will be far worse than we can imagine. I just want us to get to Mongolia.