My mom cried in the empty bones of my apartment as I packed my things into trash bags and cardboard boxes. The pandemic had kicked me out of Boston and I was going back home to live with my mother.
I felt like a kid again.
When COVID first rattled the city a little over a year ago, my plans started tumbling like dominoes. I would have to move out of my first apartment, file for unemployment, and call my parents for help. All of this happened in the span of two weeks, not in that order.
Within a week of school closing and losing my restaurant job, I got a knock on my front door. Imagining me all alone in a city during a global crisis we knew very little about, my mother had driven 12 hours from North Carolina to Boston to pick me up and take me home. “I was so worried,” she said. She wanted to protect me, and for the first time in years, I admitted to myself that I needed my mom.
In my early childhood, she had diagnosed me with separation anxiety. She’s not a mental health professional, but that assessment was probably correct. I couldn’t leave her side and I had to know where she was at all times. As a newly divorced parent reentering the dating scene, that had to be difficult for her.
Then a switch flipped. When I turned 7, I wanted to be anywhere but near her. I would compulsively invite myself to sleepovers and didn’t come home for days at a time in high school. I built a closer relationship with my friends’ moms than my own. We would get into arguments every other day and sometimes I would even pack a bag just in case I committed to running away for good.
Going out of state for college became a way to extend that independence even further — it was an excuse to never look back. I made overly ambitious career goals, looked for apartments I couldn’t afford, and conjured up a fantasy of the life I wanted. Then the pandemic hit and despite how little I had to begin with in Boston, it felt like I had lost everything.
The interlocked puzzle pieces scattered all over the floor and I had to start over completely. But I still had the source the pieces came from. I still had my mom.
She’s one of those people who never asks for help. She started baby-sitting at 12 years old to make her own money. Then she had to make ends meet following her divorce from my dad. She still wanted me to follow my dream of becoming a writer, something she’d wanted to pursue herself.
A global pandemic should not be a recipe for success in any scenario, but in my relationship with my mother, it was the glue that held us together. Or maybe I finally grew up. We no longer argued over the smallest of things, and we understood when one of us needed space to breathe. She became my friend and confidant.
My living situation now almost mirrors living with college roommates. We both work from home during the day like colleagues. We recap, mention hectic news updates, and bond over shutting our laptops down at 5 p.m. Unlike a roommate, though, I always look forward to her home-cooked meals and the comfort of her hugs after a long day.
Psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler has said adolescent girls take out their anger or frustration on their mothers “because their mothers are their safest and most available targets.” For months during quarantine, my mom was one of the only human beings I talked to or saw in person. This time, I was there for her when she talked about what it was like when my brother left home last year to pursue his own dreams.
Maya Gacina is completing her degree in journalism at Emerson College. Send comments to email@example.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.