Letter from Los Angeles

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Photo courtesy of Pablo Nukaya-Petralia.

As part of The Occidental’s COVID-19 coverage, we will be running a series titled “Letters from” written by staff writers, editors and Occidental students. These letters aim to document the experience and insights of Occidental students as they adjust to new circumstances. If you are interested in contributing to the series, please send an email to brewere@oxy.edu or kheinze@oxy.edu.

There’s a hill by my house that I like to run to, and on most days you can almost see all of LA laid out before you. The view is majestic — Downtown, Griffith Park, Glendale and more all sprawled out like only LA can. Nothing about the view now indicates that anything is out of the ordinary.

But then you listen — the hill, next to the normally vibrant 134 freeway, is silent. The sky is devoid of the usual dance of helicopters and airplanes. The air is unnervingly clean. To any native Angeleno, something is clearly amiss.

Like the majority of Oxy students, the coronavirus pandemic sent me home — except that home is about two miles from campus. You’d think this would be great, but the truth is, it’s depressing in its own right. Occidental, the place I had come to consider home for the past four years, is so close yet ever so slightly out of reach. I want to scream every time I remember that I’ll never get to return as a student, knowing I’ll never get true closure from a semester that never was.

I wonder if I’m still allowed to hope. The federal government, it seems, is beyond useless. The economy is in tatters. If I could go outside to Colorado Boulevard, just two blocks away, I would see countless businesses I’ve known and loved since childhood that have closed and may never return. Or I could stay at home, where my father, the owner of The Trails Cafe in Griffith Park, struggles with the cafe’s closure and tries to obtain now-expended government aid. He is effectively out of work, and my family’s main income is gone, a sentiment likely shared by countless others across the city.

“Do I still have a future?” I frequently ask myself.

In the past, I planned on taking a year off after Oxy before going to graduate school to study art history; I’d spend that year reading about art and making some money on the side at a nearby Italian bakery (they make the most amazing bread, and I was determined to learn their secret). Someday, I wanted to become a museum curator.

But I can’t imagine paying for grad school in the current economy, and working in the art world is difficult when museums and galleries have all shuttered and face their own financial woes. Rather than moving on with my life, I’m stuck. I can’t go back to college, and I can’t move forward to adulthood. I can barely step outside, let alone find a job.

Most days, I’m lucky if I can even get around to schoolwork. My mind is either constantly fixated on the news or seeking refuge elsewhere. I bounce for hours between my couch and the piano, alternating between Twitter and Charlie Parker until I can ultimately guilt myself into working. I wish I could ease up on work during this time, but I’m terrified that I can’t. People say to not worry about employers or grad school admissions, that they’ll have sympathy about all of this, but I doubt that. The world, it seems, is ruthless, and I feel like I’ll need every edge to survive.

From the top of the hill everything looks the same, but that could not be further from the truth. The spirit of LA — the sights, sounds, tastes — is seemingly gone, and I don’t know if it’ll ever be back.