A New Home by Jenna Wirtz


A New Home

August 10th was the worst day of my life — according to my snapchat memories. After my high school graduation got canceled along with news that my first year of college would be virtual, I didn’t have any glimmer of hope left, except for Temecula (where very little hope presides in the first place).

Temecula, California, was my way out of the dull city my parents moved to after I graduated, Lacey, Washington. I had been holding out hope that Biola would stay open, but that door was closed as of July. My mom mentioned she had a cousin, Jaylee, who lived a few hours South of LA and that she would reach out to her and see if I could live with them for a semester. Jaylee replied enthusiastically that she and her husband would be happy to host me, and I was overjoyed.

I immediately texted all my friends sharing the good news. Next, I made a long to-do list of things to do: vacuum my car before we sell it, go through clothes and choose which to donate, and write goodbye letters.

A few days later I was unloading the dishwasher (the loathsome of chores) when my mom texted me. When I read it I stopped in my tracks. Immediately, I slid down to the ground, pressing my back into the back of the dishwasher, crying hot tears. She had sent me a screenshot of a text thread between her and Jaylee, where she informed my mom that something had come up and that she would not be able to host me anymore. I spent the next 6 hours (yes really that long) crying. After a year of such pity from adults, but no real room to grieve what I had lost during COVID, I was so exhausted. This was my breaking point.

By the time my mom had come home, my throat was worn down with crying and the redness on my face was evidence of what kind of day I had. She embraced me and it hit me all over again. She told me that it was upsetting, but that God would provide another way. I couldn’t possibly imagine how God would provide another way, but I nodded my head as I believed her.

The worst part about getting bad news is the brief period after you wake up when all is well, and then reality comes crashing in like a tsunami.

I’m not going to college.

I’m not moving to California.

I pulled my covers on over my head and groaned. I went about my morning with a low level of anger, but then something surprising happened. A new living situation presented itself in Claremont, California, about an hour north of Biola. My mom’s best friend used to live in Claremont, and she knew that her next-door neighbor there rented out a room to local college students. We got in contact with him, Wallee Cox, and arranged for me to live there from the end of August until Thanksgiving break.

I remember my mom telling me all of this information while I was laying on the carpet in our hallway, and she started jumping and cheering. I laid there motionless, because it felt like I just went through the 5 stages of grief, and I was exhausted. She tried to have me stand up and dance with her, and I obliged. It wasn’t genuine but I wanted to match her excitement. Part of me was excited, but all of me was so tired.

Accompanied by the pain I was holding from my senior year getting cut short, and the whiplash of the past 24 hours, it hit me that I knew nobody in California, all my classes were on zoom, and on top of that, I did not have a car to get around. I wondered if I was making the right choice.

Moving away from home is a bittersweet experience, to say the least. There is a level of excitement at the idea of real independence, but there is also a level of fear that you are suddenly in a completely new space. It is a mix of a myriad of emotions. With someone’s early twenties being such a formative period, entering college during such an unprecedented time as 2020 was uniquely difficult. Holding that grief, I set out on my journey south.

We left on Sunday, August 23rd. We drove 337 miles to Cresent City, California, home to the Redwood National and State Parks. We decided this would be a good spot for us to stretch our legs, so we walked around for a few hours under the safety of the 200ft Redwoods surrounding us, we were like tiny ants looking up at towering grass blades. A gondola brought us up further and the clouds looked just within my reach to touch. The trees were set against rolling green hills, and the sun illuminated them in all their splendor.

After about 6 hours of driving, we ended the night with our arrival at the scariest hotel of all time. My mom loves a bargain, which resulted in us getting a cheap hotel room. Once we arrived it was clear the photos did not line up with what we got.

“I remember we put a chair in front of the door,” my mom said. On top of a loose door, we also had a broken refrigerator, and a dark stairwell, and the doors faced outside — even though the pictures showed there was an indoor hallway. Needless to say, my mom was not stoked about the situation. We got to-go food for dinner that night which we ingested in our dark, dingy, dank room.

As we continued to make our way down south, the looming smoke in the sky was a reminder that I was in a new place. Forest fires were something that would be on my radar now — strange. We stopped in downtown San Francisco to eat lunch at In-and-Out (a Pacific Northwest luxury) and ordered two double-doubles plain, two french fries, and two medium Dr.Peppers. My mom and have always been very different, but our fast-food orders have always been a common thread that ties us together. After we ate, we meandered down the streets without any particular agenda. The jagged hills, towering houses, and wild colors of the buildings, all amazed me.

At this point, we had spent 11 hours together in the car. Post-COVID especially, I was comfortable not talking or socializing, so spending this many hours with my extroverted, social-butterfly mom was tiring. She remedied this by selecting a few podcasts for us to listen to, all of them being about the Enneagram personality framework.

She recalls listening to a portion in an episode where they said “Never say this to a 4!” (my Enneagram number), where they elaborated on the importance of validating people’s feelings and experiences even when you don’t understand them. I nodded my head as the host articulated the things I had been trying to express to my mom for years.

I have a pretty poor memory, but I can still hear my mom saying to me when I was little, “Be happy, don’t be grumpy!” She would press her fingers against the corners of her lips and turn her frown into a smile, to show me an example of how I should be. I would usually stare back at her blankly, hoping that she would one day see past my forbearing expression.

Those younger years shaped the way I related with my parents and my siblings, which was little to none. I would physically be present, but I would be detached. I got so tired of getting told to be different, that I watered myself down to an unrecognizable version of myself. My mom recognized a lot of the responses I had when I was younger were because I didn’t feel adequate, and by her invalidating those feelings I became more and more isolated. On this road trip, she got a glimpse into who I really was — not just the shallow version I presented myself to her with to protect myself.

For the rest of that drive, I felt a little lighter. We made it to Claremont and my mom moved me in, lugging boxes up the old stairs in that house until we were out of breath. Once we were finished, my mom gave me a lingering hug and the weight of me moving home finally was crashing down on me. I squeezed her a little bit tighter thinking, but you are just getting to know me