When COVID19 hit Wuhan in November, I was teaching in Shenzhen, Guangdong. Everything was normal until the week I returned to the States for Chinese New Year.
As we all know, that’s when shit hit the fan.
After four different flight cancelations, my one-month visit turned into a two-month visit. But, I managed to catch a flight back mid-March.
It was frustrating and stressful, but after 40 hours of travel to arrive at the Chinese border it was finally over…so I thought.
The afternoon I arrived at the Chinese border, I learned that that morning (less than 8 hours ago), China had added the US to the list of high-risk countries that required mandatory quarantine in a government facility.
I was labeled with a red dot that I had to wear on my clothes to alert officials that I was high risk.
After filling out a plethora of forms, red dots had to stay in a holding pen outside in the cold on little plastic chairs to await special transport.
We had no access to a bathroom and limited food and water for 9 hours (one granola bar, 1 cup of noodles, and an 8oz water bottle) before being transported to a small hotel room with no AC.
At the hotel, our doors had alarms that sounded if we left them open too long or if we tried to leave the room. The only way in or out was through a keycard activated elevator that only a doctor and health official had access to.
When I tested negative for COVID I had the option to home quarantine. But the hotel refused to release me and demanded I pay exorbitant rates for my stay. Until I paid, they began delaying my food delivery for hours.
Essentially extortion, but I complied because as a foreigner the law did not protect me.
With three days left in quarantine, I got a call from my parents telling me my grandmother had died. She was the closest person to me in my family. Her death was like losing a mother. I grieved her in quarantine isolation.
The day after my grandmother died, China announced that it was closing its borders. All foreign visas were invalidated for re-entry. All incoming international flights were grounded. This meant returning for her funeral would indefinitely ban me from the country.
But it was something I couldn’t miss.
I spent the rest of quarantine arranging an online teaching agreement with my company. My director agreed to let me continue teaching online for the rest of the semester with a couple conditions and at 70% of my original salary. I agreed.
Once I was released from quarantine, I had 5 days to cancel my rent contract, move everything out of my apartment and into storage, set up an international bank card, and arrange all my transportation.
I hated leaving my life in China, but I had to say goodbye to my mom.
The funeral service was only immediate family due to the pandemic, but we put together a nice service for her.
During my quarantine back in the states (my second quarantine in a month) I needed something to help me through my grief. I started putting together a book of poems and began drawing illustrations to go with them.
I also booked a stay in Colorado near where my grandma grew-up and planned to finish the semester working remotely in Zacatecas, Mexico where my grandmother’s family was from.
Then, two weeks after the funeral I received an email from my company informing me they changed their mind about our agreement. I was furloughed until I could return to China.
So, there I was- grieving, indefinitely unemployed, separated from all of my personal belongings (aside from a small library of books I’d left in storage), with a non-refundable Colorado trip booked for the following month.
Needless to say plans for Mexico were down the drain. I had one paycheck left.
Through shuffling of funds, emptying savings, taking out a small, no-interest loan, and some support from family, I was still able to go to Colorado and afford to self-publish my poetry book.
I knew my monetary return on both projects would be non-existent, but I needed them.
Perhaps my sudden actions were an attempt to counteract the entropy that had taken over my life. In less than the span of a month, I had watched the happy life I’d built for myself in China crumble.
I went from being financially independent, happy, and well-off in a big city, to unemployed and living with my parents in the town I grew-up in with no clues to how my life would proceed.
Bad things I could’ve never imagined happened, so I needed to make happy things, however far-fetched, realities too.
So, I took massive action.
I hiked over 100 miles in Colorado, including summiting Pikes Peak in one day. I created a mini-series on my Instagram page of my hikes, launched my website katherinevkimball.com, started a blog, and published my book.
I got back into my gym routine, started meditating again, and started reading more.
Publishing “Truth and Poison” fulfilled a childhood dream I had since I was a little girl discovering the worlds of Tom Sawyer and Mary Lennox.
When the first batch of books arrived in print it was surreal. Holding my own book in my hands, bound and printed with an “about the author” description on the back.
There’s nothing like it.
Despite my world being turned upside down I managed to create some monumental moments for myself. Even if it wasn’t important to others.
It hasn’t been easy. I won’t pretend to feel happy and accepting of all of my new life. I’ve struggled with overwhelming feelings of stagnation, loss, and helplessness.
Adapting to change is easier said than done. But, finding a passion to pursue despite the grim outlook in other areas of my life has kept a smile in my heart when I don’t feel it on my face.
That type of passion is something I hope everyone finds for themselves.