by Anabel Martinez
photography by Darcelle Jones-Wesley
As much as the pandemic drastically shaped my personal self, it changed my home and family life even more.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in my family lived their own separate lives. It was like none of us knew each other. None of us knew anything about each other besides the fact that we lived under the same roof and shared the same last name. Then, with the stay at home order, it was like being stuck in an elevator with a group of strangers, with nothing to do but make small talk and get to know each other.
I was working at my part-time job at an AMC near my hometown, La Puente, when word broke out that there was a serious, deadly virus in the United States. I was sent home early and so were my parents, two sisters and brother. That might have been the first time in a year when we were all home at the same time. What we thought would be two weeks of vacation from classes and work turned out to be the beginning of a new chapter for the Martinez family.
The more time we spent with each other, the more we learned about one another that for us, unfortunately, led to a broken household.
A few months into the pandemic, tension between my parents rose. Thirty years of arguments and miscommunication that we often avoided were now in front of us as we had nowhere else to turn. Our problems needed to be addressed. I could feel the negative energy that my home projected, and it made me feel like I was stuck in the middle of a war with nowhere to go.
My mom moved out to escape the tension while she began the process of filing for a divorce from my dad, moving an hour away to Bellflower to stay with relatives.
Left behind in our small home of 20 years in La Puente were my dad, brother, two sisters, my sister’s boyfriend, a baby nephew (on the way) and me. The people in my household and I adjusted fairly quickly as we were used to being independent, but our household and financial responsibilities increased, and we had to learn to communicate with one another.
My dad returned to his job and was constantly working. I steadily gained part-time jobs, including a work at home ULV campus job. To lessen the financial load on him, I paid more bills. As weird as the sudden change was, I felt myself able to loosen up for once and show my real personality with my family. Last year was the first time I ever really talked about music with my dad, something I am so passionate about. I think this was the first time my dad, a connoisseur of rock music, realized just how much he influenced my music taste since childhood.
During fall semester 2020, I took a digital photography class and immediately fell in love with capturing life through a camera lens. Photography was something that I was interested with during high school, but I never jumped in. During quarantine, I finally had a chance to explore photography and found out that I had a natural passion for it.
I picked out and bought my first camera—a Canon Rebel T7i—with the helpful suggestions of my dad, who is a camera and technology geek. I would work on my class projects day and night, but I loved it. For once, we had something to bond over and have real conversations about. However, I still felt the lack of a relationship with him because when we were not talking about cameras or bills or whose turn it was to do the dishes, there was nothing to talk about.
For Christmas that year, my dad bought me studio lights and a photo backdrop, probably the most meaningful gift he has ever bought me. All other previous years, it has been either a Bath & Body Works perfume set he asked a random employee to pick out, or an awkward hug and a “Merry Christmas.”
In December of 2020, my aunt got sick with COVID-19 and unfortunately passed away. Two weeks. That’s how long it took for her to find out she was sick with COVID, become hospitalized and pass away. By the time my dad got a phone call that she was on the edge of death and began the two-hour drive to see her, it was too late. It was during this peak of COVID case rates that only immediate family members who understood the high risk of entering COVID hospital rooms full of COVID patients were allowed to see her body.
My dad assumed the risk, dressed in full hospital protective gear. Following, he was quarantined in our house for 10 days. Our household figuratively held its breath until he was safely cleared of the disease.
Although my family was already cautious about getting sick during the pandemic, her death hit us hard, and it woke us up to the severity of the virus. My tia Martha was one of the few family members with whom I have real, genuinely loving memories. Although she was not around extremely often, my family and I felt the light she brought into our lives dim.
In January of 2021, my abuelita’s death followed. The death of my aunt, who was my dad’s cousin and like a sister to him, followed by the death of my grandma happening so close in time, completely spiraled my life. My grandma lived in Guadalajara, Mexico. I had not spoken to her since I was in high school when she last visited us in California, but seeing how much her death affected my dad broke my heart as he was close to her.
Those few months after their deaths really shook my family, but it made us realize how quickly death can appear, and how fast life can change. At least for me, during the pandemic, I put more effort into building a relationship with both my siblings and both of my parents.
From this day on, my family continues to navigate through our new lives. My parents are still in the process of legally splitting up, but every day is a blessing because we get to cherish each other during this difficult time. On April 21, my nephew was born. Leo brought a light back into my family’s lives that we so desperately needed. My family lost a few lives but gained another. I guess even the toughest times can be overcome, and that his birth is a harbinger of better times ahead. ■