2nd Place – Hi-lo, hi..low times

by Ashley Bursian, May 9th, 2020, traverse city, Mi

Adult Category


Luckily for me, I have some experience with the hardships of quarantine.

There was once a point in my life, while homeless, that myself and two sons lived year round in a 1964 hi-lo camper, for 2 years. This is a camper about the size of an average household bathroom, or small, studio apartment size kitchen, perhaps, to warrant perspective. This was during a time of serving as a campground caretaker in exchange for a place to reside. The camper was large enough for a bed,a stove, too, but the camper was so old I was afraid to use it, and there was no bathroom. All of our water had to be collected from faucets usually in recycled milk jugs about a quarter mile away from our site.

I usually cooked outside with a griddle or with portable burners. Cooking in the winter time was wild, and usually we utilized the public restrooms( which I kept very clean, obviously, but it was the only realistic source of power and space during the winter time, so what would you do? It’s also where my youngest son learned to take his first steps. Remember, our trailer was extremely tiny!) Also this meant anytime we had to use the restroom, we had to walk that 1/4 mile to do so.

During the summer, we had acres of land to explore and wild strawberries to pick. In the winter, the campground would be transformed into a wonderland of lights, and we would take sled rides through the magical scenery of snow and glowing lights. There was a looming sadness to living at a campground, though. It was exceedingly lonely most the time, as people visit these places not to stay, but for the novelty of sleeping outdoors and immersing themselves and family in non traditional living conditions that dads everywhere claim are great for building character. And then, they are gone. Back to our bubble. We actually were homeless for 5 years. It was practically impossible to form long lasting friendships.

Fast forward to today’s times. My eldest lives with his father, and my youngest is in my care. He is classified as being low functioning, “non verbal” autistic. He is 7 years old. And he is the sole source of what keeps me together, while simultaneously being the source of making me feel bonkers at times. It’s not his autism, that I find the most overwhelming and difficult to deal with. It’s not the fact we are holed up together and cannot even have conversations with one another, fluently, as Ari doesn’t speak constructively, yet. He scripts words from films and songs, mostly. And we watch everything on repeat, ad naseum. My television is held hostage to whatever dvd he wants to watch; my opinion in the matter of choices is moot. I have one device, my smart phone, which we share throughout the day. He loves his youtube music videos, and I desperately scramble to use it when I can to try to socialize with other adults and use it for creative project references. It’s not the fact that we are on round two of severe sleep regression from his routine being completely destroyed with lack of school and therapy. We are up all night, and he sleeps most the day. But I’m a veteran in sleep deprivation, as most parents are, so it’s not much concern at the moment.

Heres where I’m struggling. It’s the fact that quarantine life has so many parallels to my pre quarantine life. I’m more afraid of what life will be like post quarantine. When social life begins to bloom again. My life essentially will stay the same, in some ways. Prior to the pandemic, my social life was already virtually non existent. I have to self quarantine at 6 o clock every evening during the work week, and weekends are never free. Six is when my son gets out of therapy. My son lacks socially acceptable skills and behaviors, which makes public outings impractical for the last several years. I do not drive, and he is too large for strollers. If you have ever encountered a melting down autistic child in public, then you will know it is not a light hearted or non physical task in trying to calm and remove them from the scene. I have had the police called on me before simply from my child screaming bloody murder and tantruming in self injurious way about having to leave the beach. So we dont get out much. My free time consists of the day hours, as I freelance for work while my son is at school, usually. This leads to a serious deficit in adult socialization. My free time is everyone’s working time!

My working time, caregiving for Ari, including weekends, is everyone’s free time! In a way, I’m grateful for my odd and socially starved lifestyle, because it’s better prepared me mentally for these unusually lonley and anti physically social times. I feel this has been an extremely mentally transformative period for many. For those that are not used to intense isolation as myself, I smile knowingly at the flood of social media posts of the epiphanies people are having about finding comfort in the kitchen, picking up a crafting project, or doing art. Singing out loud and endless dance parties. I smile at these things because those are all of my go-to for coping methods for dealing with my own personal quarantine blues, and seeing so many socially dependent people dusting off these old fashioned or novelty like activities in an age of digital dependence makes me finally feel a little less lonely, and connected, for once. Like, I can finally relate to other adults for a change, but what a strange and sad way to finally feel connected. The irony of finding connection during a time when the world is socially shut down I suppose only makes me smile more. It’s a mad world.