I decided to move back to Minnesota three years ago this week in a panicked state. Hobbling around in my clunky medical boot, I packed my entire apartment at my dad’s suggestion. I knew I wouldn’t be coming back to North Carolina, as I already had plans to move closer to New York with my boyfriend at the time. My days in Greensboro were numbered; I just sped up that process significantly when forced by mother nature.
Packing up all of my belongings didn’t take very long, even as my broken ankle required me to take copious breaks and use crutches. I didn’t have much, and most of what I had is still packed in boxes in the basement, probably reeking of mothballs.
My apartment in Greensboro was pretty depressing. I resisted the urge to make it feel like a home– that would’ve been a waste of what little money I had. I essentially lived by myself and didn’t bother to furnish the living room at all. It was literally empty. I never had anyone over– I usually stayed at my boyfriend’s house and gathered at other friends’ houses. I needed it to feel temporary, or I would worry I was settling somehow.
In March 2020, my life was looking pretty grim. I broke my ankle the month before, which forced me out of waiting tables and working for a character company, my two primary sources of income. My lovely friends drove me to and from my church job and the one teaching job I had– I only had four students at that time. The restaurant I worked at allowed me to host, but it was a fraction of the money I had grown accustomed to. My now ex-boyfriend left for a singing contract just days before I broke my ankle, so I couldn’t rely on him. I felt like quite a deadbeat.
Of course, retrospectively, it was hilarious that I thought February 2020 was surely as bad as it could get.
I know it’s not pleasant to go back, but at this point, it almost feels like revisiting a fever dream– did March 2020 actually happen? I went from friends bringing me canned goods and supplies as if a hurricane was descending upon us to planning a cross-country road trip with my dad within two days. On March 15, as I packed my dismal amount of belongings, my dad began his journey south through the midwestern plains, Appalachian Mountains, and finally, to me, his pathetic 27-year-old daughter whose fragile existence crumbled easily under the weight of a crushed ankle and a global pandemic.
I left most of my items packed up in my bedroom and took only what I required for a month or two. It honestly wasn’t pandemic related– we figured that would pass within a couple of weeks. We just weren’t sure how long it would take my ankle to heal so I could drive my car back up to Minnesota, or wherever I went next– in March 2020, I began to plan my move to New York.
I asked my dad what he listened to on the drive down. Dad said he turned off the radio and just drove in silence for seventeen hours. That sounds like my own personal hell, but maybe my dad needed this impromptu road trip as much as I did.
Going into rest stops was weird. No one was wearing masks. Nobody knew how COVID-19 spread yet, so I just remember warily staying away from people and using copious amounts of hand sanitizer after pumping gas or arriving back to our car.
On March 18, 2020, the day that the governor of Minnesota issued a stay-at-home order, I arrived at my parents’ house in Northfield, MN. I was a 27-year-old aspiring singer aging out of the YAP game with no source of income and a broken ankle. At least I had Seagle to look forward to. There, I would go straight from the prestigious opera training program to starting my life as a singer in New York. Only a few more months, and I would earn the life I thought I was supposed to live.
As we all know, the pandemic lasted slightly longer than a couple of weeks. Seagle postponed their season to summer 2021. I spent my days making embarrassingly awful YouTube videos and my nights binge-drinking red wine and numbing out to every reality TV show Netflix had to offer. My unemployment ran out in July 2020. I got a job as a receptionist at a doggy daycare and embarked on a nearly two-year journey of what I thought was a vocal breakthrough and what actually turned out to be a breakdown both vocally and emotionally. I was desperate and made decisions only a frantic singer in their late twenties would make.
I decided in July 2020 to stay in Minnesota after retrieving my car and belongings from North Carolina. In the past, I had told myself I would never live in Minnesota again, that returning home meant I failed. However, moving to New York in August 2020 would have been awful, and I stayed because the feeling in my gut implored me to stay. I’m unsure if it was for Casey, because I was afraid, or because it was my worst plan ever, but I listened. And now, I’m here.
Things were messy for a while there but started to come together after I returned from Seagle in 2021. I moved in with Casey. I started teaching voice and piano lessons through a couple of studios and obtained a handful of private students. A church hired me to be their soprano section leader. My teacher at the time wasn’t allowing me to audition or perform, but I felt I was improving vocally and was excited to magically come out the other side with agents clamoring to sign me to their roster and the Met knocking at my door.
Luckily, Madagascar was the next wake-up call I needed. I didn’t require anybody’s permission to be an artist. Being a singer didn’t look one way. There was still hope for me.
Then, my pesky polyp entered the picture. It was caused by overuse, misuse, and abuse. I shut down for a couple of months.
This week, I’m flying down to Texas to record a new opera with colleagues from the Madagascar trip. I no longer wait tables or work as a receptionist– between teaching and performing, I’m a full-time freelance singer. I have a dog and live in a beautiful home with my boyfriend. The affinity for reality TV I developed early in the pandemic has developed into writing for a clickbait outlet.
I tend to constantly strive for more, but three years after I arrived in Minnesota at what was probably one of the lower points in my life, I can honestly say I’ve turned it around. Being a freelance musician isn’t necessarily what I envisioned it would be, but I look forward to future projects, students, and artistic development.
Most artists are just now starting to see the light at the end of the nightmare of a pandemic tunnel. Auditions and productions are picking back up, at least from the companies that survived through their doors being shuttered for months, if not years. It’s been tough. I feel lucky that I made it out to the other side.
I’m not going to go so far as to say the pandemic was helpful for me, especially when millions of lives around the globe were destroyed, but my life wasn’t in good shape before the pandemic hit. I haven’t been able to admit it until recently, but my life fell apart before COVID-19 struck.
Denial is a powerful drug, and the coronavirus is the only thing that brought me home to Minnesota. I’ll never know what my life would have been like without COVID-19, but the one I’ve built here looks pretty sweet, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a failure. After the past three years, I think I can give myself some grace.