Dear Abba and Ajji

How living with my grandparents has affected my shelter-in-place experience

Dear Abba and Ajji,

I’m glad that you two came to visit us. I know the 18-hour flight from India wasn’t easy for you guys. But I absolutely hate your timing because now you two are stuck here in the Bay Area. I wish you two could have gone home to Pune, but I know India might not be the safest place for you two to go because you won’t have anyone to help you there. And if other family members come to help you with your groceries or cooking, it will put all of you at risk. Considering most of our family in Pune is elderly, I’d rather that not happen. Even though staying in Cupertino right now may be safer than staying in India, I worry that my family is going to make you sick. I’ve been going to school with thousands of people while my brother, Atharva, has been going to a college with tens of thousands of people. My mom is a pharmacist and still has as much work as ever. She constantly interacts with patients, and even though pharmacies have taken some measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the measures are not perfect.

My grandpa, Sharad Dikshit, looks at the backyard through the glass, smiling. (Aditi Dixit)

I don’t want to feel guilty for potentially being the one who causes either of you to catch COVID-19. I really don’t think I could live with that guilt. That’s why I’ve taken the shelter in place more seriously than most of my friends. One time, I FaceTimed a friend, expecting her to be at home. I was surprised to see her outside with another friend of ours. Neither of them were

wearing masks — they were just fooling around, walking, talking, and making no effort to keep distance between them. I talked to them only for a minute then made some excuse to leave the call because I was quite angry. They weren’t trying in the slightest to maintain social distancing. Whenever I get invited to go for a walk, I usually don’t agree if there’s more than one person. And even then, I always try to remember to wear a mask. Having you both at home makes me follow the rules better. If it were just my parents and my brother, I would not worry nearly as much because they are all relatively young and healthy.

You two being here has also led me to isolate myself at home. When the shelter in place first started, I tried so hard to completely isolate myself from both of you — which was very unsuccessful because we still had meals together and were stuck in the same house. But after two weeks of isolating within my h

My grandma, Varsha Dikshit, sits on a chair in our dining room. (Aditi Dixit)

ouse, I gave up. I realized that if anyone in my family did get the coronavirus, it would probably spread to us all eventually. So my next approach to keep you two safe was to simply make sure I do not get COVID-19 from anyone else. But there is only so much control I have over that. Because even if my whole family follows all the rules to keep you two safe, it still might not be enough. 

Knowing that my best efforts to keep you two safe may not be enough, I realized I should stop avoiding you two completely. While a hug may not be the best idea, being in the same room and talking should be okay. I slowly realized that pushing you two away and isolating myself in the name of saving you wasn’t fair to you — or myself. When I was isolating myself from you two, I felt bad that you would think I was ignoring you or didn’t want to spend time with you. But really, I just didn’t want to endanger you. And that was a lonely burden to carry for a while. 

However, I later realized keeping you guys safe isn’t only up to me. I am not the only danger in our home and keeping you safe is not something I have to do alone. Because this involves my entire family, I should stop isolating myself and instead rely on them. Ever since, I’ve been spending more and more time with you two because I realized there’s not much I could do to stop both of you from getting the virus if anyone else in my family catches it. 

Whether COVID-19 spreads to our home or not,  I have the responsibility to not make what could potentially be our last memories together painful. Instead, I should make pleasant, lasting memories with you. And I have been working on that. Just the other day, I taught you both how to play Sudoku, which admittedly was a little frustrating at first, but became a lot of fun. It was pleasing to just do regular, enjoyable activities together, without the shadow of guilt lurking over me anymore.