AUSTIN, Texas — It took three weeks, but Lawrence and Arlene Maze finally persuaded their younger son, Gregory, of Los Angeles, to get on a flight home to Austin.
“He basically shut his business down to come here and has to restart his business when it’s safe,” his father said. “It was a very difficult decision.”
Alex Rose, a 33-year-old event producer and recording artist, didn’t need much persuasion. She spent a couple of weeks alone in her 500-square-foot Hollywood apartment, taking long walks to break up the days. In mid-March, her event bookings and performances began to disappear. Then a neighbor showed her video of an arsonist setting trash can fires on their street and she saw the melted cans next to her building.
“All of a sudden I didn’t feel safe anymore,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe, and frankly, I felt totally alone.”
The next morning, she and her cat, Eloise, flew home to Austin to her mother and stepdad.
As COVID-19 has ripped through densely populated communities, millennials have fled their own cramped quarters for less congested cities with more room in their parents’ homes. They are near family should someone get sick. The familiarity is comforting in an uncertain time. Overwhelmingly, parents and their adult children view the arrangement as temporary. Of course, no one knows how long “temporary” might last.
Lawrence Maze said the thinking was that Gregory could help him or his wife if they got sick, and they could help him if he did. Also, they believed Austin’s health care system would be less stressed than L.A.’s.
“He’s lived on his own now for a very long time,” Lawrence said. “It’s not like he moved back into his old house. He knows he’s living in a guest bedroom.”
It’s a major disruption for young adults who have established their lives thousands of miles from home: They keep paying rent on empty places. They have left behind their routines and social lives. Some have lost their work. Others can work remotely alongside parents who are doing the same.
The magnitude of the outbreak has, for a time, reordered American lives. It’s fostering unexpected togetherness.
Rose’s mother, Elizabeth Christian, said her daughter hasn’t visited Austin this long since she was in college, and now “nobody is rushing off to do anything.”
“We’re having meals together. And we’re watching movies at night,” she said.
Christian and her husband, Bruce Todd, a former Austin mayor, wanted to make sure Rose got back before California wouldn’t allow her to leave or Texas wouldn’t let her in.
Sarah and Ken Frankenfeld had barely moved into their downsized townhome when the coronavirus pandemic brought their 31-year-old son and his girlfriend from New York City to quarantine with them.
“I was nervous about how this was going to work,” Sarah Frankenfeld said of their lack of furniture and readiness for houseguests. They’d met his girlfriend for one evening a few months earlier. “He hasn’t lived here in a while. But it’s worked and it’s been lovely.”
Kevin Frankenfeld, who works in digital, social strategy and marketing, has lived in New York almost nine years. He and his girlfriend, Maddie Haller, wanted to quarantine together.
“In Manhattan or Brooklyn, people are just on top of one another,” he said. “So we wanted to get out of town.”
This shared feeling of lockdown with so much unknown can cause stress and make us feel lonely and anxious, even with others around, said Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. surgeon general from 2014 to 2017.
“In this moment, we have no idea when the pandemic will end,” he said. “We don’t know when our lives will go back to normal.”
Well before the stay-at-home orders, Murthy recognized Americans’ increased loneliness, prompting his new book, “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.” Now that many are isolated by themselves, he urges us to “step back and take stock of our lives.”
“The silver lining of COVID-19 is that it’s given us the opportunity to reset our social lives and remember how essential relationships are to our well-being,” he said.
Rose is doing her own reset. She’s among California’s estimated 2 million self-employed. But because of the pandemic, she’s applying for full-time jobs around the country in digital media and project management.
“When I left L.A., I never expected that I would not go back to that apartment,” she said. With her lease up in June, she asked a friend to pack up her place and move everything into storage.
Rose and her mother returned late Sunday from a quick turnaround to California to retrieve Rose’s tiny 2016 Fiat 500 that was stranded six weeks in long-term airport parking.
Gregory Maze, 33, is a private chef, event caterer and part-owner of a coffee truck business. He moved to L.A. five years ago.
“I’m fortunate to have a situation like this, but leaving L.A. was not on my terms,” he said. “It’s out of my hands. I really don’t know what the landscape is going to look like at the end of this.”
While some younger adults mock baby boomers with the “OK boomer” meme, the pandemic seems to have shifted the tone — at least where parents are concerned.
Suzanne and Stuart Newberg’s older son, Jared, 27, and his girlfriend, Melissa Asensio, both of Manhattan, arrived March 21 to quarantine together.
“They bought one-way plane tickets and we said, ‘You’re welcome as long as you need to be here,’” Suzanne Newberg said.
Jared and Melissa, who both worked full time in their New York City offices, now work remotely from Austin. His three roommates left for their hometowns about a week before Jared and Melissa. Her two roommates left New York around the same time.
“It was a lot safer and more comfortable to come here,” Jared said. “We’re super-lucky and super-fortunate.”
Back in New York, one of Kevin Frankenfeld’s roommates remains in their three-bedroom apartment. The other went home to Boston. Maddie lives in the same neighborhood. Her apartment is empty now. Both Kevin and Maddie work full time remotely and are glad they’re not in the city.
“We didn’t want to be stuck in a small apartment to isolate in a hotbed,” Kevin said. “Here we’ve got a green area, dishwasher and laundry.”