A Covid Love Story: Our Thirty Minutes Free from the Quarantine
This op-ed was written early in 2020, shortly after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was not picked up anywhere, which I like to attribute to a glut of such articles. A timely piece (as journalism is), I retired it but decided that I could share it with the world somewhere–here on my blog would do.
Our love is not a blip on the screen or a new, springtime thing. We’ve been married nineteen years, which seems both shockingly long and embarrassingly brief. We were married on a June day in Michigan, and don’t ask the date because that’s a touchy subject. And while most numbers can’t seem to find purchase in my memory, I do remember the blue, wideness of the sky, the touch on my fingertips of tulle, lace and scratchy, rented tux, the soft scent of gerbera. I remember what we said that day we would do, the weight of it, as if we could understand the breadth and severity of what we took on. Marriage is honeymoon and dire financial straights, kissing and yelling and hand-holding in public, drinking cherry compot in a monastery in Moldova and breathing together in labor: one of you holding the slimy baby and the other ripped from stem to stern on the table.
My husband is a front lines nurse in the time of Corona. I am a home school mom—yes, even in the best of times—and a freelance writer. Our lives have been altered in different ways than those around us. A spotlight seems to shine on the meter of our life. I am a hobby photographer and I have been codifying the minutiae of our experience on my iPhone and sharing. People seem to find themselves in my photos and my comments, while the thanks have also come in waves, making me blush while I forage for food in grocery lines behind plastic-fenced counters; trim hair; go for neighborhood walks; drink de-stressing tea; find yoga; carefully and religiously wipe things down; feed my husband strangely gourmet dinners and homemade bread at a separate table every evening before he leaves for the night shift on the Covid unit; listen to him trudge up the stairs each morning with his laundry in the bag I left out for him, drop the lid on the washing machine with a clang, pass without a touch or a breath on the way to the shower.
Earlier this week, the surreal gained a new level. Because of a number of symptoms, my doctor suggested I be screened for Covid-19. While I was brushing off the symptoms as just another spring being suffocated slowly by the North Carolina pollen, the professionals on my way through the screenings all sighed a dysthymic good luck to me before sending me onward toward the elusive test. In a tent on another blue-skied day, I was tested for Covid and sent home to isolate at least until I received a negative result. I disappeared into my room and waited, as my husband was also tested. He came home and retired to the closet that we have made into a space for him to sleep and not to breathe respiratory droplets on anyone. Our teens bumped around the house, reflecting off surfaces without us.
By two days later, we both had negative test results. When Kevin shuffled out of the closet before dinner, we realized that neither of us had left the house, plopping us down in the middle of a unique situation: for the next half-hour, we were home together and both definitely not a carrier. He put on his scrubs, I watered the plants. We had hand-made gnocchi and chicken Milanese at the same table, him handling the serving spoons with wild abandon. I went back to the deck with the kids, where we were making grill s’mores. Kevin came out to say goodbye, standing close to us in the spot from which most nights we waved to him as he left. He hesitated, and I finally flung myself into his arms, kissing him in a way that both mortified our children and made them feel eminently secure in the world. I kissed him once, twice, in a way that felt like a monument to all the things that had come before in their procession of normality, and a milestone pointing toward the weeks or maybe months ahead that would be lipless, hug-less, touch-free, two separate beds, two separate bathrooms, two lonely pillows in the same house. But then, God willing, when we both emerge alive, we will turn the page on this sterile, bizarre chapter on our love story. Or perhaps, though bizarre and uncomfortable, it isn’t so sterile. For while we may be like ships passing in the night—the phrase that goes through my head every time we make sure not to come too close in the stairwell—there is an intensity and purpose to our being distant that belies a passion and intentionality that is deep and important and triumphant: in sickness and in heath, with a vengeance.