Some days I feel trapped.
I am reminded of classic, romantic novels from bygone eras, “The Secret Garden,” where the protagonist is trapped in her nursery while Cholera ravages her household, killing her distant but beautiful mother, and every other adult in the home. She eventually finds solace in an abandoned and forbidden English garden, which has remained verdant despite the neglect.
Or “Death in Venice,” where like Aschenbach I think, perhaps this illness is simply a manifestation of our own internal corruption.
In either case, I have no beautiful boy to entrance me, nor do I have a secret garden to regenerate my soul. I am not wrapped in the romantic mists of Venice or Calcutta; the mood moors of northern England.
No, none of this is my reality.
Truthfully, I can’t even make it my escape.
I can’t focus on a novel these days, and it’s hard to know if it’s the overwhelming anxiety caused by the 24 hour news cycle focusing on this global pandemic, or the normal progress of my pregnancy as I “enjoy” my third trimester. I recall from my first pregnancy that I lost the ability to focus on reading postpartum (it took almost two years to return) but I don’t remember it happening while pregnant.
“Love in the time of COVID-19” runs through my head as the title of a modern novel that kick starts a slew of novels romanticizing this pandemic. I, for one, will not be the creative genius who writes it. But there are lots of those in this world. I just hope they’re safe enough for their genius to see the light of day.
Instead I am trying to negotiate the day-to-day realities of keeping my household and extended family and friends sane while we navigate the uncertainty of this pandemic: so basically just like everyone else.
I am busy consoling my friend who has had to cancel her wedding, reassure my friend who is pregnant for the first time and facing a delivery in a hospital overrun with emergency cases without her partner or any support person, while facing this reality myself and deciding if those contractions are simply braxton-hicks or preterm labour; helping my nearly 70 year-old mother navigate the maze of potential government supports (we are SO lucky to have) as she’s been laid off from her part-time employment and, as April 1st approaches, will have to decide between rent and food if the money doesn’t come through.
And honestly, we are lucky. We are relatively safe. We are all taking it one day at a time. I can help manage all of these stressors in my own small way. Consoling, soothing, managing expectations, sharing information, calling government help lines, purchasing groceries and arranging deliveries, organizing zoom calls for preschoolers and Baby Boomers to reduce social isolation… All the things you too are doing.
We are all accustomed to juggling multiple needs: work, family, friends, larger community responsibilities; and we know that these needs will only increase as this pandemic continues and our fear increases. These difficult measures won’t have overnight impact and we do not live in a patient world. We all want this to be over: NOW!
But what about love?
At 34 and 37, we have been together for over ten years, and our relationship has had a number of iterations, and we view this busy time as just one phase, a normal one for two, working, ambitious, professionals with small children.
Now, we are spending much more time together. We like each other as well as loving each other. Without the pressures of a long commute and erratic hours, we are able to spend late evenings before bedtime talking, something we haven’t really done since our first daughter was born four years ago. I have come to realize that our relationship, even when it is full of frustration and friction (co-parenting is really hard for us—anyone else?), is a source of strength, consistency and stability. Even the arguments we are having, the consistency of what irritates us about the other, is strangely comforting in this time of inconsistency and uncertainty.
It is comforting to have someone I can be really vulnerable with, fearlessly vulnerable; that ugly, deep vulnerability that surfaces when you are scared. The type that isn’t always kind, or understanding, soothing, patience, reassuring. The type of vulnerable where you start out by yelling about how much his parenting style sucks and end up crying together about how terrified you are about bringing a new baby into the world of COVID-19. Where you catch each other crawling into bed with your four-year-old, clinging to her warm, clean-smelling, peacefully breathing little body because it is the life-raft keeping your resilience afloat.
Together Is All We Have
During this pandemic quarantine and time of social distancing, I have come to the realization that we are all in it together. The social contract of our society, our willingness to support one-another, emotionally and financially, through big acts of government and small acts of human kindness, is our resilience. We look around and know we are not alone in our isolation. The groups of people in my life, my students, friends, family, child, partner, their love and the different forms it takes and the different needs it meets, is what will keep me sane. I cannot stop the suffering of this virus. I cannot prevent those I care about from being impacted by this virus. But I can continue to participate in this circle of love that strengthens our society. We are far from perfect, but if we remember the small role we play in keeping that circle together, maybe we can emerge from our spring quarantine a better and more empathetic version of ourselves.