It wouldn’t be fair to say we broke up because she was never my girlfriend; that was the problem. I wanted her to be my girlfriend, and she did not want to be mine. But she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to me either — then, the quarantine happened.
I weighed my options. Did I want to be alone with my dignity? Or did I want to hole up with the only person I was allowed to touch knowing that it would probably end? I did what any slightly damaged pleasure-seeking adult in my situation would have done: I chose option two.
We’ll be quarantine buddies!
Yes, I even gave us a cutesy label. And told her that her indecision was totally cool; no presh.
We’ll just comfort each other during this time. How can I show up for you?
I wanted to be light and bright about it and also very generous. Can I pick anything up? What do you need?
I tried to remind myself to care but not to care in the extreme. I tried to remember how a week before the quarantine she’d said, “I just want to be friends.” Instead, I fell in love with her.
Most of the time, this problem was easy to ignore, because our time together was so wonderful. We ate steak and had sex and swam in her pool and found the same things funny. Our bond deepened, then it deepened more. We created new routines and texted in shorthand. Emoji of a cigarette, question mark?
I started smoking her brand of cigarettes, which I’d never smoked before: Camel Ultra Lights. They packed more of a punch than I’d imagined. I switched from my lip balm to hers because hers was better. I started swimming again. I started drawing with the rad markers she had at her house. We watched movies and snuggled and said the sweetest things. I came to expect the habitual ways we rolled over in bed at night. I came to differentiate her sighs. Then there was her smell, which I’d loved before I loved her.
Yes, everything was wonderful. But sometimes when I’d go pee, I’d have a moment when the anxiety burbled up and whispered, You are falling for someone who is not falling for you. If I were my own best friend, I would have told myself to run. Instead, I just flushed the toilet and pummeled on.
It happened like clockwork. Every two or three weeks, she would remind me that her romantic feelings for me hadn’t evolved, and I would feel like the sky and the pool and all the bowls on her kitchen countertop swarmed, exploded, and shattered. I don’t know why it felt like I was going deaf every time.
The first one of these Conversations with a capital C began like this: I am concerned about the shelf-life of this relationship. By the last time, all she had to do was look at me in a certain way for me to know what she wanted. She wanted to remind me again. She was uncertain about our future.
In a landscape of dichotomous messages, it was only natural to feel delusional. On one hand, the flowers in LA were in full bloom; everything was so green and abundant. On the other hand, we were in a pandemic. On one hand, I was in love. On the other hand, it was with the wrong person.
It was hard, looking at the flowers, to remember that Covid-19 was real. One day, we snuck onto a trail and looked at all the beauty and said this to each other: It doesn’t feel like we’re in a pandemic. But we were. And inside her house, which was where we spent all our time together, we were sheltered and safe, but not from each other.
She had been in love a zillion times. I had been in love zero times. If love is blind, then I was blind and without a walking stick. Logically, I knew she was the crumbs and not the cookie, but hers were the largest crumbs I’d ever eaten. Dr. Maya Angelou wrote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” It was hard to apply this wisdom to my naïve heart in the time of Covid.
The pattern continued, as patterns do. It was wonderful, then SNAP!
Each of these Conversations snapped me back into reality. I wanted more. She was reminding me that she was not able to give me more. Did that mean that I should leave? Every time, I would imagine myself leaving. I would map out the location of all my belongings. I’d have to get my bathing suit from one bathroom, my bag from the other bathroom, and I couldn’t forget my hat. The whole thing would take me five minutes.
But then, I wouldn’t leave. I would stay at her house, sheltered but not exactly safe. The wrap of her arms became a confusing haven. We would cry and eventually stop crying. We’d go out for a smoke. She would call me sweetheart, and I wouldn’t call her sweetheart back, which was all backward and flipped and askew — just like the world outside.
In bed, she would snuggle me in either a more apologetic way or a more guilt-ridden one. If you’d just seen us laying there and you knew nothing about us, she would have appeared very loving.
The next morning, the birds would chirp outside her window, and I would be clinging to my clarity. Those were not lovebirds. They were just birds — totally un-special and probably drained by the task of being alive like everybody else.
On the one hand, I’d never been happier. I’d never felt so held. I’d never been tended to in this way. On the other hand, I was crying a lot. Would it be wiser to say goodbye now? Or would it be wiser to wait out the quarantine? In my journal, I wrote, “How do I not get attached to someone I am getting more deeply attached to every day?”
I just went back in with a marker – the same markers she has. I’ve bought my own now – to answer myself: YOU DON’T.
Somehow, I thought I could get more and less attached simultaneously, as if driving forward and in reverse at the same time was possible. The pleasure was still outweighing the pain. Covid offered a questionable perspective, one that happened to fit my needs: Were we lucky because we had each other?
Every Conversation devastated me, but the resolve I found after was weirdly bolstering. I would stay in reality continually! I would remember all the times that we were doomed! I would call her sweetheart, but it would mean nothing! Then we’d eat steak and have sex and swim, and another week would pass and out by her pool under the surreal glow of another perfectly sunny day. It felt impossible not to sink back into my queasy delusions.
Time passed. I fell deeper, much deeper than I’d planned to. I fell deep into a hole and forgot all my clarity. But, in the back of my mind, the clock was running. It had been three weeks since our last Conversation. Then, SNAP!
After a swim and a lovely dinner, she shot me that look, and all the jarring things that had become our new normal happened: I went deaf, all her bowls swarmed and shattered, and we cried in our usual crying spot on the couch.
Because I’d imagined myself leaving so many times, it strangely felt as if I’d done it before. The bathing suit, the bag from the other bathroom, don’t forget the hat. It took me a little more than five minutes because she wanted to give me some non-organic eggs on the way out. I have no idea why I accepted those. I would never eat a non-organic egg.
Of course, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted her to beg me to stay. I wanted to erase all the things she’d just said. I wanted her to become a different person, one who suddenly loved me.
Love is warped. Life in the time of quarantine is warped. For a while, these distorted shapes fed off one another in a dreamlike way that sort of made sense. The outside world was a nightmare. The world inside this woman’s house was a fantasy. Covid-19 promptly domesticated us like two old wives. It wasn’t real, but it felt real.
What should we have for dinner, babe? I miss her steaks. Did I mention I’m iron-deficient? I was more desperate for her sustenance than I understood.
Logic tells me that I deserve more. Logic tells me this is for the best. Logic also tells me to put a mask on my face when I go outside and to wear gloves at the grocery store and that she, this woman I love who doesn’t love me back, is the only person who’s safe to touch.