March 12, 2020: Jim had minor surgery. In the hospital waiting room, large bottles of hand sanitizer were placed on every table and everyone sat far apart from each other. It was clear we’d all heard of something called coronavirus, especially when I sneezed and the entire room got quiet.
“It’s just allergies, I’m sure,” I said, laughing nervously while people fidgeted in their chairs.
A nurse called my name and brought me to a small room. The surgeon, unmasked like me, came in to discuss Jim’s surgery and as he shook my hand, I thought, Should we be doing this?
The next day, “social distancing” was introduced into the vernacular and I decided it was something I would do. I was apprehensive to tell Jim, though. When had we ever had to discuss something like social distancing? Never, that’s when. Would he trust the science, like I did, or would he listen to politicians? I knew he didn’t vote for the dolt in the White House, but scientists were urging lockdowns and other precautions that, at the time, seemed radical. What if he resisted? Where would I live? Who would be in my “bubble”?
Time was critical; the portal to the future was closing. I needed to put it out there fast. Rip off the Band-Aid. Say it, own it, and live with it. And like most things I overthink, that turned out to be the easy part. Jim was thinking the same way I was.
One year after that commitment to consciously avoid direct contact with another person’s spit and breath, Jim and I received our first vaccine shot. We’re excited to loosen the vigilance and venture out again, to eat someone else’s cooking, and drink craft beer at a high table inside a brewery. At the same time, there are things I don’t want to return to the normal we knew before the pandemic, namely, our relationship.
Three months before #lockdown2020, Jim and I marked seven years since we met, and our relationship felt on the cusp of a seven year ache or seven year itch. We were committed to each other, yet we were dangling in the wind, not for anyone to pluck us loose and take us home, but it felt like we had stopped paying attention.
There was no one thing that set us on the path to where we are now. Rather, it was a compilation of all of the words and reactions and choices that stemmed from within the confines of our bubble. For me, the pandemic made me pay attention to the perverted comfort I get from knowing I can leave a relationship anytime I want, a coping mechanism I developed after Bruce died: Don’t get close to anyone because they’ll only leave you one day. Always have a backup plan. This year, however, I couldn’t physically move away from our home, at least not easily, or retreat to one of my daughters’ homes each time Jim and I got caught in an issue. Sure, I still had the freedom to escape in my mind if I wanted to; to not deal with it, ignore him, ignore us. But without the physical escape hatch, or at least the illusion of one, ignoring everything got old, fast.
I can’t speak for Jim, but some similar thinking was going on with him, too, because after a few come-to-Jesus fights, we started to revisit rather than retreat from whatever it was that had us steamed. Way different than our ignore-it-and-it-will-go-away approach to conflict.
Tethered, not chained, to our commitment to our bubble meant we had a bit of wiggle room that opened up some space in which to say and hear things we weren’t saying or hearing before. We talk things out more than before, and we don’t stop when it gets uncomfortable.
I want a return to normalcy, for sure. I want to hug my kids and my grandkids again. I want to share space with friends at a dinner table, sans masks. I want to go to a concert and a baseball game, fly to Seattle to see my big sister and to California to see my little sister, and use public restrooms on a road trip to Minnesota. I don’t, however, want to know the sad relief of retreat anymore.
There was a lot of bad this last year, for sure. So much has been lost. But I hope you also have gained something positive like perspective, maybe. And may we all leave our bubbles with less regret and more hope.