Yesterday morning, my partner, my husband of 52 years, my onetime Lawrence High School sweetheart, turned his head on the pillow and whispered: “What are you making for dinner tonight?”
My eyes weren’t open yet, but I whispered back, “Grilled scallops over buckwheat noodles and yakitori vegetables.” We sighed. I opened my eyes and got rolling. There were scallops to defrost.
This is life for us during the coronavirus pandemic. Do you enjoy irony? All I ever wanted was for him to retire so we could spend more time together. This winter he retired. Three days later, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic, the world took a timeout, and here we are, with more togetherness than human beings were ever designed for.
True, when we married on July 3,1968, we promised to stick together through the usual storms that blow through lives, but this? It definitely requires a codicil.
We are rigorously avoiding outside social contact, and not dining out or bringing in food. What that means for me is that I have cooked three meals a day for these many weeks since the pandemic hit. As I heard my husband confide to a friend on the phone, “I’m so lucky she’s a good cook.”
How priorities change. Believe me, when we were 21 his mind wasn’t on my chicken fricassee. He’s thrilled with my meals, and I’m happy to slice and dice and sauté and bake, because what else is there to do in this crazy time? It’s a simple equation. Our marital quid pro quo: I prepare a complex seafood and rice dish with saffron and exotic mushrooms. We sit down together and enjoy.
It works particularly well because he is happy to share the work by cleaning up. But . . . but . . . how did this get to be our lives? At least once a day I have a moment of being totally flabbergasted at the surreal turn of events.
When we got married, who could have imagined that in our 52nd year together, we’d be isolated in semi-quarantine? Who could have envisioned all these hours and days and weeks spent alone after lifetimes of individual careers and outside friendships that nourished our lives and created healthy separation?
Everyone is writing their own survival manual during the pandemic, especially because the federal government’s leadership has been so inadequate, so late and so confused. My kids are raising teenagers who no longer go to school or get to hang out with friends. My nieces and nephews are entertaining their toddlers all day and welcoming newborns. Some friends are living through all of this on their own. Others are going to work and keeping as safe as possible, whatever that means.
For me, the first month was the worst, when I realized this wasn’t going to be a two-week deal, when I realized how vulnerable we are as over-65 seniors, when I saw the medical experts doing quiet battle with the federal government. I did what I could for myself, meditating and yoga and talking to friends on the phone. My husband and I carved out space for ourselves within our home, separating for some part of each day.
Still, there are moments that feel close to panic. How will we get through this time of not seeing our children and grandchildren? How will young people make sense of this in the arc of their lives?
Here at home base, the journey is fraught. From another room, I can hear my husband preparing his hourly glass of water, violently shaking ice for what seems like 20 minutes, creating an avalanche of sound that shakes the dishes in the cupboard. I hear it from upstairs. Hell, you could hear it from another state. You wouldn’t think that would make you want to kill someone, but you’d be wrong. It’s the little things that drive you mad.
But then, somehow, things settle. We find the light. We never had breakfast together because he went to work before 7. Now we do. Yes, it’s true he does get testy when I leave crumbs from my toast on the table, but we’re coping. We have faith in us.
When we got married that July 3 in Woodmere, we promised to stick together. As fragile as life has become, as much as we’ve changed, grown apart and together again, I’m still in. We got married on that date so we’d always have the Fourth of July to celebrate.
Alas, no fireworks this year, but I do have a nice whole snapper marinating in the fridge.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.