“I guess we’d better get to it then.”
I stared at him from across the table. My attorney sat next to me. I think he preferred that I called him an “attorney” as opposed to a “lawyer.” Lawyers were a punchline while attorneys were necessary. Someone you call on when you needed a big stick. This one was somewhat laughable with a little stick. But I did need him nonetheless.
One of the present parties had been sleeping with the cleaning crew we paid to disinfect our little bungalow every Thursday. Yes, the whole crew. And I’ll let you imagine which one of us it was. In my defense, there were only three of them.
Steve had come home at 11:42 a.m. that particular Thursday because he’d forgotten his shoes for Crossfit. He’d taken up Crossfit during the lockdownーthe workouts took place outside, so Crossfitters were still allowed to gather and sweat together while the little brick-and-mortar gyms across our city shut down one by one.
Had he never taken up Crossfit, he never would have found me. Us. All of us. It was the only time he ever left the house.
I’d initially hired the cleaning crew for some company. The owner, Silvie, had been running a “disinfectant special.” It was meant for those of us who desired to professionally disinfect our homesーshould any of the real world seep past the stash of Clorox wipes that guarded the front door against life-or-death threats like rogue germs from our grocery store delivery.
My work-from-home situation started out with me grinning from the kitchen table saying, “Can you believe I don’t have to go into the office for two weeks?” But it quickly transformed into self-diagnosing myself with carpal tunnel from a poorly set up workspace and the inability to zip up my old work pants after wearing nothing but elastic waistbands for eight weeks.
The thrill of Bailey’s in my morning coffee had turned into drinking rosé quite literally all day. And even then, the wolf of my newfound anxiety always managed to slink past that fuzzy alcoholic barrier to breathe down my neck day and night.
When Silvie had knocked on our door with her “disinfectant special” flyer, she’d stayed fifteen feet back from our threshold and done her sales pitch two octaves louder than normal一one octave for the distance and one for the mask over her face. I could only see her eyes but they were soft, brown, and, even from a distance, kind.
I quickly signed up for the service and embarrassingly found myself wiping away a few tears when she left. She was the first person I’d seen in real life for weeks besides Steve.
Then I sat back at my makeshift work table and wrote “11 a.m. Host Sylvie & friends” on my calendar using a pink Sharpie. It would be the first Thursday she’d come back with her crew. The calendar was stark white and empty otherwise.
When Thursday arrived, I took a shower, applied makeup (vaguely wondering whether it had expired or not), did my hair, and tried on a few outfits before settling on a casual sundress. I’d painted and clipped my overgrown toenails the night before, painfully aware of how absurd I was being, but I didn’t care. I was hosting people for the first time in months. I knew they’d be masked up and here to clean, but I set out a tray of stemware, lemonade and mini bottles of vodka anyway. Maybe they’d welcome a fuzzy alcohol barrier for their stress too.
As I watched them unloading a mop, a vacuum, and buckets full of cleaning supplies from their cars, I recognized an old feeling creeping up in the pit of my stomach. Excitement. Anticipation. Nervousness.
It was the first time in weeks that I felt something other than anxiety.
We spent that first morning bumbling around each other. Turns out, Sylvie was just a woman looking for extra income after her retail job had let her go. It was hard to keep people in stores when everyone was afraid to leave home. She liked the lemonade with mini bottles of vodka and was also a bit lonely, like me. For two hours, they cleaned around me while I worked at the kitchen table, laughing more in those two hours than I had in two months.
When they left, I wrote “11 a.m. Happy Hour” on my calendar for the next week.
Now, Steve was glaring at me from across the table under harsh fluorescent lights.
“I needed to feel something other than scared, Steve,” I’d told him after he’d found us.
“Why couldn’t you feel that with me?”
He clearly didn’t understand.
We had become each other’s childhood blanket. The thing we grabbed when we needed to feel warmth, to feel safe. Each of us had retreated, folding into ourselves and only emerging when we needed something一both of us too tired to give. It wasn’t possible to sustain life, simultaneously drowning at the same moment, reaching out for the other’s hand as we both slipped underwater.
“Maybe I needed to feel something too,” he’d said.
We aren’t meant to live in a cage with our soulmate, try as we might. Try as we did. We’re meant to explore outside our walls, to breathe in salty air as we dig in the earth, to make eye contact with our village, to feel a million little micro emotions of connection and resilience throughout our day. Without the constant hum of a world swirling around me, I’d lost the ability to feel much of anything at all.
Call it what you will, but feeling something again hit me like a survival instinct.
And as much as I hated what I’d done to Steve, to us, I also reveled in these raw emotions that raged through the numbness. Feeling something at all outside frayed nerves was a powerful motivatorーeven as I destroyed my life, destruction felt more real than the mundane. It felt like living.
So, while I stared back across the table at himーthis incredible man, this love of my lifeーI could see the pain etched deeply across his skin, and I knew. I knew deep down that I’d do it all again.
He didn’t understand it yet, but I’d given him the gift of feeling something again too. My hand pulling him from the water.
Breathe again, Steve. Breathe.
I turned slightly to nod at my attorney, then blinked away a tear as I smiled gently at my husband.
“Ok,” I said. “Let’s do this.”