When talk of COVID was hitting our shores and businesses were starting to shut down as a “temporary” measure, I expected the situation to last a great deal longer than a month or two. Gut feelings seldom grace me, but something told me the Western world was severely underestimating the situation. Maybe it was the memories of my last trip to Hong Kong in 2009 — five years after the SARS outbreak was declared over — when malls and streets that were once packed to the point of claustrophobia were then lucky to see more than a handful of souls each day. The thermal cameras at each border crossing in mainland China certainly gave me the impression that a pandemic was something to be taken seriously.
It’s already been four months since Heather started working from home. The little space she has set up at the pub table in the living room offers her a view of the backyard while she takes calls and makes quotes. Management has decided to follow their own safety protocols1, which means it’ll remain her office for the foreseeable future. She complains to me about how Byron gets in the way of her video meetings every time he walks across her lap for attention, but I know deep down she loves showing him off to any co-worker who’ll listen.
Taking lunches together has been an unexpected luxury2 — being available for kisses throughout they day even more so. I no longer feel the need to fill the hours with busywork until she can keep me company again. That’s probably why the quarantine hasn’t been as difficult as expected; this is nothing compared to the bouts of unbearable loneliness I’ve survived without a family or partner on which to rely. Not that I was going out much before anyway. Depression and trauma had already kept me housebound for years.
The biggest change has certainly been Jesse’s absence from my life. I’m thankful for the fact that he’s not taking any risks (both for his sake and his housemates’), even if it means I’ve gone months without his company. His intentions to be in better contact come to him when he’s falling asleep or sucked into work, and I feel strangely comfortable inhabiting the space between; I know it’s not cause he doesn’t care or I’m not important, that he’s always struggled when it comes to managing time and priorities.
Even with a lifelong history of abandonment issues, I can feel secure in a relationship where I have no idea when I’ll see the other person again. It’s a sign that I’m not only recovering from emotional wounds, but growing too. The fact that I could go this long without posting something is another sign. I used to be such a goal-oriented person with projects lined-up, one after another. Creativity, work, and self-improvement were huge parts of my life. But so much of that motivation came from the fact that I never felt like a valuable person unless I was making progress on something, that I never deserved to be happy unless I suffered a great deal for it.
After struggling with mental health for so long, I’m starting to understand that happiness itself is a perfectly reasonable goal. And now that the decision to isolate has been taken out of my hands, I’m trying to indulge the indolence. If I was ten years old, it would be a dream come true to be given internet access, a computer, and so much free time. Maybe one day I’ll figure out how to live a life between the extremes of indulgence and mortification; for now I’ll stay in, trying to be that boy again.