The best relationships are easy. That’s been my advice to close friends who have come to me in the midst of fights with their significant others. It always infuriates them. Yes, relationships take time and energy and selflessness, etc. but at the end of the day, I always insist, there should be ease.
Now, on the eight-week anniversary of quarantining away from my husband Michael—a content, laid-back man I’ve been with for more than 10 years— I am ready to admit that I was wrong. The best relationships are not easy. They were, maybe, before *gestures* all this. But we’ve been forced to self-isolate separately for actual fear of life and death and it has been really fucking hard.
I have Crohn’s Disease—a very forever thing that Michael accepted when our relationship first started making me realize we were maybe, probably a forever thing as well. At 18, I knew there was something special about a guy who’d rush to turn on all the showers in his frat house’s bathroom 3 a.m. to drown out the awful noises my body was making from the toilet—not because he cared, but because he knew how upset I’d be if anyone heard me. But it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension at the age of 24 that we really understood how building our life together would always be weighted with “what ifs” and decisions that would not be easy.
On the morning of Michael’s auf ruf (a Jewish tradition where a groom is called to the Torah to recite blessings), the rabbi asked the two of us to use one word to describe the other in front of the whole Long Island congregation. I don’t remember the word he picked for me—“brave,” I think?—but I choked up offering “unwavering.” By that point, we’d been together for seven years and survived eight bowel resections (me), two fistula repairs (me), a year without sex due to adult diapers (both of us, but because of me), a lung biopsy that put me on full-time oxygen for months (yes, hello, still me!), and the emotional trauma that came with it all. Still, we were so happy. We are so happy! And even on rough days, things were easy—until now.
The Great Not-Easy began on March 8 when one of my doctors stated what is now obvious: An immunosuppressed, lung-diseased woman (shocker, me!) could die if she contracted the novel coronavirus. My husband is a second-year pediatrics fellow at Mt. Sinai in New York City and he spent the day reasoning that if he wasn’t actually treating COVID-19 patients yet, it would be…fine, probably? for us to continue living together. I would work at home, quarantined from the outside world entirely, and he would work every day in the hospital, but take every precaution to ensure the virus did not enter our 600-square-foot apartment.
Two days later, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the Mt. Sinai ER and a second of my pulmonologists reiterated just how at-risk I was. The next day, Michael came home reporting hospital support staff crying out of fear of what was to come. The day after, a case was reported from his department and we packed a month’s worth of underwear, medicine, and leggings into my suitcase. I headed home to my mom and dad’s house, about 17 miles away in New Jersey.
The days since then look like this: I wake up before 7 a.m. and I text him “hi.” He’s been at the hospital for hours already, trying each day to conserve PPE and treating more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than the day before. He responds “very busy, sorry” and “talk later.” I Gchat him throughout the day, giving him unimportant updates about what colleagues have pissed me off on Slack and what Cardi B’s IG livestream looked like, “in case [he] missed it lolol”—and feel silly doing it. He “lols,” sends a selfie where I spot a part of his body not as protected as it should be, and we agree to talk later, “before bed.”
At a different time every night (pro tip for all couples quarantined separately: sticking to a “we need to chat at 9:30 p.m. every night or else” schedule is impossible), we have a 10 minute Facetime call that’s punctuated by my parents’ spotty Wi-Fi and Michael’s bleary-eyed exhaustion. I ask when he thinks I can come home to him. He asks me to stop asking. It makes us both cry a little.
We confirm out loud that we are (1) lonely, (2) sad, (3) very tired, and (4) missing each other very much. We just want everyone we love to be safe and healthy and okay. We know that we are much luckier than so many others—the families of the kids who are dying every day on his floors, for example—but dealing with that guilt is hard, and, as such, we’d really, really like to be together for *gestures again, more pathetically this time* this.
It’s in the two-to-three minutes before we hang up that I grasp at the things I know are still unwavering. What matters is that we are both doing everything we possibly can to stay safe and help others, right? (Granted, that second part looks very different to each of us right now.) What matters is not that our plans to start a family have been put on hold, but that they will—if we stay safe and help others—still happen, right? What matters is that when we are able to be together—if we stay safe, please, please, stay safe—we will be together again, right? He wavers, for the first time I’ve ever seen, on the things not pertaining to these us-related questions: on topics like when “normalcy” will return, when things will be safe enough that we can get be in the same room. But the rest? “Yes,” he confirms. “I’m going to sleep, but yes.”
We try and sleep, neither one of us doing a great job at it, and the next day it’s the same. And when one of us (me again! Hi!) gets close to cracking, we send links to the bottles of wine we will drink together upon our TBD reunion. We talk about what our hypothetical babies will look like with the knowledge that, barring the absolute-but-still-possible worst, no matter what happens over the next several weeks, months, or even years, it’ll happen for us, one day.