Saturday 23 May 2020

Five months and counting

Most people on the planet are focussed on time. Clocking up the days with hashtags, with a photo a day on instagram or another loaf of sourdough bread has become the norm. Terms like lockdown, self-isolation and contact tracing are in daily usage. Here in New Zealand, there's been a shift from counting the days at home to anticipating and guessing the number of weeks we'll have at the various levels until we are fully free.

Mariana (Millais) - Wikipedia

I've given up counting, along with hope, since I don't really care anymore how many weeks we'll be at Level 2 or that fishing and hunting is allowed again. It's comforting to know I can be in the water for a swim or a surf but I feel evaporated for reasons other than being apart from the soupy blue sanctuary of the sea. I've given up counting because there is no clear number that leads to borders opening. No clear day to aim towards exists to give us permission to book flights that will allow Carlos to finally get to New Zealand.

It's been five months since I've seen him. It could be another five before I see him again and that fact makes me unbearably sad. This wasn't part of the plan. I talk about the plan when I meet people I haven't seen since I got back here after Christmas or new faces on the beach when walking with Inis who ask me why I moved to Raglan. I relay the story and have now told it so many times that it doesn't feel like my own. I've learnt how to condense it to the bare facts. I tell it almost without pause. I'm so well versed that I feel like I'm talking about someone else's life, someone else's plans simply because the thoughts of a well-coordinated vision for our lives together seems absurd now.

I summarise for all concerned as if I'm on autopilot. We were supposed to arrive together in December. The vet missed an important step. I had to leave ahead of them to activate my visa. Carlos had to stay until March with the dogs in Ireland. Vera got sick. She has lymphoma. She's not coming. Inis is here now. He arrived in March. We both have our jobs. We're very lucky. The plan was to wait. Now Covid has happened. The borders are closed. We don't know what's going to happen. Sympathetic faces that I both appreciate and want to run a mile from follow.

I don't tell the other dog walkers the rest. That's saved for friends. I don't divulge the emotional details of the plan, the dreaming and the deflation. I no longer have a desire to get into the details.We were all supposed to arrive together in December. We'd put the dogs on a plane. They'd stay in quarantine for two weeks while we enjoyed sunshine and warmth and found a home for all four of us. We would start a new life together in a new year. It's a six month process between vaccinations and vet checks to get our canine friends from Ireland to kiwi shores. Our vet missed an important step three months in. My visa would expire if I didn't activate it before the end of December. Carlos would need to stay with both dogs until March. I cried. I called myself stupid. How could I have fucked up so badly that I hadn't noticed? I was the organised one. We had a plan. I don't tell anyone how I cried for a week at the thought of being apart from the dogs and Carlos for that long. Silent tears that came along suddenly in the middle of the working day, quickly quashed in the toilet cubicle at work with some deep breaths. Heavy sobs at home in bed with the duvet softening my shivers.

Direct, pragmatic, steady Carlos held my shaking nerves like a pool of water in a cupped hand, not wanting to spill a drop. His patience for my drama was boundless. Assurances that it would only be few months, that Inis would keep me company until he got here, that this was a short term sacrifice for a long term gain of our dream, that this time apart would be 'worth it. He was right. I got on the plane, I stayed with friends. I was focussed in setting about finding a place for us to live, a car, a job and time for friends and the beach and zoom calls. There was no distinctive, definite time we could count down towards but it felt sooner, rather than later.

We are all Edward Hopper paintings now': is he the artist of the ...

And then Covid happened. And now I get asked by well-meaning friends and new folks I meet, "what's going to happen to your partner?!" and the list of reasons why he won't be here for an indescribably long period of time mount up and I feel like suffocating would be preferable to letting my anxiety count the many ways in which we are kept apart. What follows each time is my ego's determined peacocking, attracting all my attention, time and energy with the sole focus of toppling my resolve over and revealing the shoddy foundations beneath holding me up. Threatening 'always' and 'never' comments roll around in my head. "He'll never get here", "this is your fault-such a stupid idea-why did you ever think this was going to work?" "Your plans always end in chaos or disappointment or failure". "You're so self-involved. There are families separated and partners grieving and you're whingeing about being apart". On a loop like some offensive 90's dance track.

I feel ashamed that I can't keep a level head. I am envious of Carlos who can remain so calm and only focus on the fact that all this is unalterable and so attachment to a particular outcome is futile. I'm furious at myself because I am aware that worrying doesn't help and that routine and detachment from outcomes is the only healthy way to deal with this much uncertainty. The little dreamer in me cannot grasp that reality, however. I am a little girl lost trying to be an adult woman and feel like I'm failing on the daily. Some days I make lists of tasks to do in order to feel accomplished and on track. When I wobble, I make lists of goals I have accomplished and challenges I have overcome to remind myself and my impatient ego that I am not a failure. Most days it simply doesn't feel enough, though.

I guess I'm tired. My weary mind feels as though I've spent the last fifteen years pushing through cling film bound stages of struggle. Up until a year ago, I used those wins as nourishment for my soul. I am stronger, more capable, more experienced, with clearer boundaries and a strong sense of self. I've experienced loss and heart break, disappointment, concern, stress and more than enough house moves to understand myself and how I deal with life's sharp edges. These days I often feel that Covid was just one knock too many. Perhaps for some others, this has been an awakening to a new way of being, to a redirection towards previously forgotten or unknown values. For those people, I am delighted. For me, I have already had my periods of lockdown and self-isolation. I've stayed at home for days on end and thought about the great mysteries. I've sat with myself when I didn't want to and thought about what's real and essential and valued. This year was meant to be the time of implementation. I'm fed up sitting with myself and my thoughts and having this forced upon me once more has only given room for anxiety to breathe and stretch out into the spaces it once called home. It has grown new tendrils that have started to take root again. Fertile thoughts of freedom and choice, enthusiasm and celebrated sociability have been suffocated by this weed again. I turned my back on this beautiful garden of ideals, optimism, colour and adventure in my mind and now I'm faced with a yard of brambles provoking me. I see the brambles growing and coveting more space daily and for the first time in a long time, I would love to give up, just not care anymore and lead a mediocre life with a nine to five job and zero expectations of a reunion with Carlos or my optimistic, loving the world and all its magic natural state.

I think about how I'd like to be in my own conversations in my mind with myself, as well as socially. I want to be friendly and enthusiastic and joyous in my free time. Effortlessly. Not manically high on life on the daily but content about life in general and the direction it's heading in. Maybe that's why in others' rush to socialise as soon as the new levels permitted, I hid away. I was more eager to cancel with the thoughts of meeting new people and retelling my sad separation story one more time. I missed others but eight weeks alone with my thoughts has taken its toll. I don't feel proud of where my head is at. It takes effort to hide that. Socialising is probably the medicine required to ease me back into my natural state and yet it's the one thing I struggle the most with right now, more than I ever have before.

There's still some hope there, fed by Carlos' smiles on Zoom, his stupid jokes, his steadfast commitment to routine and his ability to make me laugh when I'm a mess. When I was a teenager, the Love is... illustrations were incredibly popular.The randomly naked cartoon couple, holding hands and explaining to us what love was all about both disturbed and fascinated me. I learnt what love was from dramatic love sick dances and exchanges in Pulp Fiction, Casablanca and Fred Estaire and Ginger Rogers moves. And these illustrations. I was perpetually confused. Love is....when he walks you to your car. Love is...the relationship you never thought you'd have.

Love Is

These last five months have taught me my own version, much more aligned with Puuung's illustrations. Puuung draws images of day to day realities of being in a relationship. Hugs in the kitchen for no reason except that you're passing by. Binge watching movies on a rainy Sunday. Doing a food shop together for the week ahead. Surprise gifts and Sunday pancakes.

I have run out of hope for myself lately. I'm tired and fed up of the challenges I've put myself up against and walked into blindly. I really believed this year would be a break, a small pause in all of that when in reality, this lockdown is an experience that all of us are feeling. It's the largest obstacle we have encountered so far. The only way to get through this is to desist concentrating on the long distance, separation and unknowns that keep Carlos and me apart. Instead I think of the times and experiences we have to look forward to.
Sunday pancakes. Weekends camping. Learning to surf again. Walks on the beach with Inis together. Cuddles on the couch. A hug. More hugs. Seeing those brown eyes again in person. Reaching out to a hand to hold. Hearing him potter around the house. Planning and dreaming while sitting on the same couch. Sleepy conversations before falling asleep at night. Dozy grins across from me in the morning. Watching him excitedly roam around the wood shed at the local recycle center. Cycling side by side while chatting about what to have for lunch. Drinking coffee quietly with my legs balanced across his lap, feet dangling and carefree. Making a home together. Having my best friend back. Companionship and that energetic Spanish accent in my ear. These are the things that keep me going. These are the thoughts, memories, sounds, smells and dreams that I hold close to my heart to get me through each day. When I can't think how I'm going to explain to one more person what I'm doing here alone, I think of Carlos and the life we deserve so much to have together.

Love is complicated and risky and completely unpredictable, much like this lockdown. I just need to try and find a way to embrace the process of waiting with the same eagerness I want to hug my man again.

And maybe then this experience can be that one great story that marked our lives and relationship and I can start to feel that joy, enthusiasm and idealism that makes me feel free.

1 comment:

  1. My goodness you're a beautiful writer. What an incredibly rough situation. So much love to you. Xx