I was prepared for the Covid 19 quarantine with my husband because we had just spent four months pretty much stuck at home with each other after his foot surgery in November. I took time off from my two day a week clinic job to stay home with him, and he returned to work very part time in February–he drives an automatic and it was his left foot operated on, so it was a done deal. His colleagues were helpful and he only fell down a flight of stairs once. It being February in Vermont meant ice, snow and power outages, all of which necessitated my clearing a path for him every morning (in the dark) and sanding it, clearing his Jeep from six to twelve inches of snow, making and carrying his lunch, laptop and briefcase out, securing the door a certain way so he could negotiate it with his crutches while keeping the cats inside and making sure the dog didn’t trip him, all the while walking just behind him so if he slipped, my body would break his fall. Then reversing the whole thing in the evening (also in the dark).
It meant learning how to operate the generator. I barely even use the term feminist to describe myself anymore. There are just too many things I don’t want to do and have refused to learn. The loud, gasoline operated, fuming monster of the generator in the barn is one of those things. But of course, without it, we lose HBO. Not to mention the freezer full of Haagen Dazs purchased specially for this post-operative time. The idea of a post-operative Craig without TV and carbs was almost as scary as trying to remember all the steps to working the generator; any of those steps mishandled could blow up the house. Or so I understood.
I got over that with the help of the friend who had installed it and his daughter who came along to deal with me, and soon I was even okay with dragging 20 (or maybe they were 5) gallon containers from the gas station through the ice and up into the barn and marveled at all the things my husband did that I barely noticed.
“Barely noticing” is kind of where couple who have been together for years are at. I reveled in my alone time, my long days in our old house with my writing and my artwork and my sorting and sometimes just staring at the fire in the wood stove. Absolute quiet or crashingly loud vintage Springsteen, and sometimes the Carpenters or other pop that my jazz-loving husband hated. Whatever I wanted, as silent or loud as I wanted it. I secretly joked to friends that we might have to divorce when retirement happened. I reminded everyone that there’s a name for this specific depression in Japanese, a hopelessness that Japanese women get when their husbands retire. A whole syndrome. Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougun, literally “One’s Husband Being at Home Stress Syndrome.” But it wasn’t a joke. I prepared for his surgery by reminding myself that he would take care of me if it were the other way around, with no snide secrets to friends or hidden resentment. He would just do the right thing because that is who he is. And in this day and age you can’t do better than that.
Life was almost back to normal when the pandemic drove us all back into the shelter of our homes, some of us stockpiling Velveeta and canned corn, nothing we would ever have normally in the house. This time I loaded the freezer with our favorite Speeder and Earls coffee and dried creamer to replace my half and half, just in case. When I couldn’t get any dried milk or flour anywhere it added to my sense of panic. So we ritualized our days. Lunch was an event, colorful little plates consumed in front of CNN watching Andrew Cuomo, and evenings spent with his little brother Chris. The dog wrapped himself around Craig, protecting his aching foot. I made soups, constantly, as if our lives depended on the immune boosting turmeric, ginger, garlic. Every night Craig acted the role of a delighted diner in a four star restaurant. “I think this is the best soup you have ever made!” “The toast is great tonight!” “Wow, carrot sticks!”
We were polite. Funny. I vowed to be cheerful instead of irritable and terrified. His foot wasn’t healing so I brought him Epsom Salt soaks every night, like my grandmother did for my grandfather. They lasted over sixty years.
We were quite different than the volatile couple who read our vows on a party boat on Lake Ontario thirty three years ago despite the fact that all three of our therapists did not think getting married was such a great idea. (Now that Craig and I have both been therapists for thirty years we realize we had really bad therapists.) I’m hardly the same woman who threw her wedding ring into Canandaigua Lake the day after the wedding. (I knew exactly what the conditions and the rocky bottom would do with it, and I got it right out. I couldn’t do anything like that today because my finger is too fat to get the ring off. Not that I would.)
The pandemic gave us some time to pay more attention. It taught me to act nice no matter how I felt. To be grateful that someone was there with me, not just someone but a person who over time has proven to be an unwavering support, a wise and thoughtful father, an ethical and creative clinician and someone who even tried to hobble out into the snow to start the generator because he knew it terrified me.
Now, because of a couple underlying risk factors, I need to work from home for the foreseeable future, but Craig is back at his clinic three days a week. I worried about his lunch for two days, that he would be eating alone. Worried about exposure to the virus. I didn’t play any music. Even Cuomo didn’t come on at lunchtime that first day that Craig was at work. I just kind of sat there.
Just me and the dog, wondering what is the opposite of Shujin Zaitaku Sutoresu Shoukougun.