Tag Archives: COVID-19

Autonomy and Isolation: Separating during COVID-19

I’m at the bottom of a well so deep that I can’t see the opening at the top. No light betrays day or night above. No sound leaks down the narrow shaft to relieve my solitude. I am utterly alone but for the soft breathing in the dark of a furry companion. A voice drifts down like a leaf falling slowly until it lands on my ears, “You okay down there?”

I want to scream, “No! Please throw down a rope. A chain. Anything. Save me. It’s cold. It’s terrifying. I’m so tired of this.”

But I was raised to not lean on others. My parents were always busy with my siblings. I had to learn to entertain myself.

I call back. “I’m fine. Thank you.”

Another verbal leaf falls. “Okay. Well, we’ve all been in wells before. Let us know if you need…” The voice trails off.

In the darkness I nod at no one and settle back into my solitude. The breath of my animal companion quickens as he finds his way next to me and reminds me that he is there and that has two implications: he will be beside me in my solitude and he will die beside me if I die.

I awaken in a brightly lit older beach house in a brightly lit beach village in Southeast Texas. My dog is breathing heavily from steroids he is taking to treat an ear infection. He hogs the bed as usual.

“I’m fine. Thank you.” I say with some sarcasm and pat his head. I examine the dream images with respect to my personal circumstances.

When I was in my early twenties, I was married to a violent alcoholic with Bipolar I (one) disorder. I went to work when our daughter was three and very gradually acquired skills plus a tiny savings he didn’t know about. (Just enough to pay for a lawyer) Meanwhile, my daughter and I endured his manic outbursts, his rage, and his pitiful sobbing under self-medication. My family helped where they could, when it wasn’t too painful to watch, but I was of a mindset that I had to handle things by myself. I made the lion’s share of income in my little family, a fact that angered my self-pitying husband even more so. When my daughter and I finally escaped him, I had a good job and had returned to college. I was, in a word, independent.

I began dating a coworker. I was insistent, though he found it more amusing than admirable I’m sure, that I pay for my own meals when we went out. Throughout our “courtship,” I continued this. I had been in a relationship of control. I was not going to let go of my newfound independence. I wasn’t going to give a man an excuse to say, “I gave you something. You give me something in return.”

That autonomy bled away over twenty-nine years during this second relationship for various reasons. Now I sit in a little home I rent for myself, the dog, and my possessions. Now I have recovered some part, though not all, of that autonomy.

Now there is COVID-19.

I moved into this house on March 20th 2020, just as the virus and social distancing were ramping up in this part of the country. Just as neighbors and friends were beginning to take it seriously. Parting hugs as I gave them news of my impending move at the beginning of the week suddenly seemed foolhardy at best, deadly at worst (thankfully, we all remain well).

My birthday came and went a few days ago, with no great fanfare. That’s all well and good. The alternative to being older is, after all, death. The month has been stressful, exhausting, and painfully quiet at times. Now and then, a call or text comes through the ether, “Are you doing okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m okay. Not sleeping well.”

Chit chat back and forth about the dog, the house, the weather, the virus.

Sometimes ranting about this or that. Politics. Religion. The romantic fallacies of “soul mate” and “forever.”

Sometimes, after I hang up the phone or log out of social media, there is sobbing and wailing, and internal pleas of “Throw down a rope! A chain! Anything!” But tears are usually kept to myself because I had planned to do this on my own power as much was possible.

I simply hadn’t planned to do it—PHYSICALLY ALONE! With no visits from my daughter. No hugs. No coffee with friends. No trips to town to wander in the mall or walks on a crowded beach to feel connected with other people.

My estranged husband is fond of saying, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” I hate that expression because there have been times that emotional strain has nearly killed me, either through illness or depression. It wasn’t worth the strength I gained.

I feel better equipped, oddly enough, to survive this pandemic despite having no one within six feet of me. I have more hope than I have had for many years. I have, however distant, a great deal of support from loved ones. I have the peace and ease of this little house by the sea. And I am fully aware that I am far more fortunate than so many. I am not, after all, on the COVID-19 front lines. I am merely, like so many, in COVID-19 limbo. I am simply alone. Well, with the dog.

Fearful as I am of the virus changing our way of life permanently. Fearful as I am that the loneliness of the coming months will be too much to bear. Fearful as I am, not of losing my own life, but of losing loved ones, I am grateful that I am here and getting this chance to be the Autonomous Me.

I have watched others live in their autonomy for a while now. I’m fifty-six. It’s late. But I’m here. Ready to turn down someone offering to pay for my lunch again. Ready to put aside a little money if I need to escape something, anything. I have a considerable wait ahead of me for those events and that is the hard part.

I’ll have to throw my own rope down for now.

Welcome Home: A New Space

I shuffle around this new space, feeling it both too small and too large at times.

Too small because I’d grown accustomed to the space in which I lived—not vast by any measure but plenty for two adults, a dog, and occasional visitors.

Too small because not all the years of accrued memories and their bits and pieces fit here.

Too small because I am a typically spoiled, white, American female. I have many kitchen appliances.

Still…

It is too large because, in my heart, I will never think I deserve this much. Quite possibly, I won’t have it in a few months. For now, though, this few-hundred square feet—two bedrooms, a decent den, a sufficient/efficient kitchen—are more than enough for one human and a dog. Too much, but maybe not for the dog who has long legs and a lot of energy. He sprawls. He wanders. He paces between walks. Were it just me, I could be happy in a studio apartment.

Too large because between the walls, under the beds, behind the doors, the detritus of love is gone. Companionship is a memory to be dredged up here and there in tight conversation.

Too large because an uncertain future looms for myself, my estranged spouse, and my dog, both in the wake of lost faith in the contract of marriage and the in the wake of the 2020 pandemic.

Too large, this space which had no functioning WiFi for a while and so was silent. Too large because of its ease of care. Plenty of time and hush in which to think and feel and read and write. Though, with all that thinking and feeling, I found the lack of WiFi and social media to be a good thing.

I have used this time to gather my wits and figure out who KC is after thirty-six years of being someone else’s other half. Who she is without the demands of normal daily living clamoring at her. I’ve realized I simply don’t want to be an other anymore (in a contractual sense) and that I miss taking part in the outside world and its ruckus. This realization is not why I am here; but it is a somewhat surprising by-product of the move.

From this wit gathering and hush the too-large space tells me, and perhaps it is a lie, it will only ever be filled by me and the dog (dogs?) and the occasional visitors. There’s a strange peace in this.

There is peace in reading again for the first time in months (years?) with the sole purpose of reading, or rather, with the purpose of stuffing my brain with words and ideas in hopes of drawing on their beauty and cleverness later.

There is peace in writing pained poetry with a colored pencil while the dog sighs and flops a tired head on my leg as if to say, “That’s enough now. I’m here.”

For now—assuming I survive COVID-19 and whatever follows, there is peace in hoping that as I shuffle about this space, and perhaps in those to come, I will fill it with the love of my family, a contract with my own dreams, and companionship with friends. I think, perhaps, it will all be okay.