Remote Work Gave Us a Life Together. Now What?
Earlier than the pandemic, I measured the gap between me and Matt in increments of journey. Fifteen hours by automotive from Ventura, Calif., to Santa Fe, N.M. If I flew, it was two hours in visitors to LAX, then a two-hour flight to Albuquerque and one other hour on the shuttle bus to the adobe casita the place he stayed up late with the porch gentle on, ready for me.
Typically I’d go to the smaller, mission-style airport in Santa Barbara, which was half-hour away, then take two connecting flights from there, praying to not get caught in Phoenix or Denver, although I typically did, shedding treasured hours at airport gates.
When Matt got here to see me, it was the identical, besides I waited up for him.
Matt and I met years earlier in Santa Fe whereas working as editors on the identical journal. We have been associates earlier than we began courting. Two years in, as we have been approaching the purpose of deciding how severe we have been about one another, I bought a job provide in Ventura. It was a very good alternative, but it surely didn’t make sense for Matt to go away his job to return with me, or for me to move it up and keep.
We have been in our late 20s by then, attempting to determine our lives and work and relationships, a course of made harder by excessive prices of dwelling and careers in an trade that always felt prefer it was fading earlier than our eyes.
I stated I’d give it a 12 months in Ventura, however one 12 months shortly become two, then three. And all of the whereas we stayed collectively. Afraid to place down roots in California and to economize for airplane tickets, I made a decision to not signal a lease, as an alternative bouncing between associates’ couches, the again seat of my automotive and house-sitting gigs, generally staying in low cost motels or evading the workplace safety guard to curve up in a sleeping bag below my desk at work.
Matt referred to as me each evening to reassure me that we have been one another’s residence, and we might determine it out, but it surely felt unimaginable. For Christmas he purchased me carbon offsets equal to a circumnavigation of the earth, which is about what number of miles I had traveled to see him.
After I lastly gave in and rented an condo, he and I’d keep up late doing the crossword on FaceTime with our canine, Meru, curled up at my toes. Each dialog we had earlier than saying good evening ended with the identical chorus:
“What are we going to do?”
“We’ll determine it out.”
Then it was March 2020, and a brand new virus was spreading. Antibacterial wipes confirmed up on convention room tables as infections crept nearer. My mom referred to as sooner or later after a shift on the hospital the place she works as a restoration room nurse to inform me she was beginning to fear. Nobody knew what to do.
I joked to my boss: “If we go right into a quarantine state of affairs, can I’m going to New Mexico?”
“After all,” he stated with an “it’s by no means going to occur” shrug.
I learn the information and purchased further beans and rice and pet food and puzzled about water. I had been by means of a sequence of fireplace evacuations over the previous couple of years, however how was an individual supposed to arrange for a pandemic?
Two weeks later, my boss texted: “Pack your stuff. We’re shutting the workplace down Monday.”
I referred to as Matt to say, “We’re coming.”
It rained the day I left California, the scary sort that units off mudslides and makes Californians drive just like the street is roofed in black ice. I left after work and drove till I couldn’t anymore as rain turned to sleet on I-40, speeding off the backs of a whole lot of semi-trucks and slamming into my windshield, blurring the street.
As soon as on this drive, I ran out of gasoline solely eight miles west of Seligman, Ariz. It was 2 a.m., and I referred to as Matt. An hour later, a tow truck confirmed up, and I limped into the Chevron station, frightened and drained.
This time, I refilled the tank extra typically than mandatory and took photos of the cheeky virus prevention indicators at relaxation stops (“Wash your palms such as you’ve simply bought carried out slicing jalapeños for a batch of nachos and it is advisable to take your contacts out.”) In Flagstaff, I slept within the Complete Meals car parking zone and woke as much as snow.
After I lastly bought to Matt’s place the subsequent day, he was a multitude, doomscrolling himself into an unprecedented state of hysteria, too frightened even to hug me. For higher or worse, he all the time has been capable of preserve far from tough feelings, however on this case, they’d come crashing by means of. We talked about it, the best way the information was making him really feel like he had no management, and finally a number of the nervousness abated.
Months handed because it steadily turned clear I wasn’t going again to California anytime quickly. Amid the masks mandates and choropleth hospitalization maps, we settled into one thing we’d by no means had: a life collectively.
We planted squash and kale and tomatoes within the yard and made espresso for one another and went operating. We did laundry, swept the ground, scrubbed onerous water stains from the bathe partitions. I took on-line yoga courses as Matt critiqued my type from the sofa whereas consuming oatmeal out of our solely bowl. And Meru stopped shredding books — the factor she all the time did when one in every of us left.
In August, we drove out to California in a U-Haul cargo van and moved the whole lot out of my condo, stopping in Massive Sur on the best way and sleeping within the van after we couldn’t discover a spot to camp. Even my succulents made it intact all the best way again to New Mexico, the place we squeezed our mixed lives into his tiny Santa Fe casita, regardless of our longstanding bewilderment at the truth that it solely has one drawer.
We pickled the final of our summer season tomatoes, learn books, waxed our skis for winter and arranged the shed. We frightened as ICU beds stuffed and the information bought worse. We shoveled snow.
Within the before-time, our hours collectively have been pressing, stuffed with the sense that the whole lot needed to match into a couple of days: pleasure at seeing one another, a combat about one thing, seeing associates, assembly someplace new on these events after we may each get away.
Now we reveled within the exquisitely mundane expertise of merely dwelling with the particular person you like. Because the loneliness of our long-distance life lifted, our relationship grew and deepened. Our households joked that each one it took to carry us collectively was a once-in-a-century pandemic.
We felt responsible for being glad — we had jobs, a spot to dwell and one another — and stored reminding ourselves how fortunate we have been to seek out this silver lining throughout such a darkish and painful time.
After which it was April 2021, and vaccines have been obtainable, so we drove right down to the Santo Domingo Pueblo well being care middle to get our photographs. Rising from our separate cubicles, our eyes met. The look that handed between us was one in every of gratitude but additionally understanding: the top of the pandemic may additionally imply we might be pulled aside once more.
Early in the summertime, as issues began to open up, Matt and I attended my brother’s marriage ceremony in Montana and hugged household for the primary time in a 12 months. We had associates over for dinner and toasted promotions in a bar with out masks. And all of the whereas, we waited for information from my work in Ventura.
Then, after all, the Delta variant reeled us again towards the whole lot we thought we have been forsaking: masks, distancing, overflowing hospitals and uncertainty about returning to work. On the identical time, it has prolonged our time collectively, which causes such an incongruous and twisted feeling.
No person desires this pandemic to go on. The struggling and losses have been incalculable. And but this unusual set of circumstances has additionally allowed us to begin our life collectively.
For now, we wait. And we return to our chorus from practically two years earlier than:
“What are we going to do?”
“We’ll determine it out.”
This time, although, whether or not right here or there, we all know we’re going to do it collectively. This time, for the primary time, that feels potential.