Family, Relationships

Close Quarters


My university made the announcement that all buildings will be closed starting tomorrow. Some students still live on campus, some international students have not been able to get home. “Essential services,” as we call them now, will remain functional. Grab-and-go meals in a few dining halls. Campus security. A couple of residence halls. The rest of campus shuttered. All of us that can telework are doing so.

In the span of a week, an entire faculty has figured out, more or less, how to teach online — a skill some sizable percentage has been resisting for a decade.

Today I went into my building for the first time since March 10. With a gloved left hand and a “clean” right, I navigated to my office to collect my ergonomic keyboard and a standing desk floor mat. My partner and son have assembled a plywood contraption on casters that will work for me to stand at home. This small condo is quickly shrinking, and it’s good to have a place to work that isn’t the dining table. Especially now that we’re eating three meals a day there.

Today’s excursion was the building outside my own home I have visited since the last grocery run 10 days ago. My partner’s house was first, the blood donation center a week later the second. The fourth was Aldi on the way home from today’s office run. Our stock of food has now outgrown the cabinets. We maneuver around a giant plastic bin in the kitchen that holds the extra stash.

How many of us can do this now? Remember the last restaurant meal we enjoyed? (Pho Long Tang, Wednesday 3/11/2020 with my son). The last truly public event before going dark? (Enchanted Auction, 3/7/2020). The last time we hugged a friend? (Sunday services, 3/8/2020).

These small recollections drift like dandelion fluff across the awareness. The wind lifts them, they’re gone. Then the attention slams right back into an earth as unforgiving as it is unstable.

My thirteen-year-old son will be home with me for now until…? The most important thing in all of creation to him right now is his friends, and he will only be able to see them through the very screens that cause endless strife in our home already.

My mother still refuses to stay home, which is equal parts understandable and infuriating. “I just ran to Costco,” she says. Or, “It was just a quick trip to Giant.” I growl yet again that a “quick trip” is no less deadly for its brevity. The real danger lies in the frequency of these outings. Why not just stock the gargantuan pantry and that extra freezer in the garage, and stay the hell home?

My folks have a lovely garden, a neighborhood ribboned with walkable roads, every streaming service known to humankind, and their septuagenarian vigor. I want them to milk the enjoyment from these blessings for as long as humanly possible. They want a Costco pizza.

Meanwhile, here on the other side of the town, my partner and I have arrived at a critical juncture in our relationship. His two housemates both work jobs that continue to require them to go in and work with people. One is an immigration paralegal who manages stacks of confidential files that can’t leave the office. The other is a home health care provider. We had to weigh their best attempts to keep shared spaces disinfected against their utter lack of ability to restrict contact with outside humans. My ongoing, underlying respiratory issues and the fact that I have a kid tipped the balance. So we found ourselves staring down this crossroads: Forgo seeing each other until…? Or figure something else out?

The “something else” turned out to be him moving in with us. More or less. He still commutes back to his home office and spends his work hours separated from the shared spaces of his house. Other than that, he is here. With my boy and me. And the dog. With a single bathroom and not one extra millimeter of closet space.

At a point in our relationship when we are most definitely NOT ready to be cohabitating, here we are. Living together. Tripping over piles of each other’s clothes, negotiating meals and queen-bed real estate and an unanticipated bonanza of free time.

And somehow, we’re doing just fine.

It helps that all of us can breathe (tulip poplar explosions notwithstanding) and still have temperatures in the normal range. We temper our anxiety with an almost giddy gratitude that we and our close circle of loved ones can still breathe, still have temperatures in the normal range.

We light a candle at the dinner table when we all eat together. Which is — did I mention? — now every single night. All of us, the boy included, say a word or two of gratitude. For now, for every moment that close quarters are the extent of our discomfort, we speak our thanks aloud. And together, we take those sweet, deep breaths.

Long may they last.

Photo by Pau Casals on Unsplash


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