Reading: How We Pandemic

Relationships & Divorce

How We Pandemic

After 35 years of marriage, a pandemic meant we’d actually have to spend time together. Could we make it work?

By Mel Miskimen

The stay-at-home edict came down weeks ago. Up until then, my husband Mark had been keeping regular hours at work, taking precautions to wipe down surfaces with a bleach solution and wash his hands so often, his skin looked like the salt flats of Utah. I guess “real” men don’t moisturize. 

In our 35 years of marriage, we’ve spent, maybe, a total of a month together. He worked long hours. I worked long hours. He worked weekends. I didn’t. He couldn’t take time off for something as frivolous as a vacation. Such was the nature of owning one’s own business.

There were times, usually during those colicky baby years and then those hormonal middle school years and then those midlife crisis perimenopausal years, when I wondered if I should call it quits. But divorce would have taken too much energy, something I sorely lacked. And on what grounds? He was a kind, honest, and loving person. He didn’t lie. Or cheat. If I left him, what would change? As it was, I never saw him anyway. 

We made it work. 

That was then. This is now. How?

After our nest had emptied and I became a stay-at-home writer, I did things my way. My moods dictated my days. If I wanted to rearrange the furniture, I did. If I was on a roll, writing, I went with it, remaining pajama-d and unwashed, stopping only for bathroom breaks (door open). I did what I wanted, when I wanted, however I wanted to do it. No other human was there to question my motives, my techniques, or my need to nap.

“I’ll need the dining room table,” he said, rudely shoving the centerpiece to one side — a long, low wooden box filled with succulents I had over-wintered. Within a few minutes he had replicated his chaotic at-work desk: scattered papers, two laptops, a monitor, keyboard, a plug strip, files, and so, so many pens!

He then invoked eminent domain and took possession of the floor-to-ceiling, quarter-sawn oak buffet, which currently housed all things dining room–related: place mats, napkins, tablecloths, my mother’s china, wine glasses, platters, and the good flatware. 

“You’ll have to make room,” he said in a tone more like a boss than a husband, and then trotted off to use the bathroom. 

KonMari for a Cause

It needed to be done anyway, and if it took a pandemic for me to purge my table linens, so be it. I began going through it, drawer by drawer, shelf by shelf. I consolidated. Culled. Did I really need a drawer full of runners? Five tablecloths? I only used one. It was cream colored. Yes, it was stained, but with good stains. Happy stains. Thanksgiving stains. 

Thanksgiving. I wondered, here, now, sitting at what had been my place, in my chair, the one I never actually sat in during Thanksgiving dinners because someone needed more of this or more of that, when it hit me.

Would we ever be together again?

It was a scant five months ago, but it seemed like years. I thought about how loud we were. How everyone talked over each other. Dogs got underfoot. Things were spilled. Biscuits burned. One of my garden gnomes had been thrown into the street after an altercation between a practical joker and victim. Let’s just say, when a person has a phobia of elves, gnomes, etc., it might seem funny to put several in her car, but . . . I didn’t get to bed until 3 AM. People slept on sofas. In beds. On floors. It was exhausting. I loved it. 

Mark had flushed the toilet for the second time. I sobbed into the tablecloth. 

“The toilet — I’ll clean it,” he said. “As soon as the bathroom airs out.”

I waved him off. Unable to speak.

“I — you don’t have to do this right now,” he said, gently, “I mean, just clear out a little space for my stuff. That’s all.”

I blew my nose. Finished sobbing.

He went into the kitchen and put his breakfast dishes into the dishwasher. “You want me to wipe off the counter?”

I shrugged an I-don’t-know-or-care shrug.

“I promise I won’t leave a mess,” he said. “I’ll pick up. I swear.”

I started to walk toward the recently used bathroom. He had been right about the airing out. I detoured. 

He had followed me. I apologized for leaving the bathroom door open. “I’m not used to having anyone around,” I said, carefully unrolling two square sections of toilet paper, not my usual arm’s length. I finished. Flushed. Washed my hands.

“So, are you going to tell me what I did wrong?” he said.

“Did wrong?” I said.

“Is it the soap? I tried to get something for sensitive skin, but the selection was slim.”

I shook my head, no. Heaved a sigh. 

“How about . . . I’ll make dinner,” he said. “Chicken?”

Chicken made me think of turkey. Turkey = Thanksgiving. I started to cry. Ugly cry. He offered me a tissue. “It’s just . . .” I sobbed. “Thanksgiving! Will we . . . it’ll never . . . what if that was the last one?!”

He couldn’t assure me that Thanksgiving would be the same or if there’d even be a Thanksgiving or when this would end or how this would end or whether or not we’d get sick, or if we did, survive

“We’ll have to wait and see. Who knows?” he said.

“That’s just it. Nobody knows!”

“It will work out,” he said. 

“How can you be so sure?” I blew my nose. 

“Now you’ve got to wash your hands,” he said.

“I just did!”

“Yeah, but you blew your nose.”

“Into a tissue!”

“Better to be safe . . .”

I washed. Again. Moisturized. Again. 

He put his arm around my shoulder. 

“You are not maintaining proper social distancing,” I said.

“Listen,” he said, “Be grateful for having had Thanksgiving. I mean, come on, you know and I know that The Gnome Incident is the stuff of family lore, everyone always talks about it like it was one of THE best Thanksgivings ever and you were a part of it!”

“Well, no, I wasn’t. I was loading the dishwasher. I came in after the gnome had been launched.” 

“You know what I mean,” he said and kissed the top of my head. 

“Does this mean I have to take a shower now?” I said.

The Kids Are All Right

We have been living together for almost a month. We’ve alphabetized the DVDs. Organized the kitchen cabinets. Cleaned the basement. Thinned his herd of mystery/crime novels. How many James Patterson books does one man need? I would have thought three, not 23. We have thrown so many balls for the dog we may need Tommy John surgery. He has talked me off metaphoric ledges. Buoyed my sagging spirits. Last Wednesday (or was it Thursday?) he vacuumed! 

He has cooked dinners. Ventured out for groceries. He stood in a line for two hours to cast his vote in our primary election due to political stubbornness on the part of a certain party (they know who they are) and because his absentee ballot didn’t arrive on time. Afterward, he stripped off his clothes in the back hall, scampered through the house au naturel, then took a decontamination shower. My hero.

I had been dreading the day he retired. What was he going to do all day, but annoy me? But, having him here has been a comfort. He has proven to be less of a burden and more of a blessing. I think we’ll make it.

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