I have a scar on my right hand that starts at my pinky joint, winds down to my wrist, and wraps around to my palm — a casualty of an oil splashing incident involving zucchinis. It intersects with a different scar on my palm, from a cast iron skillet and some cornbread. The scars weren’t there six months ago, and neither were the scrapes across my knuckles from where I tripped and landed on clenched fists. They’re not my fault, the scrapes and scars, in the sense that it’s not my fault I got Covid last March and developed long term health issues from it. But they are my fault, in the sense that I now know I shouldn’t be cooking or even really walking around when I have brain fog, and I almost always have brain fog in the evening.
Either way, the wounds exist, and Stacy’s eyes flicked down to them as we entered round four of an argument that’d been going on all day. I wanted to do another load of laundry; she thought I shouldn’t be making so many trips up and down the stairs. I wanted to take out the recycling while she finished up work; she thought I should wait for her help because there were lots of bags and all that bending over was going to make me even dizzier than usual. I wanted to order and install a new showerhead; she thought I should listen to my dysautonomia doctor’s advice and not hold my hands up over my head unless I absolutely had to because my heart can’t make my blood beat up that high anymore. I wanted to carry a heavy appliance to a different place in the house; she thought the heavy appliance was fine just where it was.
“You keep second-guessing me!” I said. “It makes me feel like a stupid kid!”
Her eyes reflexively touched the new scars. I — not a stupid kid — shoved my hands into my pockets.
“I wouldn’t have to keep telling you to stop doing too much if you’d just stop doing too much!” Stacy protested.
I — again, not a stupid kid — stomped my foot. “You need to let me figure out how much is too much by myself!”
“You have!” Stacy said, tears gathering in her eyes. “You have figured it out!”
A few days earlier, I’d forgotten to put on my compression socks, and my Liquid IV shipment was late so I was using substandard electrolyte therapy, and I’d tried to watch MSNBC while I was working to keep up with the relentless cycle of bad news, which completely overloaded my sensory processing and fried my brain — and by the afternoon I was curled up under a pile of blankets, sweating and shivering and too fatigued to lift my head, wheezing for breath, muscles in knots, a migraine stabbing behind my left eye. Stacy brought me dinner in bed, kissed my sweaty forehead, said we’d order my favorite juice from the juice place as soon as it opened up in the morning.
I hadn’t figured it out. Not really.
Stacy and I decided to get married the same way we’ve decided every other major thing in our relationship: like it was the continuation of a conversation we’d always been having. It was one of those spring Sundays in New York City that makes everyone fall in love with each other and the city all over again. Cherry blossoms and dogwood trees and honeysuckles somehow; glowing cornflower skies; warm sun, cool breeze. Before I got sick. Before we’d ever even heard of Covid. Before the word “pandemic” was anything more than the setup for a zombie video game. Years ago, really. A lifetime.
For brunch, I’d ordered something savory and she’d ordered something sweet, and we’d split it, which has always been our way. We were talking about — oh, I don’t know: work or books or the Miami Dolphins or some other brunch we’d had at some other time and place or that vacation when the bakery owner in Maine told her she had expensive taste because she ordered two pastries and she never got over it. She was wearing a blue and black plaid shirt and a bright yellow snapback — because she hates being “too matchy-matchy” — and her nose was pink because there was still a chill in the air, but she was drinking some coffee thing with whisky in it and her insides seemed toasty. I thought, “How can she make my heart feel like bursting even after all this time?” I thought, “How are her opinions still so fascinating to me?” I thought, “But only those lovers who didn’t choose at all, but were, as it were, chosen by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable and beautiful…”
I blurted out, “We should get married.” She stopped talking and grinned and said, “Well, yes, obviously.”
And that was that.
The night before our first blizzard this year, Stacy and I realized I wouldn’t be able to shovel snow anymore. I’ve always shoveled our snow because I like chores and exercise and sore muscles and I’m a Georgia girl, so the entire concept of snow remains a novel miracle to me. Stacy said she’d handle the shoveling, so I decided, vehemently, that my job would be putting out the ice melter. I could just shuffle behind her at my own pace with one little scoop at a time and spread it out and feel useful — no, be useful. And so it baffled me when, the night before the second blizzard, Stacy asked me not once, not twice, but three times what I was doing as I prepared a new bucket of ice melter for use.
Why was I tromping out into the backyard in the snow at 9:00 pm?
Why was I rummaging around in my toolbox at 9:15 pm?
Why in the WORLD was I lugging a 50-pound tub of ice melter through the living room at 9:30 pm?
The answers were: Shoveling out an unopened bucket of ice melter, looking for my pliers to open the bucket, putting the bucket in the stairwell so it’d be ready for me to do my job in the morning. But it was after 9:00 p.m., which is the time when words start falling out of my head in earnest, because of the brain fog and inflammation and who even knows what else, so I just kind of grunted at every question she asked.
When I finished, she was sitting on the couch scowling.
“You know I can’t articulate what I’m doing when I’m doing it anymore! It’s too hard for me! My brain can’t handle it!,” I snapped.
She said, “Then can you please stop and say that, instead of getting stompier and stompier when I express my valid worry about you pushing yourself too hard and too far.”
“I can’t do it,” I said. “I can’t do two things at once!”
She stood up. “That’s not what I’m asking for!”
“You are!” I could feel my hands clenching at my side. “You’re not respecting my… my… limitations!”
It was probably the most unfair thing I’ve ever said to her, to anyone, in my life. In the whole time I’d been sick, almost an entire year by then, she’d never — not once — questioned how I felt or what I was unable to do.
When Long Covid didn’t even have a name, when we’d never heard of Dysautonomia or POTs or Mast Cell Activation Syndrome or Pernicious Anemia, when every doctor I spoke to told me I just had anxiety, when the spouses and siblings and bosses and parents of people in the online Long Covid support groups I’m in didn’t believe a word of what their family and employees were telling them, when I couldn’t get out of bed, when I literally couldn’t lift my head to eat, when my nighttime adrenaline surges were so bad I would wake up crying out in terror with my legs in trembling motion like my body was trying to run away from a bear, when the doctors who might be able to help me were all out of pocket, when I couldn’t talk, when I couldn’t walk, when I couldn’t remember the most basic words for the foods I could stomach, when she was juggling the expectations of huge clients for work while taking care of our four cats and everything in our house while making every meal I needed and washing my clothes and sitting up with me at night to literally shake off the adrenaline spikes — she never, ever, ever stopped respecting or tending to my every need.
Her face was stricken when she said, “Please don’t yell at me.”
I yelled, “I’m not yelling!”
She said, “You’re so angry.”
I said, “Of course I’m angry!”
“Yes,” she agreed quietly. “Of course you’re angry. You have every right in the world to be full of anger and pain and outrage — but I mean with me.”
I wasn’t angry at her. I was angry at the world, at all the people who could have warned us to wear masks when they knew we should be wearing masks, at all the people who came to New York City from places that were in Covid crises just because they weren’t experiencing symptoms, at the government that gaslit us, at the doctors who ignored me and wrote me off, at the people who were — even now — expressing callous disregard for the health and safety of other people, at my body, at my brain, at myself. Why. Why couldn’t I just remove the lid from a bucket of ice melter while simply explaining that I was removing the lid from a bucket of ice melter? “I need pliers to take off this lid so I can use it in the morning.” How hard was that? Why was everything so confusing and impossible?
“You don’t snap at me,” she said. “You’ve never snapped at me. You don’t raise your voice at me. You’ve never raised your voice at me. This new you is—”
I felt my jaw drop like a cartoon character, and whatever she saw in my face and my posture made her stop talking.
“You think I’m a different person now.”
“No!” she stepped toward me. “No, not a different person. Just this one thing. Your anger being so close to the surface.”
“You said ‘new you.'”
She stepped even closer. “Heather. Just this one thing. You are still you. Heather, listen to me. Look at me. You are still you.”
I never had any plans or dreams or visions of getting married. When I was a kid and my friends played house, I pretended my husband had been lost at sea. When we played wedding, I played “drunk Aunt Anne.” I never imagined the dress, the church, the flowers, the bridesmaids, and I certainly never imagined the groom. And neither did Stacy. Long before we decided we should get married, we already felt married. And when we did decide to get married, it basically just seemed like endless paperwork and an expensive party that would inevitably stress the heck out of both of us and leave at least two-thirds of the people we knew in tears, one way or another. If any other weddings I’d ever been a part of were any indication, at least.
Being married to Stacy seemed like the greatest thing. Calling her my “wife,” wearing a wedding band, not having to explain that I wasn’t actually single every time I checked off the emergency contact information at a new doctor. But having a wedding was impossibly daunting.
About a month into New York City’s Covid lockdown, Stacy and I caught a segment on NY1 where Governor Cuomo explained a new executive order called Project Cupid that would allow couples to get married over Zoom. Just you and your fiance on one end, your officiant and family and friends all in different places on the other end, and — boom! — you’d be married. For really real married. We turned to each other at the exact same time with the exact same look on our face. She said, “Are we gonna do it?” I said, “We are gonna do it!”
All those years of not planning our wedding, but before the night was over, we ordered wedding rings, a matching bow tie and regular tie, a new suit for me. We browsed delivery cakes for hours. I wrote my vows. We told our family and close friends. “Get ready,” we said, “It’s finally happening.” Wife, we kept saying. Wife, wife, wife.
And then my Long Covid kicked in.
I knew I was a new person nearly a year into Long Covid. My body didn’t work the same. My brain didn’t work the same. My relationships with most of my family and friends had all shifted dramatically, as had my work, and my relationship to my work, and my relationship with everything my body used to be able to do. I couldn’t play Dungeons and Dragons with my closest friends, I couldn’t ride my bike, I couldn’t even really leave my house to walk farther than a block. I got even worse at returning texts and emails and sometimes I’d forget I’d even interacted with someone I loved half an hour after it happened.
But there were other things too. At some point, I’d completely let go of the idea that I had anything to prove to anyone about my writing; and I wrote some of the best pieces of my career. I started finding immense, almost childlike joy in the smallest things: the softness of my sheets against my legs, my one cup of steamy frothy coffee a week, the weight of a purring cat on my shoulder or in my lap, the brush of Stacy’s fingertips against my neck as she scooted past my desk during the day, and the gentle caress of her kiss on my cheek and temple and forehead and chin and nose at night. Sitting together on the couch, snuggled under the same blanket, watching movies and TV, night after night, like we’d never done in ten years of our relationship because I’d stopped go-go-going. Wholly abandoning anyone else’s ideas for what I should be doing in any area of my life. I was, inexplicably, and in ways I’d never experienced content and deeply happy.
I felt like if I kept moving when I could, kept writing when I could, kept connecting with people I love when I could, kept finding ways to be grateful, kept chasing answers with specialists, kept trying new treatments, I could outrun the despair that was chasing me. When Stacy said there was a new me, I knew she was right, which meant there was also an old me — and I hadn’t even begun to grieve her.
I’d only cried two times since getting sick with Covid — once after I’d had to quit my D&D game, and once when I called my sister because I was getting scared of how sad I was when I couldn’t get out of the bed — but that night, the tears started in the corner of my eyes, trickled down my face, and when I tasted them on my lips, the dam of my despair broke open and I cried like I had never cried in my life. Choking, sloppy, desperate, wailing, hyperventilating tears that seemed to be coming from a deep place inside me I’d never even accessed before. My entire body shook uncontrollably. And I finally said the things I never said before: I wish I hadn’t gotten sick. Why did I get sick? Why me? Why did I not get better? Why did this happen to me? Why did this happen to me?
Stacy’s hand was on my back, my cheek, my thigh, my arm, my hand. “I love you,” she said, over and over. “I love you.”
Our wedding plans went on hold when I found myself unable to get out of bed. Weeks and months upon end, no answers from doctors, every day a new terrifying manifestation of Long Covid in my body. My wedding suit and tie hung on our bedroom door, but it eventually became apparent that it was just taking up space and needed to go into the closet. When I finally started getting diagnoses and working out treatments for the various syndromes that were making up my prolonged Covid experience, I didn’t bring up our wedding. I told myself it was because I didn’t know, from day to day, what my body was going to do. There was no way to plan to have a Zoom on a certain day at a certain time because there was no way to know whether or not I’d even be mobile on that day.
And that was true — but the other truth was that I didn’t want Stacy to feel forced to marry me when there was a very real chance I would never be fully well again. I wanted her to have an out, even if the out was just me never bringing it up again. I wasn’t the same as when we met, when we decided to get married, when we bought those matching ties.
I put my wedding ring on the day FedEx delivered it, and maybe that was enough.
One night, after a very hard day of pain and brain fog and being unable to breathe, Stacy said, into the dark of our bedroom, “I have always wanted to marry you. That hasn’t changed, you know. It will never change.”
We got married sitting down because I can only stand for a few minutes at a time. A Zoom ceremony with our family and officiant on one end, and us in our living room. I had intended to wear the regular tie, and Stacy had intended to wear the bow tie, but I got so tuckered out tying the bow tie on me so I could tie it on her that I had to keep it on and she ended up in the regular tie.
Stacy started crying the second she started saying her vows, and so I started crying too. “I promise I will always love and support you and celebrate you and be here for you, for whatever you may need in our lives,” she said. “I hope to prove to you again and again that I will do anything for you. Any thing, any time, for any reason — or no reason at all.”
I said, “I promise to respect and celebrate all the things that make you you, apart from me and you: Your creative passions and artistic ambitions, every quirk that has become so dear to me, your career drive and your ethos of endless generosity, your commitment to what’s good and just, your ferocity of spirit, your tender heart.”
Our officiant walked us through more traditional vows when we were exchanging rings. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer. Stacy squeezed my hand and looked from my ring finger into my eyes. In sickness and in health.
I kissed her ring finger and repeated it back. In sickness and in health.
While our family watched, our officiant pronounced us married. I wore a suit and Stacy wore a suit. We were girlfriends for ten years, brides for ten minutes, and then we were wives. One string of Christmas lights draped over the bookshelf and my childhood teddy bear as decoration; our cats watching on; the only wedding either of us had ever imagined.
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