This essay is part of a series from Autostraddle writers about how they’re approaching dating and relationships at our current stage in the pandemic – read the rest here!
I read the first Boxcar Children book when I was eight years old, and immediately daydreamed a world where I, too, lived in an isolated little shack or tiny house or cabin, growing my own food, no one telling me what to do, or how to be, just me and the wide open world. I checked out books at the library about gardening and chopping wood and building fires. I cut out magazine photos of cottages nestled into the snowy mountains, not another living soul in sight. I love being alone. I have always loved being alone. I spent most of my life planning a future for just me and the pets I would love.
So of course it’s deeply ironic that I chose to get married and live in New York City. But my wife, Stacy, isn’t like anyone I’ve ever known, and when I met her and fell in love with her, it was like some kind of magical introvert alchemy. She is the only person I have ever known who always energizes me. I still need a lot of alone time, but being with her, even after ten years, is my favorite way to be — and so I just folded her into my daydream. Me and her together, alone, in a secluded cabin in the woods. The last year has kind of been like that, but with the option to have groceries and prescriptions and takeout delivered directly to our door. Our relationship has never been better or stronger or happier. We trip over each other in the kitchen multiple times a day, and still our affection bubbles over.
It’s impossible to know if that’s how it would have been if I hadn’t gotten Covid and Long Covid, but I did, and so every moment we have together — watching women’s basketball, cooking breakfast, playing board games, singing silly songs to our cats, lying together reading, sitting in the same room playing our own video games, or even working at our own jobs directly across from each other at the same table — is rooted in gratitude. We are both keenly aware, in ways we never have been, of how fragile everything really is, including our health and our bodies and our actual lives. We’ve stared down mortality this year. Not just me and Stacy. All of us.
I’m so happy things seem to be trending in the right direction with the pandemic. Mostly of course so we won’t continue to lose hundreds of thousands of lives, so doctors and nurses and grocery clerks and delivery people and janitors and surgeons and all our frontline workers can move through the world more safely and with less physical and emotional trauma. And also of course so people can be with people again! So I can see and hug and sit in the same room with my friends and family! So Stacy can pick up on the astronomical trajectory of her career that was skyrocketing before the world shut down! So we can stop living in constant fear of this virus and all the destruction it has caused!
But also I am afraid of emerging from this cocoon I’ve been in for a year and having to relearn to navigate the world and all my relationships as a person with multiple chronic illnesses and a disability — especially without Stacy by my side. That’s a hard thing to write because even though Stacy and I have been together for a decade, and even though we’ve built our lives around each other, there’s always been a deeply independent streak in both of us, a pride as individuals about how self-sufficient we both were. We both had very full and separate lives outside of our life as a couple, before Covid. I don’t know if either of us really understand how much that has changed in the last year.
In terms of being a person with a disability, I’m mostly self-sufficient (again: as long as delivery exists!), but sometimes I have terrible and terrifying crashes, and Stacy knows just what to do now, just what to say, just what to bring to me, and just what I’m trying to say, even when my Dysautonomia robs me of my words. She springs into action during those times and handles anything that needs to be handled: finishing up the chore I was in the middle of doing and had to abandon, taking care of our cats, making dinner and bringing it to me on a tray when I can’t get out of bed, translating my mish-mashed phrases. And all the things she does when I’m not crashed, just daily things, like preparing my Liquid IV every night and bringing it to my bedside every morning, or noticing when I’ve gotten too busy working and forgotten to pause and take my meds, or helping me keep track of everything every doctor says because she can overhear every call.
Mostly, though, her presence makes bearing it all so much easier. She makes me laugh all day, she constantly encourages me, and she’s a sounding board when I get upset that, say, someone yelled at me for crossing the street too slowly, or when I’m experiencing some kind of frustrating or demoralizing situation where I’m having to request the same accessibility accommodations over and over and over. Over the past 12 months, I have been forced to do the thing I’ve always been the worst at: be real about what I’m incapable of doing, and ask other people to do things in a way that’s not easiest or most convenient for them, so it will be accessible for me. It’s hard enough to do it once. But I’ve discovered that it’s actually never just a single ask. I have to keep asking because people keep defaulting to their normal, to my old normal, and every time I have to speak up and say, “No, actually, I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t, remember? I can’t.”, it eats away at my very limited energy and forces me to re-confront my shifting identity.
But when that happens and Stacy’s home, I can rest my forehead against her forehead, or hold her hand in my hand, or rant and growl, or even just share a look of understanding. So much of my identity is solidified in proximity to her, and in her belief in me. “That’s not a you problem; that’s a them problem,” is what she says, and I believe her every time.
I’m also just kind of sad to see our Boxcar Children time coming to an end. We probably won’t be together this much again until we’re both retired, and even though it has been, at times, harder than anything either of us could have imagined when the pandemic started, it’s also been some of our sweetest, most intimate, silliest, funnest times we’ve ever had as a couple. The playlists! The quest to cook the perfect scrambled eggs! The board games! The Great British Bake Off and Top Chef marathons! The singing and the dancing and the never-ending inside joke! We got married in our own living room, for goodness’ sake!
Over the last decade, mine and Stacy’s relationship has been through so many incarnations, and I know it will go through a zillion more over the course of our lives. One thing that hasn’t changed is my Boxcar dreams. What’s next will bring its own challenges and joys, like all the manifestations before it, and we’ll rise to meet them. I’ll sigh a big breath of relief on the days I draw the Hermit from my tarot deck. I’ll keep bookmarking photos of secluded cabins (for two). I’ll text her at work when someone honks at me because I’m baby-stepping through the crosswalk, and she’ll say, “Fuck them!” And, “I love you.” And, “Let’s play Yahtzee when I get home.”
This is so beautiful Heather. I’m so glad that you have such a wonderful person to move through the world with, even as you are reckoning with not being together constantly anymore.
Though my partner and I have not navigated the challenges that you have this past year, what you said here really resonated with me. It is so powerful to have a witness and ally in your life.
Also I LOVED the Boxcar Children as a kid too, especially the first one.
the socks-car children, is that anything?
but seriously, I ship you guys and am so happy your relationship continues to thrive and grow despite your hardships.
I too loved and love the Boxcar Children series! My cousins and brother and I spent many hours crafting our ‘house’ under the big spruce tree in my childhood backyard.
The care you and Stacy show each other and share with us in the community is such a gift <3
This is so beautiful, Heather. Thank you, as always, for writing about this experience.
this was so touching <3
Love is not a lie!