Scattered Thunderstorms: A Pandemic Love Story
| This is the 603rd story of Our Life Logs® |
There’s a storm today
Maybe not over you
But eventually, rain gets bored of elsewhere
it will find your frail shelter and sing and sing
until the earth is soft
and the roof cracks…
Will you be ready?
My story takes place in Morrow, Georgia, back before COVID-19 was ever a headline. Sometime in the early ‘90s, I was on the path to becoming a lawyer when the immense stress got to me and I had a mental breakdown. After hospitalization and diagnosis of bipolar disorder II with paranoid features, I adjusted to a new way of life in 1997.
Nearly 20 years later, I learned I’d been misdiagnosed and actually had paranoid schizophrenia. This helped me understand why I hated leaving home. The paranoia from being around others was too much for me sometimes. From then on, I embraced the parts of me that were different and tried to live with my mental illness and still find happiness. I found that joy by staying indoors where I felt the safest.
When the COVID-19 pandemic drove people to paranoia and depression for being locked away or catching the virus, I was unphased. Pre-pandemic, I had already been living as an almost-recluse (sharing a home with my partner, however, who works outside of the home) and I seldom went out before the lockdowns. I spent my time looking at the world through screens and windows, but not being a part of it. Now, I could do so without judgment. In fact—before I’d stayed in to preserve my sanity, and now I could keep it up to stay safe from COVID-19’s mandated major lifestyle change. So truly, I was well equipped for the pandemic. Or so I thought.
The beginning of the pandemic went really well for my partner and me. Working as a math teacher at a Title I charter school, he was able to move remotely when the schools shut down. He’d teach while I journaled and tidied up the apartment. We’d break for lunch and eat instant macaroni and cheese. We got into a happy little routine.
Working from home.
Once school was over, we’d go on our “date” to either the grocery store or the bottle shop (a.k.a. the liquor store). I say “date” because it was an occasion. Going out to the bottle shop kept him sane and functioning while it gave me something to look forward to. It also provided relief from too much togetherness in a cramped space made for one.
What else made it a date?
the attire: our best casual dress.
the mood: light but excited and expectant of a good time.
the conversation: romantic banter with NPR playing on the car radio in the background.
the lovey-dovey: we always held hands (a normal “us” interaction when out in what we call “the world population”).
For him, our arrival was a delight; for me, however, it was always met with some initial trepidation. I was always a little nervous going out into the world, but holding hands sealed our commitment to get through any situation together. I leaned on him to get through dealing with people without experiencing an extreme episode of paranoia. He rose to the occasion and was brave enough for both of us. We approached the bottle shop with the reverence of believers performing a holy ritual. Our hope was to be blessed and leave feeling better than when we entered. Anything was possible on bottle shop night.
Because we were regulars, we were recognized by the rotating staff. It wouldn’t be a trip to the bottle shop if one of the female cashiers didn’t say, “Lord, you’ve got a lot of hair! It is so bea—u—ti—ful”, to me. Likewise, one of the male shop clerks never neglected to chat with my partner about some drink. A bonus was if other shoppers, strangers to us, noticed our holding hands the whole time and commented positive praise about our public display of affection. Happily, we’d leave with a vodka bottle and a pack of clove cigars for him, and a cold, cranberry juice cocktail for me.
Life on the rocks.
Looking back on those months (despite the gravity of the health situation the world was in), I will always have some fond memories of our midday meals and visits to the local bottle shop. The world was in chaos and we were honeymooning. We appreciated each day spent together as it came. News was filtered for my benefit, and love flowed freely. We cooked. We danced. We romanced. And yes, we even laughed. I was thriving in the middle of it all. We redefined success as a mixture of grace and gratitude.
It wasn’t all clear skies. A big storm was coming. The longer the pandemic lasted, the more challenging it became to cope with its demands and yield to its changes. Once our state of Georgia opened up again, it was like the spell had broken. Being together all the time wasn’t the magical paradise it once was. We started fighting over all kinds of things. It started to become too much. I had been doing okay mentally despite the chaos of the pandemic, but now, I was felt like a mental case in desperate need of something or someone or somewhere other than this.
Before I could avoid it, our relationship went from good to half-decent to bad. Looking back, I suppose it was inevitable. I should’ve known it was coming in the same way you know a locomotive train or a heavy rainstorm is coming. You feel it. But just the same, the events are set in motion before you can stop them. It’s too late to cry for help in the middle of chaos. The approach of the runaway train that signaled the crash of what we called our “unit” felt like speed captured in slow motion, just enough to feel each bittersweet emotion before totally destroying everything in its path.
One disagreement drove me to pack my things and leave our house for 10 days. The night I left I felt as if that storm was crashing right into me. I let him go outside in the darkness to the fenced-in patio with his drink and cigar, I seized the opportunity to get some alone time, and I grabbed my phone and keys. I went to sit out in my car with the windows rolled up and decided to call my parents for support. It was too hard to find solitude in a one-bedroom apartment shared by two.
Peace did not come to work its diplomatic skills no matter how badly I wanted it. I was losing it and I had no more to give, so I left to get away from the conflict. To get away from the other thousand and one things that couples let tear them apart until there is nothing more to say or do. I just had to get out. And so, I went to stay with my parents until I figured out my next move.
Everything was mixed up upon my arrival at their home. Help felt like more hurt. I tried looking into what it would take to leave, all while wondering if that was what I truly wanted. I came to them on the weekend and by Wednesday, I was sitting in the parking lot of the public library texting my partner through my tears, sheltered in my car from the heavy rain. Even though things had ended badly, I missed him. And I wasn’t ready to give up yet. So, I told him that I wanted to come home. I waited for what felt like an eternity to his “okay” reply, affirming that I could come home to our apartment.
When I returned to the apartment, the tension was thick and filled with uncertainty. After we both came to our senses from playing hard to get, we embraced and did not let go for a very long time. We cried over what we could have lost. We knew deep inside that we fared better working together than struggling apart.
Around us, the apartment was in total disarray. It reflected my failed efforts of moving out while he was at work and his failed efforts to take control of the one-bedroom space we had shared. I looked at the living room. It had my last few pieces of big, heavy furniture I had not moved. He had pushed it all to the center of the living room, edging me out of his environment—an easier task than moving me out of his heart. Now I was back. We had residual anger left, but we knew it wasn’t worth the energy to maintain. What was important was us.
Of the seven years we have been together, our sixth year—the year of 2020—was by far the worst year of them all. Even though we’d come back together again, for weeks after we had become reconciled, we had mini-fights. They were like scattered thunderstorms. You could expect them but knowing that they would occur still negatively affected us. Each outburst featured the same argument: he wondered if I was going to leave again; then, not feeling 100 percent reassured. He also continued to ask me for weeks thereafter if I was going to “cut and run.” I knew I had to regain his trust. He spoke from pain and fear, unaware that I too was scared and anxious after our separation.
Pain and fear were the emotional tattoos of 2020. We shouted and hugged it out over and over until things were smoother. In the midst of the undoing of the outside world, we fought the unraveling of us. We recognized that as the world was at risk, our love for each other, our “unit”, was not something we wanted to lose. Ever.
I believe he is my perfect match, and we are meant to be together. The occasional what-ifs may still come my way. Would it be easier without him? Would I do better on my own? Am I asking for too much from a life partner? The answer to these questions is always, no and absolutely not. It doesn’t always have to make sense. It doesn’t have to perfect.
For now, we continue to choose one another over and over again, beyond schizophrenia, paranoia, well-meaning parents, depression, anxiety, abandonment, alcoholism, and the pandemic. And when storms come, we are ready to face them together.
This is the story of April Desiree McQueen
April lives in the Greater Metropolitan Atlanta area. In 2020, April and her partner’s relationship thrived on the abundance of time they were able to spend together in lockdown. However, after a particularly bad fight, the couple was on track to break it off indefinitely. That was not the end of their story—just the beginning of a new, rocky chapter that will inevitably be for the good of the two.
April focuses on maintaining her mental health with hobbies like cooking, reading, and journaling. She has a blog named 39 jobs on WordPress. Her biggest supporter is her partner, who is a 6th grade mathematics teacher. They enjoy going to the movies and getting ice cream now that things have opened up in Georgia. They have been together since April 2014.
This story first touched our hearts on August 12, 2021
Writer: April Desiree McQueen | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker