In mid-March, my girlfriend and her daughter flew from Belfast to Glasgow to see my 12-year-old son act out a very small role in his school's production of Calamity Jane. He was Rattlesnake, Calamity's carriage driver, who is also a regular at the local saloon. We watched him that Friday night — faux beard on his face, swigging imaginary beers — aware of just how tightly packed we all were into the small, makeshift auditorium, one ear listening out for dry coughs amidst the chorus' hearty rendition of The Black Hills of Dakota.
It was to be our last public outing.
A week later the country locked down and, well, my girlfriend and her daughter — they never left.
The decision to come in the first place wasn't entirely straightforward. The virus was already swirling afoot, but no serious action had yet been taken on a national level. We knew there might be consequences if they traveled, just as there were obstacles: the airline they were meant to use collapsed only the week before. But they bought new tickets all the same, it felt imperative somehow.
I joked beforehand that I didn't care what happened so long as they Got. On. That. Plane. There must have been a sense of impending doom. If they didn't come now, how long would it be before we saw each other again? One month, two, six? Our long-distance relationship was strong, it was all we knew, but it wasn't always easy. Especially for me. I would get antsy after two weeks apart; it was usually three to four between visits, what with the distance and my four kids and her daughter and dog and cat.
The decision for them to stay here indefinitely was harder. And yet, it also felt right. Her daughter, an only child, would have other children around during a deeply difficult and potentially lonely time. The aging parents she cared for in her hometown would be forced to self-isolate as it was. And us? We were being served up a rare opportunity to spend a prolonged period of time together, to support each other through a crisis no less, after two years of carving out mere snippets.
But oh how I loved those snippets. They were romantic and intense and blissfully free, on the whole, from the slog of domesticity and childcare that seemed to have slowly killed my 19-year marriage. When you only see your partner for weekends at a time, Roxane Gay writes, every night is date night.
My girlfriend and I had talked about living together, but it was one of those hypothetical conversations you have to establish the seriousness of the relationship, to make sure you are on the same page — not because it ever felt like a viable possibility at any point in the near future. At 14, both of our oldest children are too old to pull from school. The fathers of both sets of children are still in the respective countries of residence. Lives, friends, tethers to towns. Which of us would ever really be able to move? It would be years. We were to fall indefinitely, it seemed foretold, into the new category of couple known as Esther Perel reminds us over and over again: Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.
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