This is a series of stories, fiction, about the time of Covid and relationship. In our isolation we still continue to connect and need connection.
I am going to write you and pretend that you still can read this. I know it is a shallow trick, but I need to play it. There are no words for what I feel, only a hollow reamed out feeling, emptiness is too small a word.
It is four in the morning, when all hauntings appear. I woke remembering a dream I had about our trip to Barbados, lying in the sun next to you. This was all I could want in the world. I knew that at the time and as I woke today, I know it. Today is the time of all remembrance.
I remember what it was like to walk with you in Little Italy, eating ices, the lemon my favorite, cool and tart. We talked about leaving the city and moving to somewhere sunny and brown. We both loved the city, make no mistake but the mood had grown uglier. While New York still was a haven of tolerance, after the shouting with the cabbie from India who picked up the guy in front of you. It was a shouting tolerance, but we noticed the changes.
We hadn’t known each other long when we took the trip to Bar Harbor, a town in which we could both afford to stay. We were going to dinner on the pier when we noticed the silence directed at us, the waitress was tense. She seated us but it felt reluctant, as if she couldn’t get us seated fast enough. Your blond beauty and my dark, we fit perfectly but not in this place. You were very civil to the staff. You made the effort to ingratiate us. I was furious and contained, you were overly polite. We talked about this and in talking began to make sense of how the world might see us. I suppose that is what I miss the most, the conversation, the way words flowed smoothly between us and I miss your eyes, so blue they reminded me of a spring sky. Every time I looked into your eyes, I saw heaven. The fact that you were so different than I never crossed my mind. Well, okay it did cross my mind in the beginning when I realized the vast gap of the cultures we came from. Over time I came to know, you had my back no matter what You loved my smooth brown belly and would lay your head on me to listen to the sounds of my body. You loved me and more than this, you respected me.
We met just before the end, before the time of the under toad, that fabled lurking monster under the sea. We met before the pandemic, I ran into you on the street, literally ran into you. Walking and reading my messages was always a bad idea, I had crashed into light poles, newspaper stands, and then you. You were the best accident. I remember that moment, and have never forgotten, that I looked up to find your heaven blue eyes grinning at me. There was no irritation only amusement and curiosity about this wild haired woman.
In the beginning it felt like loving you was a defiance of death. When all around us appeared threatened there was a light between us. I will never forget that light. It is here with me at 4 am. I am glad I loved you although it has opened the door between the worlds. Before you, I was asleep. I was walking through my safe world, doing chores, seeing friends, and working. Always working. I was successful, one of the women in the top twenty per cent of earners. I felt that should have been enough, then I crashed into you. It was not enough. You were the final perfection that made my life more precious.
At first, we had our attention on Italy. I watched videos online of Italian doctors crying and admitting they were having to make choices about who lived and died. Their heartbreak was obvious. It was deeply disturbing that these people who were trained to preserve life were having to choose death. As we watched it never occurred to either of us that we would be grappling with this in weeks.
You told me you had always wanted to be a doctor, that as a small boy you would operate on your sister with markers for scalpels. You laughed and said she would be covered with red ink. She was a good sport to allow you. As I first looked at your thick, strong fingers I could imagine you as a carpenter, I was surprised at your being a surgeon. You graduated early and went on to medical school in London and then to a residency in New York. I would never have met you were it not for that. When the virus arrived on this side of the Atlantic, you were ready to go. This is what you had trained for and what you had readied for. Growing up in London you had dodged IRA bombs and attacks and were nimble and prepared. You were ready for the emergency but in those early days no one understood just how bad it would be. It was not an occasional bombing. It was endless war.
Then you started having nightmares, you woke drenched. I knew this was not good. That is my field. I asked you to see someone, do EMDR, do something so you could sleep. This was the only time you ignored my caution. Oh, you were kind about it, but you did not see anyone, you did not go to therapy. You drank a little more just before bedtime, hoping that would work. Your obligation was to keep working. Weeks later I noticed the first grey hair in your blond. Hard to see but evidence.
But I have to say this, even with all your distraction in those final weeks I knew you never stopped loving me. You would talk about returning to Barbados when this was over, when we were free to board a plane again. We dreamed out loud of sand and blue sea, of the calm waves. You loved the water, as did I. As I lay on the sand and became browner by the moment you would joke, “the browner the berry, the sweeter the juice,” as you would pretend to attack me with hunger, But the hunger was real. We never tired of what marvels our bodies could do, how we fit, so different and so the same.
I was working from home, but you were not. You were the one in danger, even though you worried about passing it on. You would come home and strip at the door, take a shower and then kiss me. I have wondered how my hybrid diversity protected me. Indian and Irish I had the robust genes of both Indian peasants and Irish farmers. I worried that your too white, single country genes would make you more vulnerable. You would joke, “Oh, we British are mutts, you have nothing to worry about.”
It started with a sore throat that you dismissed as simply fatigue. It happened too fast from there. Against the rules, your colleagues let me in, long enough to peer through the glass at someone I barely knew. There was no robust undertone of pink in your face then, you appeared transparent, like glass and soon to shatter. I knew just how much I loved you then. I would have traded myself for you. I prayed to a god I no longer believed in, “Please Shiva, let him live, take me instead.” My trick of last-minute conversion did not work.
The birds are beginning to sing, it is still early. I did leave New York. I could not bear it without you. I live upstate now, in a tiny town that no one has ever heard of. I left the apartment we shared. I didn’t take the furniture. I took only my clothes and a shell we picked up in Barbados. It is a beautiful shell and when I hold it up to my ear, I hear you laughing.