I remember packing various outfits for the trip I had planned and organized in order to visit my partner in Bogotá. Both of us had been waiting eagerly for those two weeks in March, a short amount of time, but time spent together, nonetheless. However, both of us were also paying close attention to the rising number of cases of COVID-19, observing how both the United States and Colombian governments were reacting within their boundaries and between other nations. I hadn’t seen my partner since January and I fully expected to run into his arms, suitcases in hand, and kiss him for what would feel like hours in a few short minutes. Little did I know that we’d be trapped at home, waiting to see each other without a solid date in sight.
Everything happened so fast. On that Monday cases were slowly growing, but by that Wednesday newcomers in the El Dorado airport from the most infected countries were forced into a two-week quarantine period. By that Thursday they had extended that to the United States, which at the time had not eclipsed Spain, Italy or China in the number of confirmed cases. I was supposed to fly out that Saturday, but my partner and I called each other and thought of alternatives. “What if I fly out and I cover my mouth with a scarf? What if I try my best to keep my hands to myself, and what if I don’t expose myself to others as much as I can?” Those questions quickly transformed into “Can I get my money back? What if I take this virus to you or your family? Would we even see each other in those two weeks? What if I brought it back?” I desperately called the airlines to see if I could get my flights refunded, or if I could get my dates changed, but buying from a third-party website made it next to impossible. I lost the money. I didn’t get to see my partner. I was grounded with nowhere to go but home.
Love in the time of Coronavirus has been transformed. We can’t hold physical space with one another, many times we’re afraid of holding each other, especially in households where parents, such as mine, have to go out into the world to work, interacting with people who have interacted with who knows how many others. Love has become staying away, rather than coming together. Love has become a stronger adherence to nightly phone calls with my partner, or check-in calls with my cousins in Mexico. Love has become sending memes and old photos to friends from your hometown and friends from the university. Love has become crying on the phone to your loved ones without being able to be hugged or be held. How does one get by when you’re afraid of hugging your parents, when you can’t even see the man you love? How does one overcome the loneliness that one feels in their own homes, despite being surrounded by family or housemates? When will borders open so that I can see my partner again, so that I can be held by him in these difficult times? These are questions that are constantly answered or haven’t even been addressed, and some days are more difficult than others, but the social isolation, the prolonged separation are now communal experiences and traumas, and it’s important to remember that we’re going through it together.
Hope comes and it goes. I hope that the United States will become stricter with its policies for preventing further infection, but our local and federal governments are in disarray. I hope that my father, an older man who has been transferred from a cooking shift at Stanford University to janitorial duties, comes home safe and healthy every day. I hope that my mother, who works at my high school with underserved, often non-English speaking, communities finds reprieve from the anxiety expressed by all of the students and their families about what awaits them. I hope that my partner, who lives in an entirely different country in one of the busiest cities in Latin America, can continue to work from home. I hope that I’ll hear good news regarding the situation, that I might be able to calculate when I’ll see my partner again, either virtually or physically, but the news often never comes. Some days I let myself hope, other days I prefer to wallow in despair, and that’s okay.
Anger and desperation are ever present. Anger at the protestors claiming their rights are being violated by health regulations. Anger at the illusion of living in the “greatest country” when we have the highest number of deaths out of any country in the world. Anger at the racism and xenophobia elicited by national rhetoric about the virus. Desperation for there to be more effective action taken by the government to provide aid to the most underserved citizens and not for the multinational corporations that plunge our world in continuous conflict and despair. Anger at family for unexplainable reasons, other than irritation as a result of being trapped together all the time. Desperation with the space I inhabit, one normally for reprieve now transformed into a space for work. A few deep breaths and the feelings go away, but only for so long.
And sometimes all of these emotions ravage you all at once. Two weeks ago, my partner was rushed to an emergency room over 3000 miles away for appendicitis and was operated on almost 16 hours after the onset of the pain. The immense worry, anxiety and distress for his health combined with the anger, desperation and guilt of feeling trapped so far away, unable to hold his hand, unable to tell him it would be okay. And at the same time, I hoped that he would be okay, that he and his family would be alright. I loved from afar. In a way, the situation led to a tighter bond with his mother, whom I had been texting and calling all day for news about his health. I felt the anxiety, the frustration and the love seep into my voice all at once, and I struggled with the guilt of being absent during such an emergency for about a week afterwards. The situation was a “first,” but because of the health crisis, it might not be the “last.” Staying hopeful keeps me going but staying logical keeps me ready.
As I write this, I have been socially isolating for 65 days. I have not held my partner in 137 days. I don’t know when this period of separation will end, but I have to keep hoping that it will.