Quarantine Thoughts: I’m Sheltering-in-Place With My New Girlfriend

Living together means mastering the dynamics of doing things together — and separately — while sharing in the same space.

Work from home became shelter-in-place, but our decision to quarantine together didn’t feel significant. Allie and I had only been dating since July, but we had hit our stride and were together most nights anyway, so it was obvious that we’d stay together for a week or two until someone (London Breed? Libby Schaaf? Twitter?) said that it was safe to come out.

A few days later, we were both on the phone. Allie was looking at the trees outside my kitchen window while she tried to convince her sister to fly home rather than to stay in Michigan’s grad student housing, and I was in bed while my sister told me she had temporarily laid off her entire team until she could reopen her cafe. Later, I was running around Lake Merritt to clear my head when a push notification told me that Gavin Newsom had extended shelter-in-place to the whole state.

“I don’t need to stay here if you’re not comfortable with that.” Allie sat across from me on the couch, holding my hand. “It’s really fine — I can just go back to my place.”

I didn’t want that — I love her, and I love having her here — so we went over to her apartment and she packed her things. I reorganized my dresser and closet to make room for her clothes. The mental game got interesting quickly, though: I wanted Allie to feel comfortable and welcome, but I also had to shift from hosting to coexisting. Living together means that we can’t (and shouldn’t) always be each other’s center of attention, as if one of us had just come over to the other’s apartment. We have to master the dynamics of doing things together, and separately.

“It’s like parallel play!” I hear my counselor’s smile through the phone, but her comparison is spot on. Allie and I know how to share space while we’re both working (she’s a child and adolescent psychologist and I am in tech support), but we learn how to be amicably separate at other times. She watches Servant with headphones because I can’t handle the creepy golem-baby, and I do the same with Better Call Saul so she won’t have to binge three and a half seasons to catch up. We come together on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend to cleanse the palette with wine and a musical comedy, and then we wash up and go to bed.

COVID-19 operates at intervals, too. I’m feeling numb to the news when the virus takes a close friend’s grandfather and his wife’s uncle in the same week. On Zoom, a friend of Allie’s who works in an ER casually comments that he’s probably been exposed, and I try not to think about the fact that my sister marked three possible exposure dates on her calendar. USNS Mercy docks in L.A., USNS Comfort becomes a backdrop in New York, and the start date of my new job gets pushed back three times, leaving it unclear if I’m even employed. The virus is in everything, in all directions, across state lines and scratching at my door.

Allie and I take our temperatures and check in to make sure our living arrangement is working. So far, so good. We shop bidets on Amazon — discovering in the process that panic buying of toilet paper has resulted in higher demand and higher prices for these personal hygiene gadgets. Still, I insist on a nice one, because I now apparently have time to run the required warm water line from the bathroom sink. It won’t ship until late April, so in the meantime her apartment is a supply depot we visit weekly for toilet paper, napkins, and paper towels.

“It could be an Airbnb, too,” she points out. “We could do a weekend away there, like a mini vacation?” We talk it over but decide against it (my apartment is larger, with more room to share and a bigger TV). Her’s still presents options, though. “I can go back if you need space. I want you to tell me if that’s what you need, OK?” There’s no hint or passive aggression in her question. The world doesn’t care what my choices would be, but she does, and that reinforces why I want her here. She’s on my team, and I want to be on hers. 

I tell her to sleep in when I get up at 7 a.m. for a trip to Safeway. I’m in latex gloves and an N95 mask leftover from the Kincade fires while I observe the social distance tape at the registers and apologize to a stranger when I can’t tell her where to find paper towels. At home, Allie and I sanitize our groceries before we put them away, then plan to cook dinner before our Zoom hangouts with our sisters, who are both still healthy. Before bed, we eat chocolate chips straight from the bag and take turns reading aloud from 100 Years of Solitude, a book we talked about on our first date, and it’s so adorable that I nearly explode.

In the morning, Allie’s eyes are bright when she tells me she needs to be outside. “The lake gets too crowded, and people pass too close. Let’s go for a hike!” She’s got a point about walking in our neighborhood, so we head to a preserve near Fish Ranch Road, breeze past “No Trespassing” signs, and climb over a gate onto a deserted trail. A doe and a family of wild turkeys move into the brush, more inconvenienced than scared, and the weight of the mud on my shoes feels like a vacation. Allie and I hold hands as we follow the trail uphill.

Quarantine Thoughts is an ongoing personal essay series focused on how the coronavirus, shelter-in-place mandates and the resultant economic fallout is impacting locals. Read an essay from a former bartender here and another from San Francisco musician Chuck Prophet here.

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