On Love in the Time of Corona Virus (1)
When I met my husband online in 2015, his OkCupid name was “Outdoor Kyle”. I’m not going to say that is specifically why I returned his message, but after 3 glasses of wine, I definitely found it hilarious, endearing, and ridiculous all at once. Plus he had a picture of himself with the biggest fucking tree I had ever seen in my whole entire life. Isn’t that what everyone is looking for in their future soulmate?
The name “Outdoor Kyle” has stayed strong for five years running. It’s still his name in my phone. “Kyle, Outdoor.”
He simply is Outdoor Kyle. He likes trees the way some people like wine, or golf, or 16th century British literature; with a dedicated passion, and a practiced delicacy. He is also the kind of guy that fawns over animals of every kind. Big, small, terrifying, sweating, drooling, smelly, hairy, covered in shit. Doesn’t matter. If it bites, licks, jumps, and has fur, he wants to pet it and bring it home and love it for forever.
Of course, my raging allergies, plus my inability to keep even a cactus alive quickly became a running joke between our friends. Much to my chagrin I acquired the nickname “Indoor Mary”.
It’s not that I don’t like to hike or get dirty. I love my kayak, I can grow almost any kind of lettuce, and I have a dog (though she has to wash her paws before she’s allowed on my bed). So you see I, too, am outdoorsy. One of my favorite activities is drinking gin and tonic on porches and criticizing my neighbors’ lawns. That’s almost exactly the same as my husband, but of course a little different.
Outdoor Kyle and I were married in November of 2019. I, personally, had spent 27 of my 32 years saying I would never marry another living human (indoors or outdoors). Outdoor Kyle really hadn’t given it much thought. But then we met each other and decided it was best if we kept each other for as long as we both should live.
Our first few months of marriage we lived the freedom of a normal honeymoon period. It was the first time we had lived together, so we spent a lot of time figuring each other out. We argued the difference between late and early (five minutes early is late, and if you disagree, I’m leaving your ass behind). We walked to our favorite bars, and complained about things that hindsight has taught me are completely insignificant, over nachos and margaritas. We followed the University of Dayton basketball team through an extraordinary season, and planned a trip to Cleveland for opening day. We meal prepped dinners at home, and then lazily went out to eat after 13 hour work days. We pointed out each other’s flaws in semi-constructive ways and spent little time trying to change.
As the most happy go lucky person I have met, Kyle slid into his new role as a husband with ease. He laughed when I was crabby, and complimented my early rising and CBS Sunday Morning routine with hot toddys and bacon. As an aggressive introvert, I struggled with my lack of privacy and space. I wanted time to lie around and watch When Harry Met Sally, eating pizza out of the box. I wanted to talk out loud to my dog as though she were a real human without judgement or hysterical cartoon voice answers from my husband. I wanted to wander the house in complete silence, or blast music so loud I couldn’t hear the ice in my whiskey glass.
I spent countless Tuesdays trying to explain to Kyle what introversion looks like, feels like, needs. I read him passages from Michelle Obama’s book, described to him how my mom and dad set up a special “quiet room” with a chair for my dad’s solitude, modeled for him what a person looks like when they are reading.
Because people don’t like to be talked to when they are reading, Kyle.
I attempted in every way to paint him a portrait of his “Indoor Mary”, hoping beyond hope that he would find it quirky and beautiful and that he hadn’t married the wrong human.
And then one Tuesday, I found myself watching my husband sort through the kitchen cabinets. I didn’t immediately ask what he was doing, because at this stage of seclusion, day two of the corona virus lock down in Ohio, it really could be anything. We had officially been mandated to work from home for one full day, and I had already vacuumed the house, tried (73% successfully) to do a headstand, and filed my taxes. Kyle spent most of his day on the phone pacing, talking loudly into his work phone, and saying phrases like “full host removal” and “they are just going to flop it, buck it, and drag it out to the chipper”.
Overnight, my need to be alone had changed. I still, of course, craved quiet, but the whole world was now being asked to spend 14 days, bare minimum, in isolation and I felt overwhelmingly grateful to have my husband there with me. I was laughably aware of how lucky I was to be stuck with this specific person for an undetermined amount of time. A gratefulness, I recognize, I should have felt for my husband before a pandemic. I was comforted that he was checking my water intake, making groceries runs so I wouldn’t have to be exposed, reading the news aloud and skipping the bits of the article that quoted Donald Trump.
Suddenly on this Tuesday in the middle of March, just four months after getting married, I wasn’t begging my husband to understand my need to be alone but begging myself to be patient in this time of togetherness. I knew how incredibly, insanely, horrifically, privileged I was on every level and I willed myself to feel, to practice, that gratitude.
I sat at my desk and watched Outdoor Kyle fidget in the kitchen for awhile, empathizing how caged he must feel having to work indoors at a desk, on a phone. I finally asked what was up when I realized he had lined up the entire spice cabinet across the kitchen counter in alphabetical order. Turns out he was looking for green food coloring to make green beers. I had forgotten it was St. Patrick’s Day.
I helped him put the spices back, and poured him a Miller Highlife, leftover stock from our wedding and settled onto the couch. I thought back to our wedding, not rushed but hurried. We were so excited for proximity after having lived two states away for two and half years. I don’t think in that excitement we ever imagined that we would be thrust into spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together. But here we were, beers in hand, working on hour 36 of full face time.
Kyle fussed a bit in his chair, moving his beer from hand to hand. He wasn’t looking at me, or really anything, but I was looking at him. Indoor people are more observant in that way, I suppose. He scratched his beard. “Why is chartreuse a color?” He asked the room, “Why… is it even a word?”
I thought about the question. I thought about my bed, and the economy, and disappearing into the sheets with a good book. I thought about how easy this is for me right now, and how hard it was going to be in the next few months. How hard it already is for so many people. Indoor Mary could really use a closed door right now.
“Get your shoes.” I laughed. And though the couch was comfy, and the quiet of the house was a refuge against the backdrop of endless toilet paper tweets and press conferences and people hoarding fish medication, I decided I could, I should, be Outdoor Mary for the afternoon.
We took a long walk, past the pizza dive (Kramer’s) with their sign on the door advertising carry-out, past the closed up college and the empty student housing. We didn’t talk about chartreuse, though I’m still wildly curious, but instead Outdoor Kyle told me about all the invasive species, and the water systems, and the weeds, and pointed out the ducks and the squirrels, and the dog shit someone left on bike trail. And he did it all with the dedicated passion, and the practiced delicacy of a poet laureate.
Would you like to take a walk?
Do you think it’s gonna rain?
Ain’t you sick of television
I’d much rather go fishin’
Something good will come from there
I sure like that kind of talk
Better take a walk
Can you play another song?
This record’s gettin’ long
So cut out the talk
Honey, we better take a walk
And something good will come from there.
-Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong