Love in a Time of Epidemic


My husband was one of the first to die, a foot soldier in a war that never ends. He’d been a nurse, a dedicated one as we lived in one of the first areas to be ravaged by it. I still remember the day he awoke and said he didn’t feel good, but thought it was just a cold or the beginning of the flu. Instead he got worse, not better and I eventually took him to the emergency room of the local hospital. He had told me it was bad, but the chaos I found there was overwhelming. Identifying him as a nurse there got him some expedited treatment but it was obvious as I prowled the halls as he weakened, day by day, that it was just out of control. The halls were lined with those without a bed. The emergency room overflowed because there was nowhere to send patients. What was it? Who did it affect? I first heard the old and vulnerable were most affected. Stan was 25, a fit man who worked out regularly at the hospital gym. Watching him struggle to breathe was traumatic. His parents and mine were extremely supportive and equally worried. His brother flew in and stayed, taking extended leave to be with us. In the end, our hopes and prayers weren’t enough. He died at 25 years, 4 months and 26 days, after just over three years of marriage.

The hospital was so supportive, a large contingent coming to his funeral that dark, windy day. Friends gathered around and food magically appeared courtesy of friends and members of our church. It was truly a blessing, a sign of hope in a world gone mad. But the blessing turned into a nightmare as friends, his co-workers and family members were sickened, some to die in the same horrible way he had died. There was just this dark cloud overhead. My grandmother contracted it and died in a matter of days, as many patients and even staff at her nursing home also died.

I went from bad to worse. None of the five stages of grief prepares you to watch those you know and love die in isolation as frantic research said it was spread through the air. And it just kept spreading, reaching every part of the world. Parts of the world just shut down, like people who dealt with the Plague of medieval times by closing the gates of the town to stop travelers from entering in, hoping that would prevent it.

Through it all, I lived in dread. Dread of living alone. Dread of those I loved also dying. Dread that the world we had known would never return. I had no hope. Every day was a struggle just to exist. Every phone call was some harbinger of disaster.

I found solace in a group through my church. It was open-ended: there were widows and widowers; those who had lost a loved one; those who just, like me, had no hope. I was three for three in this group, having had my husband so shockingly pass away, friends and relatives sicken, some to die and having no hope that things would ever improve. We all tried to find a way, halting though it was. I developed friends with a few who seemed most like-minded. We went out for coffee after our meetings, sometimes finding us by ourselves in an otherwise empty place. We were all drawn inward. We all hoped it would pass. It didn’t pass, it only kurtköy escort got worse as the worldwide death count rose daily.

Four long years passed, one day at a time. Island states were able to withstand it but at the cost of isolating themselves. World wide commerce all but halted. People sat at home, surrounded by their children as schools were closed, jobs were lost and as charlatans said it was the end of days. The world was in upheaval as millions, unable to work and equally unable to pay mortgage or rent, were cast out. It was a time of false prophets, those who said they alone knew the path back to normalcy. After four long years, the question was: what was normalcy? We heard of miracle cures, of vaccines but their arrival just seemed to recede into the future. The very fabric of modern life unraveled before our eyes.

I stayed at home. My loving husband had bought something called mortgage insurance and our ever so humble home was paid for. I was able to live on survivors benefits through his work. When I say I stayed home, I mean I was a hermit. I decided to forego the group I had known even as members of that group died. I texted and emailed and talked on the phone to friends and family as we counted our blessings for one more day and consoled each other at the inevitable losses. No one went to funerals anymore. They had become death traps.

How did I survive? I think it was largely due to one person. My neighbor, Jenny, was also a young woman, one whose husband up and left, leaving her with a house payment she could not afford. She lived off their savngs, well, what her deadbeat husband hadn’t siphoned off. As the time approached for her to lose the house, I offered her a place to stay. At first we thought it would be temporary but as the months passed it became clear that was not to be. My garage held my one car on one side. The other half was filled with her furniture and belongings. it was depressing to see the house she had once called home sit empty. No one could afford it, even as prices plummeted. One day there was a ruckus there and we found out squatters had broken in and lived there without electricity. Desperate times and all that, you know?

But I digress. Jenny had much the same pot of problems that I had, though hers was far bigger: she had no income. I was supporting her. In return she was doing far more than her share of our cooking, cleaning and yard work to offset her lack of financial contribution. I knew I was fortunate and it seemed the right thing to do, to help another in difficult times. Half the homes on our block were vacant, or so it seemed. We decided to let the front yard go wild so the house wouldn’t stand out from the others. She had one asset I did not have: she had the firearm her deadbeat husband had left behind. They had taken classes together and gone to the firing range so she knew how to use it. We read online about break-ins. Our working class neighborhood seemed an unlikely candidate for such but we also read of people stripping a house of anything that could be sold. People were that desperate. She taught me how to load aydıntepe escort and to aim, how to thumb off the safety and to do everything but pull the trigger. We practiced breaking it down and cleaning it until we were both proficient. It was in a drawer beside her bed.

We had a lot of time on our hands, time that we shared, time we used to speak of what we had lost and missed. We drove around and looked at all the vacant stores, noticing how few people were out and about. We walked in parks, Jenny carrying her weapon in her oversize purse just in case it was needed. We worked on a garden, mended fences, kept the back yard, fixed what broke. Eventually, I told her of what I had gained. “Jenny, I’m so glad you’re here. I would hate to be here alone, wondering what might happen. It’s just a blessing.” Time drew us closer as we waited for the world to restart, though it seemed at times that was a fairytale people told their kids. The world was truly mad.

Another year passed, then another. News around the world seemed largely bad. Riots, famines and mass displacement seemed everywhere. But Jenny and I had our island of mutual happiness. Food and medicines were delivered, though shortages meant we didn’t receive all that we ordered, the lights stayed on, water flowed from the tap. Untold numbers of people still worked so that millions could survive at home. I paid bills online as my life had become digital. We started hoarding in small ways, stocking up on water, canned goods and things with long shelf lives. I’m sure millions of others were doing the same thing.

She woke me one night. “I hear something outside.” She already had her weapon in her hand. We carefully looked outside, peeking around the edges of the curtains, trying to see anything amiss. Eventually she saw a group of deer. They had been munching on our small garden that we had planted by hand. We sighed in relief. Nature was reclaiming the Earth in ways large and small. Raccoons stole from our garden. Hawks soared overhead looking for their next meal as the long grasses, weeds and overgrown landscape provided shelter for many small animals. Deer wandered the streets, unafraid as they nibbled at the grasses and small trees that grew in the cracks in sidewalks and streets. I watched in surprise as a fox trotted down our street. I didn’t read much online anymore. It was the same stuff over and over: disasters of one kind or another, wars, though that was a kind of disaster, I guess and a myriad of other bad news. The only good news it seemed was nature and the ways it was making the world more whole. God knows it would outlive this sorry group known as humankind. I took to reading The 100 Great Books. At my pace, it would take my lifetime to read half, but reading took me away to a different place which I greatly appreciated.

In time, Jenny and I kind of merged, I guess that is one way to put it. We picked each other up after the one or the other of us fell down in despair, in pain or in sheer fatigue of an ongoing, never ending disaster. Now, we spoke the same language, finishing sentences for each other. I hadn’t tuzla içmeler escort realized it until we sat one night reading quietly side by the side on the couch when she touched my arm with her hand and said, “this is as close as I’ve ever been with a person. We just are together.”

She was right, of course. Our paths had intersected and our lives just seemed to merge more and more. I smiled at her, then leaned over and kissed her. Kissing her was so unlike the kisses I had experienced before. Her lips were soft and our kiss so gentle. “What a beautiful thing to say.” That night and the nights that followed we slept together and the gun moved to our table drawer.

The street lights in our area went out. We could stand in the backyard and see what seemed to be millions of stars, stars we couldn’t see before because of all the reflected light. It seemed magical until we realized they had always been there, we just couldn’t see. We were in the backyard one day when we were startled as our back neighbor’s roof partially collapsed. In time we could see greenery through the windows.

In every way but sexual, Jenny and I were one. It had been years now since dickhead had left her. She and I looked at each other one day, hugged and said it was the best thing that could have happened. On a spring day, in the backyard, we pledged our love for each other.

Our island of peace was interrupted as thieves began stripping homes in our area. One morning, someone broke in the back door and Jenny scrambled to arm herself, then ran into the kitchen and fired a round toward the door. Frantic footsteps receded and we saw two men climbing the back fence as they fled. Still, we were on guard. Our peace and tranquility had been shattered. We took down part of the back fence and barricaded the back door, then made a crossbeam for the front door as well. I was so glad Stan had been handy and had a set of tools. Others, I’m sure, were not so fortunate. Jenny took a board and painted on it “protected by Smith & Wesson” and planted it in the front yard. We were left alone.

Bad news continued in the new year. Mom died, though of what no one knew. We streamed a Facebook service for her. Our family had endured a lot. We clung to each through the internet, hoping the end was near.

But there was good news as well. Everyone by that time knew Jenny. We were apprehensive, but we announced that we were a couple. Almost everyone seemed OK with it, though a couple of my more fundamentalist friends ghosted me.

On a cold winter’s night we consummated our love for each other. It had taken us a long time to take the step, but, once done, we knew it had been the right thing. We lay together, naked, skin to skin, in the afterglow of sex together. We learned to please each other, to find what brought satisfaction and orgasm. We just longed to satisfy each other, to reach that orgasmic peak over and over. Giving to the other was just natural. Jenny had a collection of toys she showed me how to use and enjoy. I told her I had lived a sheltered life. She agreed with me as she fucked me with a dildo. I missed Stan from time to time. I missed that closeness we had once felt. But it had been replaced by a gentle, loving peace.

We’re still waiting for the world to restart itself, but we had found love and hope together in a time of epidemic without end.

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