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Love in the age of COVID

What do you love? Still, despite it all? 

I have a hard time accepting that I can be loving of anything anymore. Days spent in Hell will do that to you. You think you can hold onto the feeling you had as a child. The wonder, the joy, the feeling at the top of your stomach when the whole body rises. But then you doubt yourself. You start to think “I cannot have this. I am not meant for this.” So you recoil. You feel the spit drain from your mouth, and you turn from yourself. It genuinely feels like turning. Your face might be still, your head stuck in place. But you feel the pressure of a hand pushing your head down, toward your shoulder, and you wince for what you know is coming— a sense that you have lost.  

I am not with my family. I love my father, deeply still. Sometimes it feels like I shouldn’t, not because of what he has done wrong, but because I should not be entitled to showing affection at all. And he has done wrong, that much is true. But to bear the weight of loving him still, and knowing that he has come to love me new, it bears on me ceaselessly. I feel I must be away. I feel I must be gone. 

And so I went back home to the first place I ever was. This rural town in Connecticut where I grew to become a loving boy before I learned the world wasn’t idyllic and pristine. I am with friends, the neighbors that helped raise me. We curl together on the couch, heads set on one another as the television glows, day in, day out. I rarely laugh more than when I’m here. But I can’t help the terrible feeling from creeping in. It’s an amalgom of many worries, but one feeling nonetheless. 

First, the sense that I should be back with him, at my father’s home in California. I knew that he was at risk, so I wanted to mitigate that as much as possible. I lost my mother at 18. He had a heart attack when I was 19. If anything were to happen to him now, I believe the only emotion I’d have left would be anger. I could not let that happen. I could not let this man leave. But when I chose Connecticut over him, I feared he would take it as a slight against him. I have a hard time at home, still. Home was dark for many years, and now that there’s light, I hide myself in shadow, for the sake of keeping some things consistent. So at once I believed I should be with him, to show him I care. But to care is to leave him be. And yet to care for myself is still to be away. It’s a quagmire I can’t work out without feeling like I’m failing at showing love. 

Second, I know these people love me, here. Connecticut is my first home, and my only true home. In this land, in these people, I feel only comfort. But can I stand comfort now? Can I stand to feel affection, to receive and give? This is a time of crisis. It fills the air, sticks on sheets, carries us back and forth between the living room and kitchen. It keeps us here, together. But when affection comes, I do not know how to show it without feeling as though I’m violating the severity of the times. We’re all drowning in this. Bad news spills in day after day. But I feel a double bind. At once I feel compelled to maintain normalcy, which in my mind has become distance, acceptance of the terrible, stasis. And at once I feel the desire for deep affection. To be close to these people, to tell them how much I appreciate them, to tell them how much I love them, their joy, their perseverance, their kindness. 

“Connecticut is my first home, and my only true home. In this land, in these people, I feel only comfort. But can I stand comfort now? Can I stand to feel affection, to receive and give? This is a time of crisis. It fills the air, sticks on sheets, carries us back and forth between the living room and kitchen. It keeps us here, together.”

I am frustrated and in awe of my own inability to navigate these impulses. I am deeply angry at myself for my own disastrous confusion. Even now, written out, I am unsure what I mean. I am a subject that has been wrought and mangled by love itself, the victim of a manifold set of traumas all centered on love, touch, affection, and the violence they can harbour when applied wrongly, when sublimated from individual moments of kindness into to the grand narrative of a life lived on the edge. In this heightened moment of fear and sadness, I cannot comprehend how to exist properly, how to sanely embody daily fractures. 

I am not the only one. My experiences are unique, as all are. But I want to point to something that we must speak of when we speak of the ways this pandemic will pick away at us. For those of us who fear love, who feel broken and beaten by affection, who want it , who deeply crave it, who know they must have it to survive, solitude, proximity, and family are burdens that weigh differently. 

The struggle of quarantine for broken-down boys like me is how to seize the moment the right way. The pressure is there. This is supposed to be a time of affection, when we center community and caring. We take care of each other. And I want to do that. I try to do that. But still, as someone for whom love is not so easy, for whom love is hard work given the heartbreak and pain I have known, I am not sure how to apply myself rightly. 

How many among us cannot go home? Cannot find respite there? How many among us are struggling daily with what life outside of Carleton, back into the world of complicated childhoods and family complexes? How many among us have had to sacrifice the veneer of normalcy that Carleton provides? 

My advice is this. If you are struggling, know that you are not alone. And though love is full of heartbreak and frustration, know that the work to love is worth it, in the end. If you are safe, if you are content, if you have the solid backing of those around you, check in on those you know might be struggling. Do not overwhelm. Do not fret. But check in— show a little kindness. It goes a long way to know that care crosses the continent, that it carries over, that away from home and at home it remains.

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