I had to return to working in the office full-time on Friday, the day after Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expired.
For Tyler and I, those weeks where we both worked from home were dear and kind. Talking with my grandmother on the phone one night, she warned me that this kind of experience, especially being stuck in the house together for such an extended period, would be a trial on our marriage. But for us, it hasn’t been. Or for me it hasn’t been. I’ve had bad days. So has did he. But mostly we’ve had closeness, and cat gifs, and cat cuddles, and conversation. Sharing.
We got used to watching Good Eats and Friends together during lunch, laughing and not wanting to turn it off and go back to our desks. We were spoiled by our ability to get up, brush our teeth, and walk to “work” in a few seconds. We’ve cuddled in the mornings more. We’ve fallen asleep together on the couch in the evenings more. We encourage each others’ hobbies with a presence and attention we usually don’t offer. He’d open the blinds in the morning in every room of the house and I’d shut them at the end of the day. Around 11:30, one of us would ask the other what we want for lunch, and we’d fix it together and work on the dishes afterward.
A good, good few weeks.
And all of this against the background of anxiety, stress, and the horrors of a society and healthcare system increasingly strained, friends increasingly isolated, friends and friends of friends learning they’d tested positive. People are losing their jobs, their hope. People are losing their family members and not even being able to hug their loved ones for comfort.
Tyler and I are well aware that we’re in an ideal situation. We’ve recently moved into our first home, one in good shape, and we have a cat but no children yet. We could still have a work-life balance because life didn’t need to cross over into work and our work didn’t meaningfully disrupt our lives. I don’t know how people are coping without pets. I can’t imagine being without ours, for comfort and cuddles and warmth and liveliness and cuteness and the sparks of laughter throughout the day.
I had sunlight and sweatpants and didn’t wear a bra or shoes for a week or more at a time. I miss all of that dearly now. Now, I’m in a windowless box. My own office, decorated with a few paintings and some Funko Pop figures. Arranged for ease of flow. But there is no window. The florescent lights overhead are grating and flicker when I turn them on, so I’m making do with lamps instead.
My first day back in the office, I left with a massive headache I couldn’t shake until Saturday evening. I was utterly miserable, and felt like my work life had stolen something from my home life. I had bad headaches a few times while quarantined, but could take naps during the day and work later so that I didn’t have to take sick time and slow production during one of our busiest times of the year. This is no longer an option.
For all the brightness and warmth I had while working from home—when my job was very busy but my satisfaction was so high—I feel the void now. And, because Bibb County is expecting a surge, and because so many of my coworkers are at high risk or live with someone who is, I wear a mask when I leave my office. And when I’m in my office, I close the door so I can take the mask off while maintaining control of this space, its air, who enters.
Now Tyler and I are isolated from each other as well as other people during the day, so we’re trying to connect in the same ways we we are with those outside our home, with gifs and texts and emails. And I’m still only available to my coworkers by email or phone, just as I was when working from home.
When I get home after work, I wash my hands thoroughly, clean my phone with Lysol wipes, and set aside my mask to dry out for three days or, if it’s cloth, throw it in the wash to start on hot water, then wash my hands again.
Forty more minutes of my day spent driving, Fifteen minutes more preparing my appearance. Fifteen minutes more preparing my food and drink for the day. Countless minutes considering where and how to move so that I don’t infect a coworker, don’t infect myself. Every day is so full of anxieties I didn’t have to worry about when I worked from home. I often focus on those inconveniences, small but needless, or the litany of injustices evident in this entire pandemic so I can pretend I’m not terrified I’ll kill my husband by a thoughtless touch of my hand to my nose during the day or an insufficiently cleaned surface upon returning home.
I’m the one leaving the safety of our isolation every single workday. If one of us gets sick, it’s almost certainly going to be through me. I try to avoid saying “because of me,” since I know I wouldn’t be in this building if there was any alternative that let me keep my job.
I’ve mostly managed to stop planning our hospital go-bags, trying to decide what the last straw would be before taking Tyler to the ER, how I’d need to sell the house after losing him, what it would be like to have to endure the rest of the pandemic alone without him or a single hug. These thoughts spark an anxiety spiral. I mostly manage to avoid it.
I mostly manage. I’m mostly managing.
Which is all any of us are doing.
We’re managing as well as we can.