It is easier to assume a protective stance than it is to trust that you can relax out of it.
Just over a year ago, we were advised, that for the safety of all, we should makes our worlds small. “No problem,” I thought, ” I can do small.”
Almost 12 years ago, I received a text that was like looking through a pinhole, reducing my world to only the next moment. Senses were dulled, the ability to think, erased. It was breath by breath.
And so, like others around the world, I cut out unnecessary physical contact, approached the grocery store as cautiously as a poison ivy infested garden bed, and crossed the street whenever I encountered another another person while walking.
After learning that the one person I trusted with my inner self had betrayed me in the worst way possible, everything became a threat. Nothing was safe. The world became unfamiliar and hostile. I curled up tightly within myself in an attempt to avoid further harm.
The world contracted. And even while grieving the loss of normal life and facing the anxieties about the unknowns of this pandemic (which were quite numerous in the spring of 2020), there was comfort in the absolutes. Stay home and stay safe.
I had a singular focus in navigating the legal system, seeing a favorable outcome in the courts as a sort of salve for my pain and confusion. It felt good to have something to fixate on. I made me feel as though I had some sort of control in a world that had gone mad.
I was fortunate to be able to work from home through the spring. But come July, that changed as we went back to school with around half of our students in person. After months not getting within 10 feet of anyone other than my husband, I had to lean in close to teach 6th graders how to open lockers and to show 8th graders where their equation veered into nonsense.
After weeks without sleeping or eating, I accepted that I would need to ask for help. To allow some people in. My world grew slightly bigger, but the walls stayed just as reinforced.
It took weeks for my body to adapt to the new environment. As a middle school teacher, I’m used to being on alert – for cheating, for tears after a breakup or argument with a parent, for fights, even for shootings, but I didn’t know how to be alert to something invisible. Since we were one of the first schools to go back in person, there was not much data on what to expect. I find comfort in risk-assessment, so this void was quite scary early on.
I knew to be wary of dangerous men – the aggressive ones who yell and hit and threaten. I had no idea that some of the most dangerous people are the ones that gently hold you and whisper their declarations of love.
All around me, I saw people acting as if Covid didn’t exist. At the same time, I knew firsthand of others that refused to step foot outside their home even to visit the mailbox. And from both extremes, ones who got sick. Very sick. Meanwhile, the media alternated between, “We’re all going to die!” and “This is government’s way of controlling you.” Every voice seemed to hold some element of truth, but it was hard to sort the facts from the filler.
My husband painted me as a horrible wife, unfaithful and unable to stop spending money. He spoke of a miserable and disconnected marriage. His version of our lives crashed into what I had lived. I desperately searched for the hard evidence to refute the lies he spread in an attempt to purify his own image. Even with evidence in hard, it was hard to know what to believe.
Eventually, I found a comfortable sort of compartmentalization – at work, pretend that everything is normal and outside of work, avoid any unneeded physical contact. Like many others, I eventually got sick, spending Christmas holed up in my office while my husband slipped sweet notes under my door. For weeks after, immense fatigue made my world smaller still as I struggled to get off the couch.
I tried to merge the memories of the man I loved with the current reality. I questioned whether any of it was real. Eventually, I settled on the belief that there was the man I married and the man he became. A compartmentalization that brought some peace.
Finally, the weather warmed. Life stirred. A small needle introduced into my shoulder offered promises of normal. But after months of assuming that I can catch – and carry – this invisible threat, it’s hard to trust that it’s safer now. The data are still new and the messages are still conflicting. I find myself wishing that I had a LCD display on my arm that would show current immunity level as well as current risk.
Eventually, the acute phase passed. I wanted love again. But it was hard to trust. I examined each date carefully for signs of potential threat, quickly retreating at even the slightest indication.
And so now I maintain my protective stance while slowly lowering my guard. “There are no guarantees of safety”, I tell myself. “Yes,” I respond, “But don’t be a fool.” I am learning to trust again.