Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus
We’re in this together. That’s the oft-heard refrain of corporations and well-meaning individuals, both of whom intend to imbue their listener with a sense of kumbaya camaraderie. However, for me, any opining on sentiments of community and togetherness throws my own alone-ness into sharper focus. But, despite society’s insistence that a 30-year-old divorcée must inherently be lonely, alone-ness and loneliness can, in fact, be mutually exclusive. I am alone. But I’m not lonely.
While the pandemic has thus far altered the course of many people’s lives, my earth-shattering, foundation-shifting moment happened back in September of 2018. On a nondescript day, 11 months into my hellacious marriage, my then-husband finally admitted to the reason for his venomous treatment of me: he had never wanted to marry me in the first place. Moreover, having just turned 29, I was nearing my expiration date, and it was his desire—nay, his right—to move on to greener, younger pastures. After being ordered not to cry, because it would upset him and how dare I upset him, I retreated to the bedroom to sort laundry. There, over the pile of dirty clothes, I let quiet sobs wrack my body as I sought solace in the regimented order of laundry. My life outside of the present task was chaos, but the mechanics of black pants…dark load, white top…white load made sense.
In spite of the time that has passed since that day, the routine of everyday and my self-imposed busy schedule served to keep me sufficiently distracted. Rather than face the emotional fallout of a marriage ending, I’ve said yes to every additional work project, cleaned my already-clean apartment, and rewatched more episodes of Outlander than I care to admit. My mantras have been some persuasion of “the show must go on” and “have a stiff upper lip.” I retreated into my pride and refused to let him or the world know how much I had been hurt.
One lingering task that I had put on hundreds of to-do lists, passing it from one to the next, promising I would do it one day, was sorting through the items in my bedroom closet. Sorting through one’s bedroom closet is already a less-than-pleasurable experience, but mine was guaranteed to be less so, considering the emotional landmines scattered throughout. But considering the general solitude of quarantine and the ample time I’d have to rage at the past, I forced myself to dive in.
My first discovery was a hanger I ordered for our wedding day, complete with his last name and our wedding date. The date we didn’t even get to celebrate, I thought, and laughed at the irony of ordering a keepsake that never mattered. However, the laugh turned into a clench of pain in my throat as I looked closer at the delicate wiring that spelled out Mrs. HisLastName and remembered why I never changed my name.
Less than two months into our marriage, before I’d had time to make it to the Social Security Administration office and begin the process of jumping through the archaic hoops to change my name, he threw a plate at me. I’d cooked dinner and was trying to clean up, but as his yelling got louder and more threatening, I knew I was taking too long. He wanted to relax, he bellowed, but the kitchen light was on and it was bothering him. I was frantically throwing leftovers into containers as quickly as I could, doing mental calculations of I could probably do this with a flashlight…maybe I’d have to hold the flashlight in my mouth though because this is taking both my hands…where is the damn flashlight anyway? when I heard a plate shatter. As I had turned back towards the stove, the plate had exploded on the wall behind my head, leaving shards of our once-wedding gift all over the kitchen floor. I grabbed the broom, and he flew into a deeper rage. Unable to get closer to me with my moat of broken ceramic, he resorted to punching the walls and trying to flip over the new dining room table. My hands shook, and I started to hyperventilate. I had my first panic attack that night, him standing over me, his face red, spittle flying from his lips, as he balled his fists and screamed at me to just shut the fuck up. I promptly shoved that stupid hanger in a garbage bag.
The rest of my trip down memory lane proceeded similarly, remembering the vortex of anxiety and cruelty I was trapped in for 11 months, before finally being blamed for his unhappiness because I’d had the audacity to age. I discovered that my closet was a cornucopia of bad memories, but I systematically threw each one into garbage bags and cathartically tossed them into the yawning maw of the dumpster, where they belonged.
That day in September permanently altered the trajectory of my life, but what I cried over then, I celebrate now. I am alone in the midst of this pandemic, but I’m not lonely. I’m free.
For Whom The Times Toll
It was my last day at work. I didn’t know that at the time. Blissfully ignorant of the coming quarantine—mass quarantine, no less—I thought this COVID-19 nonsense would pass as quickly as a bad dream, despite the fact that a pandemic had officially been declared. My boss had tried to warn me that our doors could soon be closed, but—ever the optimist—I believed that many more Americans would be afflicted with media-induced hysteria than would be afflicted with anything more viral than a primetime soundbite.
As death stretched its dark shroud over the country, taking tens of thousands with it, life sprung forth in the spring. Dogwoods and cherry trees filled with blossoms, and daffodils and azaleas flourished throughout my suburban neighborhood. The populous city of New York was experiencing the worst of the pandemic, but rural Virginia remained idyllic, largely untouched by the losses borne by families elsewhere but no less affected by loss of jobs. The wave of unemployment had submerged nearly as many Americans in financial crisis as had been sunk by the Great Depression.
The wheel of time continued to turn in other ways. Against the advice of medical professionals, protestors gathered to demand the re-opening of the economy, just as they had during an outbreak of Spanish influenza in 1918, nearly 100 years ago. Inundated with calls from people trapped at home with abusive partners and families—or trapped at home alone, with little to no social interaction—mental health hotline volunteers have reported a nearly 900% increase in the number of calls received, a testament to the toll the lockdown has taken on so many, even those who have abided by state mandates and CDC recommendations. What is good for our bodies, for once, is not necessarily good for our minds.
Receiving news of extension after extension of my furlough was enough to send my own mood spiraling downward some days. With employment a seemingly distant and implausible goal, I often felt depressed, not knowing when I’d be able to pull my own weight alongside my roommates again. This worry was to be more short-lived than I could have dreamed possible. As luck would have it, I responded to an ad circulated by a friend on Facebook and was offered a sales position at a nearby gardening company that had seen an unexpected surge in business as people had increasingly begun turning to the Earth for recreation and sustenance in the midst of our shared quarantine. After my interview, I took the liberty of strolling through the building, feeling the cool air on my skin and taking in the greenery that surrounded me. “There’s no place I’d rather be,” I told myself and tried to believe it. Whether I do remains to be seen.
Let’s Take A Walk
Sitting on my brown rug, criss-cross applesauce as preschool me would say, I would shake all my change onto the floor. Emptying my piggy bank was a typical occurrence, shaking every penny free and meticulously counting out at least four dollars–that’s all I would need for one more drink. I would carefully fill my Ziplock bag, being sure to write the amount enclosed with a red Sharpie marker.
The final step before my journey was sliding my blue Sony headphones across my unkempt hair. My headphones have been and always will act as my security blanket; acting as a line between me and the outside world. At that time Lil’ Peep “Fingers”was the only song I could really relate to as his scratchy voice proclaimed, “Everyone hates me/but nobody knows me/where did the time go/can somebody show me?”. My 20-minute walk to the corner store was underway.
I would walk on the right side of the road, kicking rocks and marveling at all the discarded trash: shoes, hair tracks, empty mini liquor bottles. When I finally made it, I sighed with relief. Between overcrowded counter-tops, unopened boxes of inventory, and cardboard displays of genital enhancement capsules was my golden ticket; a glossy, green, aluminum can. Forever chilled, there sat my Four Loko. Little did I know the high school favorite would serve as my own personal poison. Between the excuses and weight gain it was easy to sit in my sadness and alcoholism for days. weeks, and hell even years.
I was far from a solution but when family affection and recognition failed me: traveling, camping, clubbing, and house parties were my only ways to escape, mentally or otherwise. Those complete distractions were effective in avoiding my own major personal defects. Even if it was just for the time being the temporary relief made for some of the best moments of my late 20’s.
Following my 30th birthday came a geographic relocation and the widely unanticipated COVID-19 lock-down. My scenery and mental head-space changed drastically and nearly instantly yet shockingly for the better.
These days I lace up my black and white Adidas before I make my way upstairs. With a cup of coffee running through my veins I can hear the puppies prancing excitedly to meet me at the walk way. As I gently push my way through the puppy paparazzi I am met with sunshine.
When my typical grumpy morning attitude is met with a smile first thing it changes the outcome of my whole day and thankfully that has been happening for months. As my foot hits the top of the stairs I can hear the soft buzz of the Beach Boys playing, courtesy of my father-in-law and my eyelids quickly slide down enjoying music and the way it connects me to people even more than ever.
After my morning pleasantries and quick puppy dog hugs I slide my new red Sony headphones onto my crazy long brown hair. The one song I always start with is Black Eyed Peas“Be Nice”. Who can argue with will.i.am proclaiming, “I just want to be happy/I don’t want to/ feel nasty/ I’m just trying to turn a vibration around/so I can feel fantastic”?
It wasn’t easy to accept certain inevitable voids in my family life but it was more obvious than ever that I didn’t need alcohol to drown those feelings. It doesn’t hurt that I am constantly around a family, that mind you I am not even married into yet, that appreciates the hell out of me. I mean I’m surrounded by a sea of love and got a free invite to climb on the boat. My personal struggle is over.
I’ve realized through this pandemic that my mere existence can matter way more than I could have ever imagined and admittly have only come to believe with the assuruance of others. I guess what I am trying to say is that these times have spoken to me as clearly as Jackie DeShannon, “What the world needs now/ is love, sweet love/no not just for some/ but for everyone”. God knows I have received fucking love and understanding through my hard times past and present and for that I am forever thankful.
Quarantine. Pandemic. Words I did not believe would apply during my lifetime. I don’t think any of us did. I asked my mom and grandma if they had ever endured a pandemic before, but none of them have. It feels like I am partially sitting back in limbo’s parlor once again. I am not unfamiliar with being cast adrift, waiting and floating without specific direction. I had gone through this when I had moved from Virginia to California in the summer of August 2019. When I moved in with my family once more, I had no job, no friends nearby, and I was just starting out from the beginning.
For months I went to countless interviews hoping to be a nanny full time, working at odds and ends, here and there. A jack of all trades, but a master of none. I ended up working with a wonderful family part time. They were kind and supported me for many months, until for the first time, I found not a job, but an actual career—a career as a behavioral therapist for children on the autistic spectrum, like me. It gave me not only the chance of building up my financial stability, but also the chance to test and express all that I had learned and what I am, to make a meaningful difference.
I was working five days a week. I was taking walks on the pier by the beach. I was making friends among artists, farmer market vendors, families who I worked with as a nanny, and a writer’s group I joined. I made new discoveries of my sexuality and began to explore what made me feel loved as a woman.
Before that I was drifting and wondering when my day would come. When I would be employed? When I would have friends as close as the ones I had left behind in the east? When I would get my own place or to be able to finally pay rent towards my family who took me in without question?
Now here we are in quarantine. I only work with two people now, one face-to-face and the other through a screen. I go on walks in my neighborhood and photograph every flower that calls to me as a hobby. I wear a mask and gloves whenever I work and sanitize whenever I can. I bake, I create, and I wait—wait for the day when we can move forward again. I’m used to waiting. Hold on to hope and remember none of us are truly alone. Reach out.
Today was my last day of school. I had my usual end of the year checklist, same as every year: empty the desks, clean the boards, tag everything with masking tape labels of my room number and last name, and turn in my key for the summer.
I looked around my all-too-familiar classroom, everything tucked away for cleaning. Bulletin boards stripped bare of my students’ city projects and colorful, paper plate skulls. White boards gleaming after being freshly sprayed down, save for a few stubborn marks that refused to budge no matter how much I scrubbed. I felt oddly comforted by the dry erase marks refusing to leave—the tiniest, faded proof that this year happened, a remnant of my students doodling on the board a few minutes before the last dismissal.
It was just like every year; the hallway outside my room was dark and eerie, save for a few flickering emergency lights dimly illuminating the empty hallways, with the lockers all opened and emptied. I finished packing and locked up my room for the last time.
As I walked down the desolate halls, the corrosive odor of disinfectant spray permeated my nose even though I wore my mask—an oddly comforting smell nowadays, denoting security from an enemy none of us can see. I passed by the auditorium and saw hundreds of brown paper grocery bags labeled meticulously with the names of students, filled with objects students left behind in their now-emptied lockers.
It was just like every other year but everything was wrong.
There were no “goodbyes” or “good lucks.”
No yearbooks were signed.
No tearful hugs were given.
No sense of excitement and restlessness came with the warm approach of summer.
No watching my 8th graders dance the night away, celebrating their last days of middle school.
I miss that the most—the chance to watch my students looking all grown up as they take their first tentative steps into adulthood.
Just an abrupt end to our story.
The most unsatisfying cliffhanger.
I hand in my key at the front office, feeling the guilt, freedom, and grief all at once. I wonder if I am doing enough, handing out meals to low income families in our district once or twice a week. But every time I leave my home there is a risk, and I am torn between a desire to help my community and protect my family.
Today was my last day of school, and I do not know when we will be back. I can only hope that this is not “goodbye” but “see you soon”…whenever that may be.
COVID-19 — Counselor Confessions
We are citizens of the world, not just citizens of our local communities. Some people, as they’ve gone about their daily lives in their echo chambers, seem to forget that, but remembering not to take our global community for granted is important now more than ever. Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve felt a balance of emotions — angry, sad, overwhelmed, relaxed, and hopeful. As a counselor, I believe that there are no bad emotions, emotions are what make us human and connected to one another, and that expressing emotions is healthy and keeps us sane.
I’m angry about racism and xenophobia directed toward Asians, Asian Americans, and those who look like them. As an Asian American woman (Filipino American with Chinese and Spanish ancestry, to be precise), it frustrates me how ignorant and hateful some people can be, blaming Chinese and Asian people for the novel coronavirus, when any virus can pop up anywhere in the world and affect anyone. People of color, immigrants, and anyone from a non-dominant cultural group are all easy scapegoats. However, viruses don’t discriminate. This discrimination certainly didn’t happen toward white people in America when the swine flu originated in the U.S.
I’m angry at how some people have been ignorant enough to defy stay-at-home orders and prevent healthcare workers and other essential employees from getting to work. I’m angry that by not staying at home, people selfishly run the risk of spreading the virus to others, further overwhelming our healthcare system and prolonging quarantine—the very same quarantine that’s supposed to save lives in the first place.
I’m angry that there are certain people who are deemed “essential” and “non-essential”, and that many people have become furloughed or unemployed. It just goes to show how our society has placed value on certain individuals over others, and when people aren’t seen as valuable, it can take a toll on their self-esteem and mental health.
I’m sad that pandemics can bring out the worst in some people. It can reveal how self-centered they can be, especially when it comes to panic buying or people hoarding or stealing masks, gloves, or other personal protective equipment and reselling it at a higher price.
I’m sad that there are many scholars, athletes, and entertainers out there who have worked so hard and had their graduation ceremonies, games, concerts, and performances cancelled.
I’m sad that in my professional role as a middle school counselor, I can’t reach out to all of my students and counsel them. Even before schools closed in Virginia, there were kids coming to my office, telling me how anxious and afraid they were. And there were so many other students I would’ve wanted to establish relationships with and check on. I feel like this is a time when students need me the most but I can’t be there for them effectively. As a result, this makes me feel inadequate, underutilized, and undervalued.
I’m sad that there are healthcare workers who are overwhelmed by the numbers and severity of COVID-19 cases and are afraid of bringing the virus home to their loved ones.
I’m sad that people are sick or dying and can’t be with their loved ones.
I’m overwhelmed by Western societal pressures to be “busy” or “productive” and how it can make people feel guilty for not feeling like they are either.
I’m overwhelmed with all of the emotions I feel because I am a highly sensitive empath. But yet it is these same emotions that inspire me and are highly cathartic for me to express. My emotional sensitivity is my strength, helping me connect to others.
I’m relaxed because I am also an introvert who thrives from solitude and quiet contemplation and I enjoy being alone with my thoughts. It’s also been wonderful getting to spend time with my husband, dogs, and cat. The world itself can be overwhelming, and I’m using this time to gather my energy and my emotions and turn my ideas into creativity. I’ve enjoyed having more free time to do fun things like binge watch TV, dance, practice boxing, learn cool things from professional development webinars, sing, play piano, read, write, and come up with culinary creations.
But in spite of it all, I’m hopeful that this will be an unforgettable experience that we can all learn from to improve ourselves and society. There are many systemic issues that we can solve, and I am hopeful that we have the innovative tools to do it. We are citizens of the world, not just citizens of our local communities and we need to continue to support and empathize with one another during our times of need.
–Christine Marie Q. Turner
For more information about me or for some recommended mental health resources, please visit my website.