A ski patroller navigates the end of one relationship, the beginning of another, and the friendships affected by them- then quarantine hits.

Author | AJ Baeseman

This is a story about newfound love, creative expression, heartbreak and anxiety. A world turned on its head where closeness brings pain and distance teaches new ways to express love. This is a story of a man trapped, but more free than ever before. Love, in the time of Covid.

As I write this, I sit at my kitchen table making eye contact with our resident moose through the window of a rustic log cabin. I never expected that this haven in the mountains of Colorado could turn into a prison. Yet here I am, quarantined. We all are. This is our new reality: trading isolation for the hope of slowing down a global pandemic. This virus has us all hiding- simultaneously disconnected from everyone but also closer than ever. These are hard times, but adversity encourages adaptation. Some people find enginuity and positivity.  Others find a darker side of their nature. I have found joy in new solutions but also crippling anxiety from the ways Covid-19 has changed my world.

Physical touch has always been one of the main tools I use to express intimacy. A hug to say thank you for a favor or to greet an old friend.  A kiss to express my sheer joy at another love letter, gift of beer, or repaired climbing shoe (my girlfriend rocks). With quarantine, I’ve been forced to explore new ways to express myself.

My girlfriend is sort of the matriarch of her family. She recently helped guide her mother through a battle with cancer, and helps take care of her and her sister during this pandemic. This battle has left her mother with a compromised immune system. At first, we told ourselves that if we just hung out with each other and limited other interactions, we wouldn’t risk transmitting or catching the disease. We fooled ourselves for a while, which was nice, but since I work at the fire department and dispatch for an ambulance service, the exposure to outside risks was too great. The anxiety sat like a lump in my throat. I was constantly dreading the possibility that I could potentially be an asymptomatic carrier.  A carrier who could transmit the virus without knowing, someone who could accidentally kill the mother of the person I care about most right now. With a whole love language ripped away from me, I had to start thinking of different ways to express how I feel.

I began writing letters and poems again, a talent that I had forgotten about. It felt fantastic to be in touch with my creative and expressive side that had been fully neglected before quarantine. Now I have to be creative and think of methods to express my feelings. Remembering what her favorite brewery is, or going and dropping off pastries from her favorite bakery helps me bring a smile to her face. I go through my library and we trade books to read. Before I knew it, I had developed ways to express myself differently. It has made us stronger and helped me, as I’ve sarcastically put it, ”use my words.” This has been a positive aspect of the quarantine, and by far the most important.

About one hundred feet away from my cabin, my friends, skiing partners and fellow ski patrollers occupy another almost identical cabin. (Well theirs is a little roomier but that is beside the point and subject to much debate). We have all been quarantined together for quite some time—pretty much an ideal situation. I have people to talk to and recreate in the backyard with. These are people I’ve confided in, told confessions of skiing with bombs while my ski boots were in walk mode, times I fell getting off the lift in uniform (beer fine), and all the woes of my previous relationship. Whether it was a shoulder to cry on or an extra beer, they’ve been there for me.

While the quarantine brings out the best in some, that hasn’t always been the case. Currently, my neighbor, a person I’ve considered a friend, is seeing my ex. Let's just say things did not end well. At all. While I am alright with that, I’ve been forced to watch this unfold from my window day in and day out. The same window that brought me joy from seeing a moose or a heron is now a television that brings only anxiety. Crippling anxiety. In my life, I have been lucky enough to only have minor brushes with it; One panic attack over the course of my 26 years. I lead most days with a happy go lucky smile and confidence in my ability to solve any problem thrown my way.  However, this pandemic has shown me a type of anxiety that I haven’t experienced before. A deep and troubling feeling, a tightness in my chest that keeps me from eating or sleeping. I lay awake at night, my mind in an endless loop of negativity. Scenarios play out in my head, what I will say, how I will act, my blood boils, I talk myself down again.

At first, I didn’t know if they were together or not. I had my suspicions. When I mustered up the courage to ask, my friend assured me that they weren’t seeing each other. I asked him, man to man, to let me know if things changed so I could accept the fact and move on. Still, a sneaking suspicion arose. While I was at his house, he would go into the bathroom to take phone calls. He would make excuses for not being able to hang out and her car would show up. The anxiety I had been experiencing about it is unlike anything before, totally out of character with my identity, a product of a house arrest. Are they seeing each other? Are they not? Why won’t he tell me? I was more worried about not knowing than the actual truth.

I began feeling guilty for having these thoughts at the forefront of my mind until I realized something; I didn’t feel this way because I was jealous, or still hung up on my ex. I felt this way because I feared the loss of a friend. Without trust and honesty, I’m unable to maintain any kind of relationship.

Eventually, my ex girlfriend’s car began staying overnight outside our cabins. I waited for my friend to just come clean, so I wasn’t left guessing. It broke my heart to see that car there for a week straight. Trapped inside my cabin on quarantine, every morning I woke up to see it outside. I would come home from work, it would be there. Go to the bathroom, still there. I would pace, like a rat in a cage, and try to get my mind off of it. The car served as a constant reminder of his dishonesty. Normally, I could brush something like that off and try and forgive, let go. But cabin fever had me on edge, a shell of who I used to be, anxiety behind the wheel of my life. It has consumed me. Again, I confronted him and asked. He said that he didn’t want to tell me because it was “awkward.” I sat in disbelief. It was a sad day to learn a thing like that about someone so close.

I’ve always considered the way that I react to things to be a statement about my character. I do my best to feel empathy and to avoid being petty. I’m still trying to figure out how to react. When this is over, I want to look at myself in the mirror and not only be okay with who I am, but proud. I want to forgive and move back to normalcy. Before this pandemic, I would escape a situation that could bring me anxiety or discomfort. In quarantine, I am forced to confront it. Her car is still there.

If there is anything that I have learned in this quarantine, it’s that people show who they really are and what they really value. So go out of your way to check in on a friend, draw them a picture, or send them something uplifting. Use your creativity to make this situation better. I hope to come out of this quarantine stronger for it: with new skills, better friends and the increased knowledge of who people really are and who I am. I hope to meet a better version of everyone when this is over.

We are strong. We will endure.

Published May 12th 2020

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