Walking down Rue du Temple in Paris, heading home, I suddenly noticed Vincent was no longer beside me. This man I had been dating for several weeks, and for whom I was rapidly falling, had stopped in the middle of the street. I turned back to him as he said, “Adam, who am I to you?” I walked toward him and my eyes asked him to clarify.
He was trying to force a casualness, an air of “just looking for information” that was painfully adorable in its inefficacy. He was shaking from the inside, but continued, “At your opening night, someone asked me who I was, and I didn’t know what was acceptable to say.”
He generally speaks to me in slightly slower-than-natural French, knowing my fluency has not yet arrived, but here he was being too careful, annunciating so clearly to be sure I heard the words, that my heart nearly burst. “Je suis ton mec? Ou non?”
I took his face in my hands and replied, my French vocabulary undoubtedly strong enough to say, “Yes. You are my boyfriend. We are a couple.” He tossed his head trying to hide his beaming eyes and said, “Fine. Cool. I just wanted to know,” and I laughed, destroying his faux apathy, and we kissed, sweetly and deeply, in the middle of the street.
Two days later, the rumors about the potential lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic swirled and we had a decision to make. France was about to shut down, and everyone knew that would mean a ban on leaving the house except for essential errands and medical needs. The choice was clear: Spend an indefinite amount of time apart, not seeing or touching or kissing or sleeping together, or move in to his place and spend 24 hours of every day together.
I would love to adopt some of his in-the-street casualness and claim I spent hours weighing my options, but that would be no more truthful than his attempts at hiding on that night on Rue du Temple. We decided to dive, head first, into not only co-habitating after knowing each other for less than two months, but we would do so incubated in his studio apartment, 24/7, without the option to leave. It was a simple decision for each of us, both romantic and insane.
We decided to dive, head first, into not only co-habitating after knowing each other for less than two months, but we would do so incubated in his studio apartment, 24/7, without the option to leave. It was a simple decision for each of us, both romantic and insane.
Now, as we head into our third week of confinement, I am more in love with him than when I brought my suitcases here. I also think I might be losing my mind.
Let it be said, first and very importantly, that we are among the lucky ones ― the privileged. I know where I will live for at least the next several weeks. We have enough food, clothing, etc. to get by with very little struggle. I am not ill. For now, I am not broke. I do not have children to feed or school, a sick relative, looming debt, or an overcrowded home. I am not dying and neither is he. Additionally, I am a nomad and an artist and I have lived on very little many times, so I am not in crisis. My “problems” are much, much easier than the struggles many are facing.
Yet even so, the fear generated or set off via these strange, new, and unchosen circumstances of being stuck in one place takes over sometimes, suddenly and without warning.
In normal life, in a normal relationship, we have breaks, jobs, other social interactions, and extended hours apart. We kiss goodbye in the morning and go about our separate lives, able to look forward to seeing each other later or the next day. He is not the focus of all of my time, constantly present in my space, or the outlet and/or target of everything I feel throughout a day.
But here, together, through proximity and the constant nature thereof, he is now by action, word, imagination, or none of the above, involved in everything I think and feel. Adding to that, we are both non-monogamous persons who have necessarily become the only physical expression for the sexuality of the other. There is nobody else here, and that singularity of contact can threaten what would otherwise and usually be a space of kindness, safety and affection.
I am learning too much about myself, too fast. Each of my coping mechanisms are either not available or have been rendered ineffective. Unconfined, I spend hours by myself, able to work through my nonsense with the objectivity of time to realize that I am the source of the majority of my problems. I work to feel useful and needed. I walk, fuck, go to the gym or a gallery, order food, nap, write or sing to fill my time with things other than my own thoughts. I get a haircut to feel cute, meditate by the river to feel serene, have dinner with a friend to feel included and heard, go dancing to feel music and company and bodies and alive. Here I am without distraction or solitude, stripped of those tools.
What is lovely (and terrifying) is that almost all of the time, I am so happy Vincent is here, and that we are together through this ... Yet there are moments when it does exactly the opposite.
What is lovely (and terrifying) is that almost all of the time, I am so happy Vincent is here, and that we are together through this. He is funny and smart and kind and really, really good company. One afternoon, we had a 45-minute dance party with the windows flung open and not a care who saw or heard. When I learned of a friend’s passing, he held me while I cried. In isolation, the relief of conversation and contact, love and tenderness, laughter and sex, touch and intellectual stimulation is largely saving my sanity.
Yet there are moments when it does exactly the opposite. This seclusion ― this co-habitation, this feeling of uselessness, this lack of knowing when this will end, this sameness ― has poked and prodded and kicked and punched every single one of my insecurities. In normal times, couples learn each other’s triggers one at a time. Here, I am a fuse box with exposed wiring and he is a blindfolded operator with no idea why a word or a gesture flicked a switch, sending sparks flying everywhere, nearly burning it all to the ground.
The lessons I need to learn are, of course, staring me in the face with a savage clarity. I use sex to validate myself to a degree that is unsustainable. I have deeply buried fears of abandonment and a permanently ingrained assuredness that it will be discovered that I am unlovable. I have not dealt with the violence of my past, the pains of growing up closeted, or the terror rumbling under my every move. It is a beautiful and unexpected gift that this isolation has given me a microscopic view of my soul and psyche. I also feel as though I have lost control and this man is trapped here with me and all my surprises, all while I am discovering I do not know myself well enough to stop myself, let alone warn him.
He is less full of surprises, but in this pressure cooker he reveals extremes of things I already knew or suspected. There are times his words are directed at me but his eyes are elsewhere, still fighting with and hurt by an ex. His past is here, crowding us in this small apartment, and occasionally accusing me of a cruelty I did not exact or of being on the verge abandoning him. When he is hurt, even if unintentionally, his pain fires back a verbal and emotional slingshot so fast and accurate that the sting is too great for me to realize the anguish behind the anger.
He also has a capacity to love that is overwhelming and incomprehensible, so much so that I find myself physically shaking, baffled by this man and the depths of his emotion. All of this, his wounds and mine and both of our hearts, expose themselves here in confinement, where we are unable to walk away from each other or ourselves.
It is scary, and beautiful, and each time we scurry to the extremes of our individual irrationality, we have learned to draw the other back with love.
It is scary, and beautiful, and each time we scurry to the extremes of our individual irrationality, we have learned to draw the other back with love. “On s’aime, Adam. Oui?” he will ask me, and each time he does I find a new faith that we are where we are supposed to be, and he is who I am meant to love in this strange and unfamiliar time.
We combat these fears with kindness, with gestures of care, with sex, with affection. So far, it is working, but none of our past experiences have taught us how to manage or respond under these conditions, and that frightens us both. I am terrified he will see all these parts of me and decide the cumulative total is no longer beautiful. He is convinced that when the doors are flung open, his nomadic artist, trapped here by law and circumstance, will fly away.
I understand his fear. We are both more than willing to do this, to remain locked in together for our own safety and for the health of the community around us, but we both want this isolation to end. After this strange time, when our relationship and our love has been contained and confined here, will we know how to go back to normal? Who and how will we be, individually and to each other, when we reenter the world?
The metaphor is there, the parallel between us and the world at large. Only time will tell if we, societally and individually, will come out of this more whole, or fractured by the nonsense of our own, whirring minds and our past, misguided and destructive habits. Each announcement of a possible extension both threatens our sanity and provides a more prolonged opportunity to grow and learn.
If we can find a way to put compassion before fear, to speak the truth rather than repeat the imagined, and to accept love as it is offered in the present reality, maybe we will emerge better. Maybe we will learn to treat each other and our environment with love and respect, and to be part of the fabric of humanness in a way that is more kind and less afraid. Maybe I will become a better man, a better friend, a better lover, a better person. That is, of course, if I do not first lose my mind.
Adam Fitzgerald is a writer and director, as well as a Press Representative for the LGBTQI Refugee Coalition of East Africa and other human rights activists and organizations. For more from Adam, follow him on Twitter at @directorfitz and visit his website, www.fitzmedia.info.
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