It’s the Sunday morning before Mayor de Blasio orders all the restaurants in NYC to close. I wake up and check my phone. I’m groggy from a late night of bartending, and it takes me a few moments to register the text my boyfriend, A, has sent me. Woke up with a high fever. You should consider canceling your plans and self-isolating.
My heart drops. OK. Breathe, I tell myself to control the sudden spike of anxiety. I inform my roommate of the situation. I cancel my dates for the week. I google symptoms of COVID-19 and match them with what A is texting me: fever, fatigue, sore throat. The only relief is the lack of respiratory issues. A’s messages begin to peter out — and then I start hearing from his wife.
Getting texts from her isn’t abnormal. I met B a few weeks after I started dating A. The meeting consisted of little fanfare: a small chat before A and I left for dinner and then us all reconvening at a party later that night, where I met B’s boyfriend. Becoming friends came easy because we have a shocking amount of similarities.
Now, there’s a group chat with just the three of us. We share memes. I send her photos of him passed out at 10 p.m. in my bed. We go out to dinner and spend nights on the couch and cute mornings sharing coffee together. She and I will get pedicures, talk sh*t, share our anxieties, and, yes, complain about A’s annoyingly strange habits.
We operate in this fluid cell of communication, regular STD testing, and combined Google calendars, all with the idea that our love can be shared with more than one person — and, often, with each other. There is no jealousy, no aggression, no insecurity to play upon. The first time B and I were alone together, she gave me a note of reassurance.
“I really like you for him,” she said. “He always comes back so happy after seeing you.”
That, combined with the way she jumped up and down with excitement when A and I made things official, solidified that I was welcoming the right folks into my life — that this was something I didn’t even know I wanted.
B’s texts to me now are composed of status updates. Photos of A lying sideways, contemplating his entire existence, using the cat as a pillow, or of him asleep on the couch, mouth agape. I’m spouting all the collective wisdom of my black and Latinx ancestors before me.
Is he under a blanket? He has to sweat out his fever! Vicks doesn’t work like it used to — do you guys have peppermint oil? Tea with honey is good for his sore throat.
It’s all I can do, because I’m stuck at home. I’m only in the next neighborhood. Five stops and 15 minutes of travel could take me there. But I don’t move. Even though being by his side feels necessary, this virus has us bound to the barest of necessities. I guess that’s why they say love makes you dumb.
I call A once after some silence and again after another surge of anxiety (this time concerning a false claim about ibuprofen and COVID-19). B answers the phone in a soft voice.
“Gabby? Hey, he’s sleeping. I’ll have him call you when he wakes up?” My voice is small when I say “OK.” Mostly, I think about how I wish I could be there.
Monday afternoon, after a video consultation with his doctor, A is diagnosed with strep throat. He’s miserable, but we all breathe a sigh of relief. Now we must adjust to isolation as a collective but in separate homes.
The group chat gets lit: full of memes, pandemic information, and angst at the separation. Individually, as the days continue, we’re constantly checking in on each other: How do you feel? Physically? Mentally? A is neurotypical, and B and I are not. On the side, we talk about managing our mental health the best we can.
I spend a lot of time alone in my bedroom.
This is where I start to feel the downside of the “solo” in my solo-polyamory. I am essentially my own primary partner. I hold dear my autonomy and independence. And just because I am solo does not mean I am alone. However, self-isolation, it turns out, makes it pretty easy to feel that way.
I mention my loneliness, and the group starts to get more creative. B jokingly reminds me that she can offer A the bedroom if he and I need alone time. A and I awkwardly navigate phone sex. We share the sexy videos keeping us sustained during separation.
We set up FaceTime to mimic our times on the couch: quietly doing nothing together. B’s boyfriend sends me a video of A juggling onions. We lament being away from our respective partners. On a more desperate day, the three of us get together on Houseparty and play Quick Draw. A writer versus two art school grads. It does not end well for me.
But as we laugh at my terrible attempt to draw a rowboat, for a moment, I forget about the disease lurking in the streets. I remember that my life will find balance again. I’ll be able to go on dates, pour drinks, and even choose solitude if I want it.
I think, though, the best part will be returning to a place that feels like home: an apartment somewhere in Brooklyn, with a fluffy, bratty cat and two folks I’m so happy to have met.
Gabrielle Smith is a Brooklyn-based poet and writer. She writes about love/sex, mental illness, and intersectionality. You can keep up with her on Twitter and Instagram.