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Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus

I asked my husband for a divorce 2 weeks before our city was declared a state of emergency. Now we're on lockdown together.

According to Holmes and Rahe, divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, second only to the death of a spouse or child. In the midst of my own, I agree. However, what their Social Readjustment Rating Scale failed to account for was said divorce occurring during a global pandemic.

I asked my husband Holden for a divorce on March 2. The decision, though gut-wrenching, was necessary to preserve our friendship. We still cared for each other deeply and thought we could finish out the apartment lease by living together until July. I worked from home and he had a traditional 9-to-5 job, which gave us plenty of space and time to ourselves.

Less than two weeks later, the mayor of Dallas declared a state of emergency because of COVID-19 and by March 24, we were directed to shelter-in-place. My first thought when the order took effect was that the universe was playing a cruel joke on me. Was this punishment for the hubris I’d exhibited by thinking we could have an “easy” divorce?

Holden couldn’t go into the office and worked remotely. I became acutely aware that our loft had no doors and its 12-foot ceilings carried sound too well. I heard everything from the clicking of his computer mouse to phone conversations with his family about our divorce. When my mother-in-law called to see how he was doing, her cries echoed across the living room through the speaker. She said she loved me and is thinking about both of us. I’ve always told Holden he inherited his kind heart from her.

Music has always given me comfort in times like these. I often sit at the piano and express feelings through lyrics. Holden used to enjoy my singing, but it’s become a disruption to his workflow in this new normal. Between competing Spotify playlists and overlapping conference calls, I can’t hear my own thoughts.

The beautiful open space where we’d built a home together suddenly felt like a sort of prison.

Limbo. Purgatory.

There was no way we’d be able to live under the same roof and preserve our sanity. After a hurried online search, I signed an electronic lease for an apartment without stepping foot onto the property. It’s less than five miles away from our current space, and I’m hopeful the proximity will make the transition easier. The move-in date is April 21, leaving us less than a month to be safe-at-home.

Together.

My parents expressed disappointment over not being able to go furniture shopping with me for the new place. I miss being able to see them in person. Luckily, I’d met them for coffee shortly before the state of emergency declaration. I’d told them about the divorce the week prior, and they wanted to see how I was handling everything. We talked about how to break the news to my brother, who had grown close to Holden over the past 10 years. My plan was to invite him and my sister-in-law out for drinks and explain what was happening. Then all of the city’s bars and restaurants closed. I ended up telling him over a hurried phone call.

The social isolation is wearing on me. It’s surprising. As an introvert, I typically prefer my own company. But now, weeks into the lockdown, nothing sounds more appealing than happy hour or a girls night out.

Being alone with my thoughts right now is a recipe for disaster.

Showers have become my therapy. In the bathroom with water running and music blaring, I can break down in solitude. “You have people you can talk to,” Holden tells me, but it feels selfish to burden anyone with my relationship struggles when the world is on fire. “You can talk to me,” he adds. His willingness to be my shoulder to cry on is devastatingly kind. How unfair for me to expect commiseration from the person whose heart I broke.

With nothing but time together in our loft, we look around at what we’ll need to take into our new lives. His arcade machine, my piano. I move my clothes out of our closet and into the guest bathroom. The office becomes my bedroom. Every morning, I remove a pillow and comforter from the sofa and hide them out of view for work-related ZOOM video conferences.

We’ve stopped ordering takeout to save money, preparing ourselves for single incomes and adjusting the budget after Holden’s salary was cut in response to the crisis. Cooking dinner becomes an opportunity to teach him skills he’ll need when he’s on his own, such as how to boil water for macaroni and cheese. In turn, he notes the amount of Nordstrom packages delivered over the past few months and gently reminds me that my online shopping habits may not be sustainable after we part.

He helps me pack. One by one, we wrap each piece of our fine dinnerware carefully in paper. We received the set as a wedding gift, and I can count the number of times we used it on my hands. Why do we always save these things for a “special” occasion?

Our two dogs love having us both home 24/7, but seem confused by the large cardboard boxes everywhere. When I move out, I will take Daisy and Zeus will stay with Holden. We agree to get together for family dinners after all of this, so the pups can visit with each other.

The news is too depressing to watch. The growing Coronavirus cases and death counts add an unbearable heaviness. As a necessary break from reality, Holden and I catch up on all of the television shows we started as a couple: Modern Family, The Office, Silicon Valley. I order my own Playstation 4 so we can play online together from separate rooms. One of the things he loves most about me is my shared interest in superhero movies and video games. I remind him this doesn’t have to change. He’ll always have a standing date for the opening night of Marvel’s next blockbuster.

Trying to navigate the legal process of divorce while confined to an apartment is a challenge. We use an online service to generate the paperwork, and I e-file the petition. Conveniently, there’s an attorney in our building who notarizes Holden’s signature on the waiver of service. After stamping the document, he mentions how surprising it is to see us so cordial with each other. “We’re still best friends,” Holden says nervously, as if saying so will jinx the possibility.

Walking downstairs together from the attorney’s office feels oddly familiar. It’s like we’re on our way home from dropping boxes in the recycling room. Back at the apartment, we wash our hands diligently, just in case. I go to Holden and hug him tightly. Signing the paperwork couldn’t have been easy. I’m proud of the strength he’s mustered these past few weeks.

I love him dearly.

I am grateful to have a friend for what feels like the end of the world.

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