As the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve I kissed my honey and thought about the year ahead. I danced around on the rooftop with my pals clinking glasses and arrogantly challenging a new decade, knowing that with this forcefield of love we could handle anything. Little did I know that within 3 months I would have to cancel my wedding and be out of a job that I loved. And with the loss, the grief came rolling in like thunder.
Step 1: Shock and Denial
As my fiancé Kaitlin and I watched the ever changing news leading up to our March 16th nuptials we made a few promises. We would listen to the governor and other local officials and communicate with the venue owner daily to educate our decision. That decision was quickly made for us as the executive order came down to limit social gatherings. We bargained with each other everyday. “Ok, we can do this,” we would tell ourselves. “Let’s shave off this part we don’t really need. Let’s pivot to this idea.” We became excellent problem solvers and were able to talk ourselves into anything.
As we whittled away piece-by-piece at our dreamy day we realized it just wasn’t the right time. The pandemic forced our hand and we were unwilling to compromise a celebration with a full page of edits. Looking back a month later, cancelling a wedding feels like small potatoes.
After hopping on the ‘rona’ rollercoaster, I woke each day and put on my armor. I continued to work and focused my efforts and energy there. As the days wore on, the heaviness and fear began to show in each other’s eyes. The weight of the impending doom felt unbearable. We were solving problems minute-by-minute as things were changing on the fly. We sacrificed our mental welfare each day to justify the means. And just like that a week after Kaitlin and I cancelled our wedding, my beloved restaurant group was shuttered.
We poured our efforts into temporarily closing our doors with honor. The echoes of the guests’ laughter, the symphony of clinking glassware, the crackling of the wood as it was loaded into the oven, and the camaraderie of a team we worked so hard to build room haunted me as I entered into the silence of what was one a full dining room. It was a hollow feeling inside to be closing a space that brought so much value and happiness to so many, including me, daily. What would I do without the accountability and reliability of this job? How would I fill myself up? I had more questions than answers for the first time in years. Uneasiness and dread began to set in.
Step 2: Anger and Depression
As the headlines became more dire and the circus in D.C. marched on, I began to sink deep within myself. The signs had been ignored. I was infuriated with the national leadership, blatant classism and racism, and dismissal of reason and science. How could this be our current reality?
I hurt for my bosses who were up against a near insurmountable amount of challenges. I wept for children with hungry bellies who were safer at school than at home. I ached for laughter, hugs, and the socialization I had become accustomed to. All served as my daily fuel. I sat with these feelings day in and day out and struggled with where to put them. My productivity lessened, my appetite grew, my sleep increased, and my laughter dwindled.
Each day I awoke to an unwelcome feeling of hopelessness. I muscled through deep valleys and a few high peaks each day. As I focused my sights outward I noticed spring was starting to show off. I put on my sneakers and went on a few long walks with Kaitlin. Through itchy and burning eyes and labored breath (thanks pollen and anxiety) we walked. Step-by-step, I let the shame, guilt, and fear go.
Step 3: Release and Honor
Kaitlin has challenged me in the best ways since meeting nearly 10 years ago. She pushes me out of my comfort zone, often with me kicking and screaming. And being in quarantine hasn’t been different. I have found a sweet and sweaty release in our daily workouts, when in the past I used to argue I didn’t have the time for it. I would often say that there were too many mental and physical demands at work. I wasn’t great at showing up for myself. With an abundance of time and zero excuses, I now slap on on my tight bicycle shorts and began a new fitness journey.
At first it was painful, and I felt embarrassed. How did a former three-sport athlete turn into a beer guzzling, fluffy nearly 30-something adult? Glennon Doyle and Kaitlin Ryan both say I can do hard things. I cursed them both after each squat or push up. My favorite activity had become talking shit to the virtual instructor. As time went on I felt lighter, both physically and mentally. I felt stress and anxiety turn back into peace and confidence.
To honor the part of my job that brings it all together, I began to experiment in the kitchen. I had a few staple dishes, but I began to push myself to think outside of the box. A few dishes I made that blew us away included: homemade tzatziki with lamb meatballs, bruised kale with salmon and spicy white wine vinaigrette, coconut curry with covington sweet potatoes and burnt honey, and bison sliders with hand cut sweet potato fries! Together, Kaitlin and I mastered the egg “toasty” as we lovingly coined it. That was part of our morning ritual, glorified shit on a shingle!
I began to find comfort in our new routine. A good night’s sleep, three planned meals a day, exercise and release, music that matched our mood, FaceTime game night with family and friends, and a reasonable amount of imbibing. Who wants a hangover during quarantine when each day feels like a Grade A hangover?
I look forward to my bi-weekly trip to Weaver Street Market. Since March 1st, I haven’t visited another grocery store or purveyor. Kaitlin laughs because I do inventory, have set pars for certain items, and spend days on my lists. Old work habits die hard I guess? Weaver Street Market has been ahead of the curve with safety measures and works tirelessly to pivot to a sustainable business model. I feel as “safe” as possible shopping there. With my mask on, I always jokingly say to the cashier, “I’m smiling but you can’t tell.”
I now know what it means to be a helicopter mom as I smother my plant babies with love. I speak to them daily, fight everything inside myself not to overwater, prune their dying leaves, and try to listen to their needs. The green in our space makes me feel calm. I’m proud of their growth and see that as an extension of what’s to come. I have brought a lot of plants to the brink of death and back. I have found when I am most balanced so are they.
Step 4: Return to Love
As Leslie Jordan brilliantly said when we needed it most, “Well shit, what y’all doing?” Seriously, what is everyone doing to survive the quarantine?
My sense of humor is starting to return, but I’m still deep in my mental trenches. Though Kaitlin threw some exercise mustard gas down there weeks ago, I haven’t climbed out fully. I’m finding ways to be gentle with myself. Quieting the voices that demand productivity, motivate guilt, and send me on a shame spiral. However small, I must achieve something everyday. I know now this is important.
I have kept a pulse on the news but have made a concerted effort to distance myself. At this point it’s self-preservation for my fragile psyche. Each day I discover a landmine, an opportunity for a full on meltdown. Just ask Kaitlin about the night I served corn two ways (a crumbled up smattering of the broken chips found at the bottom of the bag and inedible quesadillas). There have been several breaking points during my stay-at-home. But, as the days press on and I lean into the unknown, I realize there’s also a lot of good.
I feel a deepened appreciation for my relationships. The folks that have let me lean on them extra hard. Though the legal part of my wedding didn’t happen, I feel married. Kaitlin and I, along with other couples, have been sent to the best relationship boot camp of all time. Each squabble has ended in laughter. We are like the plants I love so much: evergreen. Our relationship and commitment are renewed each day. Problems are still being solved, but I feel like I can finally take a deep breath and get to work. My reset button was pushed without my consent, but I’m ok with it.
I’ll never have time like this again in my life. School kids will learn about the great shuttering of 2020. The birds chirp louder, the sun shines brighter, the flowers have bloomed in colors I had never noticed before, the pollutants have slightly dissipated, and we all slowed the fuck down.
I’m conflicted at times about what to do next. There’s a lot of messaging about staying home and doing our part from the couch, but that doesn’t seem right for me. I’m a doer, damnit. How do I support others by staying safe? I have yet to solve any of my exenstital questions, but I do know I am returning to love, which is a place I prefer to be. I’m taking one day at a time as I navigate my new normal.
I am heartened by the renaissance that will inevitably happen as a result of quarantine. The arts that are quickly drained of funding are proving essential during this time. Musicians, artists, writers, and creatives have some incredible content to work off of, and so do we as students of the world. What can we do to help improve and sustain our landscape? My sincere hope is that though we may have less to come back to, we recognize the value and importance of the relationships and environments we create. My heart is with you during this time and I’m sending all the good vibes your way! I can’t wait to serve you and see your smiling faces in the future.