It wasn’t the kind of romantic love that will cause a baby boom in early 2021. Nor was it the cranky love of too much time with your mate of 30 years. It was accidental-quarantine-housemate love, and I’ll bet there will be many stories like this.
Paulette Perhach, a professional journalist/ blogger/ writing coach, needed a place to hole up to finish her novel. After looking at many adorable pricey cottages in the woods or glass houses overlooking the Pacific Ocean, she asked if I knew of anything more modest and I offered her my guest room for a month or two at what an airbnb might cost for a week. I barely knew her. Her 15 minutes of fame came from writing an article, A Story of a Fuck Off Fund, that went viral and sent her writing career over to the topic of money. We met when she interviewed me for an article she was pitching to the NYTimes. But she was smart, funny, clear about her needs and it felt right.
Like most solitary women in their 70s, my patterns are deeply grooved into my days and my quirks cherished like an old lap dog. I made it clear to Paulette that she had her 144 square foot room, complete with mini fridge, hot plate, microwave and hot pot, plus the guest bathroom. The rest was mine. For emphasis I pointed around the living room, dining area and kitchen saying, “Mine, mine, mine.” I gave her kitchen privileges for one meal a day, explaining my strange attachments to certain plates, cups and utensils so Don’t Use Them.
She said, “My grandma, what big boundaries you have!”
She moved in February 5. Within weeks we were hunkered down together in Covid quarantine, keeping a safe perimeter of the house. She loves to cook so we decided to share dinners and the costs. She cooked, I cleaned. She also took on other chores: vacuuming, taking out the compost and getting the garbage to the curb. She shopped for food, and washed and sprayed everything that came in the door. “I can’t be the one to kill Vicki Robin” she joked when I checked up on her hygiene strategies.
She has a book and a business teaching writing. Her coaching calendar is full because she’s good and she loves supporting people making headway on their writing projects. Just the vibe of focused creativity rubbed off on me. She did her half hour of journalling in the morning – and i did too. The first day I started the practice, I got up, showered, dressed as if going to work and showed up to the page just as she closed her door to do the same. I felt crisp and intentional and sure of myself. She was like a trainer, pacing me just by doing her exercises. She was committed to writing 1000 words a day on her novel. I tagged on to that as well, not the number of words but the momentum and commitment to a project. Blog posts started to scroll off my fingers. I mentioned having some ideas I wanted to get out and she told me to do Facebook Live. Because we were aloft together in creativity land, I did – and kept it going at 5:05 every day for 2 weeks. She turned her room into a zoom studio with a rolling clothing rack and a sheet and hosted groups. One included some women I know from the financial independence movement. She called it Crappy Hour. They drank wine and talked for hours and I was invited in.
I admired her commitment to her craft, to her business, to creative writing, to herself. I traveled in the slip stream of her energy – and I think she was quietly watching and listening to my choices and keeping some for herself.
After dinner many nights we played Scrabble. Eventually, we were checking in when something bad or good happened – celebrating wins, commiserating when something actually crappy happened.
Through all this – the meals, the chores, the mutual respect and help, the project inspiration, the encouragement – a feeling filled my solitary home, like an updraft or a warm wind. It felt like the kind of love I’ve always shared with my cats – a set of habits and patterns that knit our lives together. Does my cat love me – I don’t think so. But we are always close and have a Siamese cat call and response throughout the day, making sure the other is nearby. The same with Paulette – it wasn’t an official “relationship” but it felt like love, this weaving together.
Then all of a sudden Paulette’s sister asked her to look after her son while she traveled for work and whoosh, within days she was packed up and gone. I’ve felt like an empty-nester every since.
In fact, she ruined my patterned private life. Thanks a lot, Paulette. I’ve tasted a kind of happy (sometimes crappy) coexistence with a good, funny, interesting and inspiring person who only needs me to be that as well. No big proclamations. Mutual consideration. Each doing those little kindnesses that lighten the other’s load.
Not only do I now have a taste for companionship again, I have a certainty that this kind of mutual aid makes far more sense as the climate changes and we are all going to be challenged to live differently. Group living for mutual support comes naturally to me – I lived in a group house for many years. I know the pleasures of that kind of warmth and care and shared chores. When I moved out, I was so relieved to be able to think my own thoughts and make my own choices without coordinating with anyone. I call this my Greta Garbo phase – for 15 years I have wanted to be alone.
Even so, over the years, without much conscious thought, I bought at least 3 blow up beds that are stored under my bed, just in case. I have two single futon chairs, an ikea trundle bed that makes into a King, a pull out sofa, a folding futon for the floor, and a day bed in my dining area. Clearly, I never left the communitarian, even though I left group living. And I can feel it coming back.
Who will come through my door to share this next leg of the journey? Another young woman writing a novel. I’m sure Paulette could funnel some my way. Another award winning filmmaker in a time of transition (yes, that happened). Another chef? Another farmer? Another teacher? Another actor? Some friends who perhaps will lose their jobs and then place to live and need a safe place to land? A new best friend?
This pandemic is reshaping us. I’m sure you feel it. I’ve been inspired to write and livecast, to help us all see our way through this fog. I adopted a writer and she reminded my heart about the forgotten pleasure of living with others. These are not ordinary times, but I am becoming more ordinary, more of a home body, sharing my home with other bodies, working together in the garden, being real.