“Do you want to go on a walk?” my husband asks as he saunters down the stairs from his new makeshift office. Overnight, our guest bedroom has been transformed into a workstation with documents and files piled on the bed and computers and printers plugged into every spare outlet.
I blink back.
“Like a walk together? The whole family? You, Henry, and me?”
“Yeah,” he replies. I blink again.
“Forget it,” he says in defeat.
“No, no, no. Let’s go. I’ll get my shoes.”
At the time of this conversation, we were in week two of a global pandemic. The buy all the toilet paper and watch Tiger King weeks. But my husband and I had just completed year one of raising our first child, which is hard on a marriage.
We fiercely love our little boy, but we had reached a point where we were merely tolerating each other for the sake of our child. We had been trying to navigate the murky waters of parenting for about a year, and I would say our efforts had been successful.
But, on the other hand, most of our conversations revolved around our son. We bickered about chores and who was “doing more.” We attempted to have forced dialogue about how our days were at the dinner table but soon lost interest before the other was even done speaking, turning our attention back to dote on our lovable son. Our words to each other became stilted, devoid of real feelings for each other.
We struggled to retain our sense of identity and self, constantly harboring thoughts that each of us was doing the giving and the other one was doing the taking.
We didn’t think we were headed for divorce, but our relationship was on the verge of warping into an amicable partnership at best. As with anything in life, couples go through seasons except this one was lingering on for too long.
Then, the pandemic hit. Our worlds were turned upside down in the matter of a weekend. Our jobs switched to working from home. Our circle grew to just us in our little bubble of a townhouse, only shuttling our son back and forth from my husband’s parents’ house during the day. We were forced to be together after a year of trying so hard to be anything but.
For many, the pandemic wreaked havoc on their lives and caused utter pandemonium and disruption to their everyday routines and sense of being. There was and has been so much loss. Loss of life. Loss of jobs. Loss of connection. Loss of welfare. Loss of identity. And I mourn for all of those losses.
But for me, the pandemic was a time of healing and repair.
And it all started with a walk.
“No, no, no. Let’s go. I’ll get my shoes,” I said in an attempt to recover my disbelief. Walks with my son were my thing. I was always the one going on walks and jogs throughout the neighborhood with my son in tow in his stroller.
In the beginning, I would ask my husband, but he never even feigned interest, so eventually, I would slip out of the house without telling him. And now here he was asking me to go on a walk. Because he has nothing else to do? Or perhaps an olive branch? I rolled both over in my mind.
We stepped outside into the beautiful Raleigh afternoon. The kind of afternoon that announces the long days of winter were finally behind us.
And then we walked. And we talked. We talk about the houses in the neighborhood. I pointed out the houses that have my dream porches in the front, and he was giddy with excitement as he discovered the houses with the perfect outdoor living spaces in the back. The front and the back. A metaphor for a family. The parents bookending their children in the middle.
Our stroll continued throughout the neighborhood. He told me his plans to change his workout routine since the gym had abruptly closed. I filled him in on how my side hustle of blogging was going and how I was adapting to remote learning as a teacher.
We listened to one another.
Our words soon drifted off, yet we soaked in the silence that naturally came and relished just being together. Eventually, we ended up back at the house. Neither of us had to say a word, but an unspoken agreement hung in the air. We should do that again.
The next day, we went again. And again after that. It became our evening ritual. We met neighbors we never even knew existed, waving to each other across the street. At some point, my husband started jogging alongside me and even so humbly admitted that it is harder than he had imagined. Our walks grow to include local parks and trails on the weekend.
With each mile walked, the closer we were brought back to one another.
In April, I did his thing. I actively immersed myself into the monthly budget, tracking everything I purchased and logging it into the app. I listened to him talk about numbers and money and spreadsheets and analytics. He “the nerd” and I the “free spirit” as the results of Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University have shown. By the end of the month, we pay the last of our debt off and celebrate at a French restaurant, kid-free. A date.
In May, I engaged in another one of his things—binge-watching TV. He convinced me that I would love the show Community since I am such a fan of The Office and Parks and Recreation. We spent hours after our son went to bed laughing with tears streaming down our faces and stealing glances at each other to see if the other found a particular scene funny.
It was like a reigniting of the soul when we both did it at the same time.
By the end of the summer, we had gone to the beach twice, something my husband was so vehemently against even though we only live two and a half hours away. The sand, the sun, lack of shade, the salt, the shuttling the kids back and forth were all some of the excuses he would throw my way whenever I would protest.
By the end of the summer, I, too, came to the conclusion that he, in fact, might be right. We are more mountain, national park, and baseball stadium people over beach people. Though, the trip was a welcome respite from the four walls of our house we had come to know so well, having been nearly sequestered in them for months on end.
Summer turned to fall and fall turned to winter. And with the changing of months and seasons, the pandemic still drug on, rearing its ugly head and firmly dragging its heels into the ground. Refusing to leave.
The cold months were hard as the number of cases drastically climbed. People we knew started to get it. The deaths were no longer just numbers we read about in the news. We started recognizing the names of people who died. People from our childhoods. Family members of friends. It was devastating.
Yet, despite all of the hardship confronting the world right now, inside a home there has been healing.
There is a mom. A dad. And a child. There is also a wife and a husband. Throughout the day, the husband surprises the wife with a hug out of the blue just because. The wife joins on the couch to watch a TV show with the husband. They are two people who have learned they can be both parents and spouses. They can love their son unconditionally while still focusing on their relationship. They have healed.
And it started with a simple walk in the middle of a pandemic.
It’s been almost a year now. My husband turns to me, “Do you want to go for a walk?”
I smile, and we head out.