I wanted to share the short piece that I contributed to the recent book created and edited by Michael Lang and Peter Nicholson. The name of the book is Family Conflict During A Pandemic: Stories of Struggle and Hope. It was published in May of 2021. The book is a follow up to the first book Michael and Peter created a year ago entitled Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During A Pandemic. It has been wonderful to get to know Michael and Peter over the past year. Over 90 mediators and professionals from around the world contributed to the most recent book.
Courtney and Andrew met in college over two years ago. She is presently a senior at Colorado College and from Arlington, Virginia. He graduated from Colorado College in May of 2020 and is now living in Juneau, Alaska with his parents. They met when they were both studying abroad during college.
They started quarantining together during Courtney’s junior year in the Spring of 2020 when the pandemic first hit. Since only seniors can live off of campus, Courtney moved from her on campus dorm room into Andrew’s off campus house with his roommates and a girlfriend. Courtney says that Andrew has always had serious OCD issues, severe anxiety, and health concerns. The pandemic magnified these mental health concerns. Andrew also had no health insurance between January and June. Quarantining together was difficult, in part because Andrew was adamant that no one was to ever leave the house during that spring. He feared that going for a walk outside could result in death.
Andrew moved back home to Juneau after graduation in May of 2020. Courtney spent the summer in Arlington working two summer jobs. They kept in touch via texts, phone calls, and pre-arranged Face Time calls due to the four hour time difference. In October, Courtney went to visit Andrew and his parents after five months apart. She said that it was crippling to be apart from each other for so long. Courtney flew from Colorado Springs to Juneau and quarantined alone in the basement of the small family home for a week while trying to do online schoolwork with an unreliable wi-fi connection. She said that she could not even send emails or use Zoom due to internet issues.
Staying alone in the basement with no social interaction and no physical touch was brutal. Andrew and his parents stayed upstairs during the quarantine week. Courtney took three Covid tests at Andrew’s insistence. Juneau in the fall is cold and dark – the sun rises between 8:30 and 9:00 and sets around 4:00 p.m. After quarantine, Courtney and Andrew stayed in, cooked meals with his parents, took walks, went out for groceries, and slept at night in Andrew’s twin bed. Courtney longed for pre-pandemic normalcy where they could have gone skiing and hiking, spent time outdoors, had dinner with friends, socialized at coffee shops and bars, and spent time studying at the local library.
They spent the holidays apart. Courtney spent 20 hours flying from Arlington to Los Angeles to Seattle to Ketchikan to Juneau on January 27, 2021. She wore three masks on the plane and felt claustrophobic from the difficulty of breathing with all those masks in place. She says she has acne from the masks. She was afraid to remove her mask and eat on the plane, so she did not because others were snacking throughout the flights with their masks off. When she finally arrived late Wednesday night, Courtney felt awkward. She was desperate to touch Andrew but there was no hug, no kiss, no touch. Her expectations were set, though, from the October trip. She said it is pure torture to see Andrew in front of her but she can’t even see his face since it is covered by the mask.
Courtney went immediately down to the basement upon arrival into the house, and this time said she had to go crazy and yell at Andrew that he must come down to the basement with her for her quarantine week. He reluctantly relented and in turn, insisted that she wear a mask if his dog came down into the basement. His anxiety always goes through the roof right before she visits and when she first arrives due to his fear of getting Covid. It is hard for him to accept Courtney’s presence.
Andrew works for the state of Alaska, and Courtney has her thesis to complete. They will be working from home along with Andrew’s mom; Andrew’s dad is retired. Andrew’s parents are always in the house. Sunset is around 2:00 pm in January and the weather is cold and dark most days. Flooding is a concern in southeast Alaska and Andrew’s house has flooded several times.
Courtney says that pandemic life is hard wherever you are. She is an extrovert so the lack of social interaction is tough. She and Andrew have each other. The weather is too cold right now to spend time outdoors. She says that as hard as pandemic life is right now in Juneau, she made the journey because she is in a relationship with him and because he refuses to fly due to his severe pandemic anxiety. She says that she does love the beauty of Juneau. She plans on spending four to six weeks in Juneau and then will fly back to Colorado Springs to finish her senior year at the end of February.
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.