Sex Stories is an ongoing series focused on the relationship with our sexual partners, our community, and ultimately, with our physical and spiritual self. In this weekly series, we will feature short and long prose, that examines the layers of sex (or none at all) during a pandemic. This series aims to not only demystify the sexual experience for folks right not, but hopefully, narrows in on the reality that sex is an integral aspect of our very unique pandemic journeys. No matter where you are physically, spiritually and mentally, our hope is that by sharing these stories, we will all continue to hold each other.
Quarantine (Like Valentine)
“We met on Hinge after a night of utter panic in which I decided that I could not, in fact, put every piece of my life on hold indefinitely….
We held a shared disdain for anti-maskers and acquaintances posting images of their “socially distanced” summer vacations on Instagram while we were still making meticulous grocery lists to avoid unnecessary trips to the store and socializing only with trusted friends in the park. Outdoor dining was still out of the question –– we were wary of the prolonged proximity to strangers, their droplets flying all over the packed sidewalk.
He lived alone, he worked from home, and he had a car –– an attribute so rare and sought after in New York City that it would have been a major selling point even in the Before Times. I had not left Brooklyn in nearly six months, nor had I ventured into any neighborhood that was not walking distance from my own. I was immediately swept in by all the possibilities: We could go hiking! We could go apple picking! We could go to Trader Joe’s! We could go to the Met without spending an hour hopping from the G train to the L to the 4, 5, 6!
Our first date would (of course) be at the park. At my request, we were joined by his dog, Scout, a young mixed breed rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico, and I was grateful to have another creature to focus my attention on should the conversation run dry. He provided the snacks and chose the bar from which we would retrieve our to-go drinks. In turn, I was tasked with creating a playlist for the Bluetooth speaker. It was aptly titled, Trying-Too-Hard Park Playlist, though he would never know.
He was shorter than I was expecting. At five feet tall, I’d grown accustomed to craning my neck upward at the faces of dates past. He was nearly at eye level –– my gaze meeting his just above the fold of the pink bandana he wore as a mask. I had suspected he was a Scorpio before we had ever exchanged a word in person (a hunch that would later be confirmed). A relentless flirt, he managed to get my mask off within an hour of our meeting. His subtle reach for my hand launched into a middle-school-style make-out session that, even in the pre-pandemic, would have felt inappropriate in such a public setting.
So there, on our first date, we established our exclusivity. It would, after all, be irresponsible to swap saliva with multiple people in the midst of a deadly pandemic. As the sun lowered itself behind the rolling hills and tennis courts of Fort Greene Park, we gathered the remnants of our picnic and, with Scout leading the way, strolled back to his corner where we parted ways with another kiss.
For the first week, the sex was awkward and emotionally fraught. After months of solitude, I suddenly found myself jumping headlong into a relationship, self-conscious of my post-quarantine body and riddled with untamed anxiety about our uncertain world. He would pause mid-thrust to ask me what I was thinking about. I’m thinking about people’s parents dying, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits, hooked up to machines that have to breathe for them. How could I be thinking about anything else? But I did not say this. I simply said, “I’m sorry, I’ve just been alone for so long. That feels great. Keep going.”
We were getting tested regularly and had agreed to forgo any unsafe, or otherwise questionable activities. Among the many things we had in common were similar congenital heart conditions that put us both at greater risk than the average millennial. We understood each other’s fears. I wanted to be close to him. As friend after friend fled the city, I yearned for a companion. I needed someone to get me out of my head. Someone to remind me that life was still marching forward, that there was indeed still living to be done. I felt myself opening up to him in a way that I had avoided with other men. I compulsively retreated back into my solitary routines when feelings became too overwhelming. As an only child, I have always felt at ease on my own. But with him, I had a newfound desire to push through my flight instinct.
We took Scout on walks and we ate pizza in our sweatpants. We took car trips to sculpture parks in obscure corners of Queens and recounted stories of high school mortification, and memories of listening to Bright Eyes on walks through our hometowns. We shared moments of rage while enduring bizarre presidential debates. We mused about escaping the bleak New York winter, maybe setting up camp in New Orleans, where his friend had a house in the Marigny. We never did make it to Trader Joe’s.
He announced his impending departure over text, though it was not quite an announcement. “Do you need a drying rack for your laundry?” was the question meant to let me know that he was packing up his apartment.
“I knew you were thinking about leaving, but I didn’t think you meant now,” I texted back. “It’s that itchy sweater feeling,” he went on to explain.
I lay on my living room floor wondering how I would approach the upcoming winter alone. In the end, his parting gift was not the drying rack, but a new vibrator that appeared in my building’s vestibule in a small cardboard box. On the day that Joe Biden’s victory was finally called, as the city erupted in unbound joy and relief, he texted me a single red heart emoji. And I reciprocated. The next week, he loaded up his car, and with Scout in the passenger seat, drove off to California.”