At home outdoors. That is the motto of a German clothing manufacturer that sells bright yellow outdoor-jackets so people can go on a leisurely Sunday afternoon stroll through a city park and feel like a true explorer. But for my boyfriend and me, it is more of a maxim for life. We are always outside: in the mountains, in big cities, at the seashore. The only thing that counts is the sun on our faces and the wind in our hair.
Suddenly the coronavirus appeared, and with it began my wild
escape to Canada. Where quarantine was waiting.
With all of this we set out on a fascinating experiment in our relationship that spans two continents and was always defined by travel, road trips, and long hikes and not by "stay home". After all, our relationship has no real home; for us, home is everywhere.
So now let me tell you the story about two people with bees in their bonnets and ants in their pants spending 14 days together occupying only about 200 square feet in the loneliness of icy Canada. How they got along, how they discovered new interests and how they found the biggest problem of their relationship.
Outside, the snow is thick, and the wind is blowing so hard that my pizza almost flies into my face when the Uber driver tosses it to me from a safe three yards away. I find on my app that Uber not only takes passengers to their destinations, but they also deliver food to hungry captives of corona from local restaurants. This kind of service used to be associated with laziness, but suddenly it is a giant step forward to save the world.
I carry the pizza down the stairs into the small apartment where my boyfriend and I are self-isolating in Calgary, Canada. Both of us just made it into Canada before the borders closed. I come from Germany, he comes from the USA. We know at the outset that this is not our normal type of trip. This is not a vacation. There will be no carefree sightseeing road trips. We really won’t see much of Canada at all.
We are entrenched from the world for 14 days as Resident Evil rages outside. But we have each other. And we now realize that our togetherness begins to take on an entirely new meaning.
Spending time together has always been a precious gift for us. Partly because there is such a great distance between the places we live, but also because our great age difference, which means we do not have as much time left to spend together as other couples. This time is even more intense than normal. We usually spend our time together doing things we both enjoy, such as travel, hiking, and photography; these activities are not available this time. There are four walls confining us almost as if we were prisoners. And we both hate watching television.
Fortunately, we both love to discuss ideas. We sit at the wobbly wooden table that is topped with a decorative pliable sheet of plastic. As we eat our breakfast of muffins and tea, words just gush from our mouths as water from a fountain. We talk endlessly about politics, philosophy, science, and many other things. Is there wealth only when other people are poor? Do we have free will? How can the universe be infinite?
Some may call us Super Nerds. Maybe we are a bit - and maybe we always have been. I mean, who, other than perhaps Jehovah, would prefer to talk about life after death than looking for the newest drivel shows on Netflix.
As I wash the dishes, my boyfriend runs by every three seconds to see if I am washing them like a European or like an American.
And that is just one of many of the small but funny cultural differences that we now find. Previously we missed those things as they were simply hidden in everyday activities.
Another difference we find is that in Germany I automatically open a window in the kitchen after I cook to reduce the humidity in the kitchen and prevent mildew. Where my boyfriend lives, the air is so dry that “humidity” is not even in the dictionary! It is so dry that they shower with air there. That, of course, was a joke!
He looks at the open window, somewhat confused, and then he closes it. I look at the closed window, mystified. Then we both start to laugh out loud.
We find that in successful relationships - with, or without, the coronavirus - you should never take yourself or your habits seriously. And before you begin to criticize the other, maybe you should take a quick look at your own quirks before you open your own mouth wide enough to put your foot in it.
”Do you know what’s really annoying about corona?” I ask. “You can’t keep touching your nose!”
I had to say that because I almost enjoy doing that. There is always something that itches or tingles. My boyfriend looks at me for a long time as he tries to inconspicuously put his hand back on the table. “I heard that my little girl’s daddy likes to do that too,” he says, grinning widely.
In the afternoon, we find that we like to lie together in bed while my boyfriend reads aloud to me. We first discover the adventures of Winnie the Pooh. As my boyfriend reads, using different voices for all the characters in the book, I find tears of laughter streaming down my face.
We then move on to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Although the book was written in 1886, it still seems fresh and exciting in 2020. Especially when I note that the British Sherlock Holmes seem to have suddenly acquired a cool American accent.
When even we need a break from words, we turn to looking at photos. We both had a life full of our own adventures before we began our relationship. Fortunately I have my laptop with me. Photos of all of my previous journeys are contained in the computer. So we explore together my previous expeditions to Andalusia, Japan, and Normandy.
“When you said you wanted to show me photos of your trips, I was a bit skeptical at first,” my boyfriend begins to confess.
“I know,“ I interject. “Bad memories from slide evenings with relatives.”
“Bad memories from slide evenings with relatives,” he says dryly. Suddenly we are both laughing. Again. “But you talk about your experiences in such a way that it seems like I am there with you while it is happening. You make the photo experience exciting. It is not boring at all!”
We are unable to rent the apartment in Calgary for the whole 14 day isolation period, so we move to a tiny wooden cottage with less than 200 square feet of space. It is a classic tiny home with two floors.
But in this small space, there is an almost luxurious kitchen, a built-in wall bookcase, an artificial fireplace, a bathroom, an area with a double bed and small kitchen table that does not wobble, and a pull-down ladder leading to a loft. The loft is a small nest above the bed with mats and pillows directly under the roof.
Everything is open, bright, and cozy. Before we unpack we take photos like a Japanese and make rough sketches of the whole cottage. We begin to talk about making a slight bigger, but very similar place, when we build our own home.
“Look at the sun,” I exclaim. We look out. “It looks like a giant peach.”
“Look how the shadow falls on the ground next to the barn. It almost looks like a dragon,” notes my boyfriend. I now know that we have much more in common than a television series or favorite pizza (and the tendency of scratching our noses). When my boyfriend is in the same immediate area for 14 days, 24 hours a day, it is like I am looking in a mirror for 14 days, 24 hours a day.
We laugh about the same nonsense, we have the same ideas pop into our heads at the same time, we philosophize from sunup until the moon shines at night. And we are very happy with very little. As long as we are together.
We only experience one crisis in the fortnight we spend together.
There is a crackle in the kitchen below as I peer through the small window in the loft, looking out at the golden fields and purple sky beyond.
My boyfriend whispers suddenly and seriously, “Sarah. We have a problem.”
“What is it?” I call in a worried tone. I begin to think thoughts like the wall behind the fireplace may be on fire. Or worse.
“We’re almost out of potato chips,” he says.
Oh NO! It IS worse than the fireplace! I hurry down the ladder to get an idea of the extent of the catastrophe. And it is crueler than I had feared. There are only a few crumbs left lying at the bottom of the bag. And that is the moment when we realize we are both official Potato Chip Monsters.
The tiny cottage is 30 miles from the nearest supermarket. And the supermarket is no good idea these days anyway. We divide the remaining seven crumbs. We always divide everything equally, since it is just another nerd-thing we do. We once even cut an olive into pieces for that.
Afterwards, we decide we will watch Mr. Bean on YouTube. He doesn’t say much, but what he does say is in a language neither of us understands: British. So we can just burst into silly laughter about a british dude who is even nerdier than us.
14 days, 24 hours a day, we remain together in a tiny space, in a foreign country, with only three T-shirts in a backpack and no potato chips. Isolated together, but alone from the world. We find what we suspected: If we have each other, we need very little else. The important things in life do not always cost money. And seldom are they material goods. What is important is love, laughter, trust, words. And the feeling that your partner is a bit as daft as you are.
“Actually, I feel as if I could stay here forever,” I say on our last evening, looking at the horizon as the peach-sun begins to set behind the distant mountains.
My boyfriend holds my hand warmly. “That’s exactly what I thought. But why do I need to say it? I already knew how you felt.”