It happens often since the pandemic hit.
Since the pandemic hit. A phrase Patrick never thought he’d have to think about outside the context of a history class—let alone think about it every day. But this is reality for the foreseeable future.
Patrick had expected a lot of challenges as a newlywed. A global health crisis leading to necessary social isolation not even two years into his marriage hadn’t been one of them.
For a couple of months, he and David have been isolated at home, only going into town for essentials and to pick up store orders. Patrick and Alexis even worked together to set up the Apothecary’s website so they could begin to process online orders.
And when they aren’t working, they spend time on their individual endeavors—Patrick taking up music again, David sketching and writing—and use the still slowness of their day-to-day to learn each other even deeper than they ever thought possible. Sometimes they drive each other insane, and other times Patrick thinks if he has to go back to spending one second away from David ever again he’ll simply cease to exist.
It’s all going as well as it can be, Patrick keeps telling himself. Then, he’s always one to focus on the positive, as David painstakingly likes to remind him. A trait he learned from his mother.
And while their beautiful cottage has served them well as a place of reprieve, of privacy, of making love and arguing and tickling each other on the couch until one of them shrieks in surrender, it’s also recently become one of eerily silent solitude.
Phone chats, Skype sessions, strolls six feet apart with Stevie at the creek—none of it is exactly akin to hugging another person tight to your chest, or sitting at a certain bustling cafe eating mozzarella sticks and laughing as the person across from you bites into a really long string of cheese. Patrick knows this.
And taking vendor calls and fulfilling orders at the post office isn’t the same as being in the store you built from the ground up, greeting customers, stocking the shelves, playing with the front display. Patrick knows this.
It leaves a lot of room to sit with your own thoughts. Which, for Patrick, usually culminates in nothing more than a few hours of moodiness before he forces himself to go on a run and shake it off.
But for David…
It happens often now, like this:
Patrick awakens to the sound of David’s labored breathing—short little gasps in the bed beside him—and he sits up, heart racing just a bit. In the dark, he can just make out that David is sitting up against the headboard, hands balled into tight fists on his lap as he looks up at the ceiling, eyes searching frantically for something that he knows isn’t there.
And Patrick says, like he has almost every night for the last few weeks: “Hey. Talk to me.”
Patrick has learned by now encouraging David to describe what he’s feeling helps to ground him. He lightly places a hand on David’s chest, rubbing small circles there in an attempt to slow down the rapid rise and fall.
Some nights David wakes up from a nightmare with a yelp or a full-on sob; other times Patrick will stir awake to find David not in the bed at all, wandering about the house aimlessly with a half-cold cup of tea or sitting in the living room scrawling in his journal by candlelight to quell the aftershock of a panic attack.
Sometimes David calms down pretty quickly, and other times Patrick doesn’t know what to do except hold him until he stops shaking.
Tonight seems to fall somewhere in between.
“Um.” David screws his eyes shut, takes in a sharp breath through his nose. “R-right now it feels like … like I need to crawl out of my skin.”
Patrick continues the soothing motion over David’s shirt and drops a kiss to his shoulder. “Okay.”
“It doesn’t feel right.” David lifts a shaking hand to place over Patrick’s on his chest and squeezes his fingers. “In here.”
Patrick understands. Nods. And just like other nights like this, he gently pulls away and gets up, walking around to David’s side of the bed and holding out his hand. “Let’s go?” he whispers.
And this is the routine.
David laces his fingers with Patrick's and stands up, and they walk together, breaking the touch only for David to slip on his worn black Uggs at the back doorway. Patrick opens the sliding door, and they shuffle out into the warm spring air—David in his intricately patterned PJs and boots, Patrick in sweatpants and socks and an old t-shirt.
Three concrete steps lead to their modest backyard. Patrick sits down on the middle step. David sits beside him. Patrick squeezes David’s hand and reminds him, “I love you.”
And for a while, they simply look up at the stars. Patrick breathes in and out slowly, exaggeratedly, waiting for David to match the rhythm with his own. Every few moments he looks over at his husband’s tear-streaked face, illuminated by the moon, and thinks how beautiful David is, even when blanketed with inexplicable sadness like this.
David leans his head on Patrick’s shoulder, and Patrick wraps an arm around him. They watch the sky and they hold hands and they breathe.
In a world of uncontrollable things, they can control this.
And David mutters, like he always does: “I’m sorry.”
Patrick kisses the top of his head. Says, “Don’t apologize,” and then, “I love you,” in case David needs to hear it again.
“I love you,” David replies, and his voice breaks, and the sound creates a little chink on the surface of Patrick’s heart.
Eventually they go back inside, and in their silence Patrick knows they’re both thinking about doing it all again tomorrow, and the next night, and the night after that.
Over the last few weeks, Patrick has lightly suggested to David that therapy might be a good idea. But he’s a realist, and he knows by now that trying to get David Rose to do something outside of his own timeline is a pointless ambition. As such, he doesn’t push too hard.
So he tries not to appear too excited when one day in early May, as they’re packing an order, David announces: “I set up a video appointment with Katie.”
Katie is David’s therapist. David rarely saw her before all this madness hit, claiming “good wine and a good husband are cheaper than a couch session,” so hearing him commit to this is. Well, it’s giving Patrick a little burst of hope he didn’t realize until now he’d been missing.
Patrick looks at David for a long time, fondness bubbling in his chest, until David looks up from wrapping a candle and asks, “What?”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Whatever.” David rolls his eyes, but he knocks his knee against Patrick’s under the table. “Don’t make it a thing.”
When the remote sessions start, so do the gestures.
Patrick wakes up early on a Sunday morning, surprised to find David already up and out of bed, which is mildly concerning.
He half-jumps out of the sheets, worry tugging at the edges of his half-asleep brain. Is David okay? Is he having nightmares again?
Before his nerves get the best of him, though, he’s made acutely aware of the scents of eggs and bacon upon leaving the bedroom. Curious, he pads into the kitchen, and there is David, plating scrambled eggs on their handmade rustic wood table, two cups of coffee and a plate of bacon already arranged there.
“Wow,” Patrick can’t help but exhale, crossing his arms over his chest. He can’t remember the last time David cooked anything for them besides a classic pasta situation for dinner.
David looks up. Walks over, kisses his cheek. “Hey.” He gestures to the display of food with the spatula in his hand. “Eat up. I only burned about fifteen percent of the bacon.”
Patrick shakes his head incredulously, heading to his designated seat at the table. “You made all this?”
“Unfortunately, I didn’t hand-pick what’s in the fruit bowl.” David quirks his trademark half-grin—the first genuine one Patrick has seen in a long time, and it makes his heart leap a little in his chest. “What, you’re still not convinced I can be a nice person?”
“Hmm.” Patrick reaches over and spoons some fresh fruit onto his plate. “Jury’s still out.”
David lightly smacks him on the back of the head and says, “Mm, fuck you so very much,” and Patrick’s face hurts a little from smiling so much.
Then there are the little cards.
Patrick is walking toward the house after an afternoon hike when he sees an envelope taped to the front door. Quirking a brow, he makes his way over to find his name printed on it in David’s handwriting.
He opens the envelope. There’s a card inside, cream-colored with THANK YOU in embossed in bold black lettering on the front—he recognizes it because they sell these greeting card sets at the store.
I just want to thank you for being you. I know I’m not easy to deal with sometimes. Also I’m really bad at this.
Patrick smiles. Shakes his head. Goes inside to find David and thank him for the thank-you in a way that David probably won’t be super thrilled about given how sweaty he is.
Then there’s the note taped to the bathroom mirror the next day, evidently placed there when Patrick wasn’t looking.
This is to let you know your hair looks really good today. Thank you for taking my style feedback seriously.
And sometimes, if one of them is out picking up an order or grabbing groceries, Patrick finds notes on his pillow in the bedroom that just say:
One day, David tells Patrick to “go away and entertain yourself” for a while, and when Patrick is summoned out of the study into the living room about a half hour later, he finds David has set up a little makeshift movie theatre.
The lights are off, but from the glare of their TV screen Patrick can see two bowls of popcorn on the coffee table, a pair of cold IPAs dripping with condensation beside them. The first few seconds of the movie Moneyball are paused onscreen (Patrick can identify any scene in the film based on a frame alone; it's a special skill of his). David sits on the couch with a blanket over his lap, peering at him expectantly.
“David,” Patrick says slowly, as if drawing out his name will make this make sense. “You don’t like IPAs. And you hate Moneyball.”
“Um, yeah.” David shrugs. “If I wanted a weird popping sensation on my tongue I’d just eat Pop Rocks. And Moneyball is about baseball and math.” He taps the spot next to him on the couch. “Now come sit before I change my mind.”
Patrick finally has to ask. He walks over to stand in front of David, blocking his view of the screen. “I don’t understand. What is all this for?”
David gapes up at him as if his question is entirely unjustified. “What?”
“The notes, the meals … all of it. I mean, I appreciate it. So, so much.” He reaches down and clasps David’s hands in his own, squeezing them tight. “But seriously, am I forgetting some anniversary that you’re backwards-punishing me for?”
David is smiling a little. “I’m aware you’re the expert gift-giver of the two of us,” he replies, “But does there have to be a reason?”
Well. David’s got him there.
“Okay,” Patrick says, nodding seriously before straddling David’s hips on the couch and pressing a languid kiss to his lips. He wraps his arms around David’s shoulders. “But before we start, at least give me one chance to reciprocate.”
David hums contentedly into the crook of Patrick’s neck. “Mkay. I guess we can carve out some time for that …”
It happens less often now.
It’s 4AM, and they’re sitting up in bed together, Patrick with a gentle hand on David’s thigh as he waits out David’s sharp inhales and exhales—the first of attacks like this in almost a week.
Patrick asks, once David’s breathing has slowed, “You want to get some air?”
But David shakes his head. “Actually, I think. I think I’m okay.”
He gingerly makes his way back down onto the pillows and Patrick follows suit. Then David says softly, “C’mere,” with an arm outstretched, and Patrick finds his place nestled into his shoulder, leaning up to kiss his jawline once, twice.
They stay like that for a while.
Patrick is just starting to fall asleep again when David’s voice rings into the night quiet: “I wanted to … give myself the skills and the space to help myself.”
Patrick scoots back a little so he can look at David directly and props himself up on his elbow. David is looking skyward as he often does, though there’s no panic in his expression tonight. “Not just for me, but for you. I know it’s a lot.”
Patrick shakes his head. “David, you know I don’t—”
“I know you don’t mind,” David interjects, and now he’s looking at him, big eyes soft. “Even though it’s been two years since you married me, I think sometimes, how did I get this? This perfect person who gets every part of me, even parts I don’t totally get myself?”
“David,” Patrick begins again, but David puts a finger to his lips before folding his hands on top of his stomach, eyes trained on the ceiling again.
“There’s this behavioral therapy technique,” he says, carefully.
Patrick bites the inside of his lip, overcome. David never talks about therapy—and Patrick never pushes. The sessions are personal, and they’re for David to work through on his own. He likes to think David knows that if he ever needs his help, he’ll ask. But he doesn’t need help, it seems. He just wants to talk, openly, about his experience. And somehow, that feels even more vulnerable.
“Um. It’s called ‘distracting with contribution,’” David continues, absently playing with the engagement rings on his right hand. “So, like, if you’re starting to feel like things are spinning out of control, or whatever, and everything is too much, you focus on doing something for someone else. Contributing to the space around you in a meaningful way.” He shrugs. “And I thought, well. You do so much for me by just being there. It’s my turn.”
Patrick opens his mouth, then shuts it again. With David, he takes it upon himself most of the time to reassure, to comfort, to fix. But now his job is just to listen.
“So doing things for you, even little, stupid things like the notes, or going out to get that flavor of seltzer you like, or watching one of your weird sports ball movies with you …” David lets out a shaky breath. “It helps me stop thinking about everything else. For a second. Like, I know it’s there, and I know it’s not going away, but if I can do these things for you, I know that I’m still me, and you’re still you and we’re still here. Um, together.”
Patrick lets silence sit between them for a few seconds, and then he reaches over to gently take one of David’s hands out of their tightly folded position. He kisses David’s fingers. “That’s beautiful, David.”
David scoffs before turning his head to face him, slight amusement behind his glistening eyes. “I just want to reiterate that doing stuff for you calms me down. While it’s a win-win situation, it’s largely to my benefit.”
“No.” Patrick shakes his head emphatically, letting go of David’s hand to brace himself on top of him, pressing a light kiss to the side of his face. “You’re not fooling anybody, David Rose.” Another kiss, this time on his nose. “I’m glad this method is helping you. I’m so glad. But I can see in the way you write your notes, or come up with little outdoor plans for us throughout the day, or try to make me shrimp tacos—“
“—It was a mistake, I refuse to mess with more than three spices at a time ever again—”
“—That you’re doing it out of love, too. Or you wouldn’t do any of it.” He tilts his head to the side. “You know I’m right.” Patrick knows he knows. He just likes hearing David say it.
“Huh.” For the first time tonight, David is smiling. It makes Patrick’s stomach flip. “I guess that’s probably true.”
As it often does, Patrick finds his teasing giving way to unmasked fondness. “You have so much love to give, David," he says, unable to keep his voice from trembling a little, "And you always say how you can’t believe sometimes that we’re together, and well, I think that way too. I can’t imagine someone with this big a heart—” He pats his chest a couple of times. “—Would want to give even part of it to me.”
David shakes his head, and Patrick can see the tears brimming in his eyes before he leans up and kisses Patrick, wet and slow and full of the promise that things will be better, that they are better, that as long as they can be here, like this, with each other, it will be okay.
When David pulls away, he sniffles. “Excuse me, the whole point is for me to do less crying in the early hours of the morning?” He jabs a finger into Patrick’s chest accusingly and says, “You’re not helping,” but he’s smiling.
Patrick chuckles and kisses him again, brushing his fingers against his face to lightly wipe the salty wetness away. “Okay, David,” he says softly, “You wanna try and sleep now?”
“Mm, yeah.” They return to their original position, and this time Patrick has an arm draped loosely across David’s torso, a silent communication. I got you. You’ll be okay. We’ll get through this.
“For what it’s worth,” Patrick mumbles, unable to keep a yawn from escaping his lips. “Seeing you smile again, laugh again? That’s been the best gift.”
“Hmm.” David kisses the top of his head, and Patrick closes his eyes, sleep starting to overtake him again, but not before he hears David whisper: “Well. Lucky for me, loving you is a really great distraction.”