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How my husband fell apart during lockdown

Amanda Easter suffers the side-effects of the pandemic

He looks like a homeless person. He is walking down the street, beanie pulled down tight over his ears. A faded tracksuit is hanging loose at the knees and elbows. The beard is shaggy and crooked. I’m driving up the road on the other side and catch sight of his listless gait as he makes his way down the pavement, eyes cast down, shoulders hunched. I sigh, and think how many people look like this these days. I wonder if I should help him, offer some money or food. Then I realise: it’s my husband.

I wonder if I should help him…Then I realise: it’s my husband

That afternoon I walk into the bedroom. He lies on the bed, one hand down his trousers, the other on the TV remote. Some ’80s movie is playing, bad definition, excruciatingly inappropriate. Is that dribble coming out of his mouth? There are socks and a wet towel lying on the floor.

Later we find ourselves in our usual position, heads bent low over the dishwasher, crockery and cutlery crashing together in snide applause at the third unload of the day. “It’s a bit monotonous isn’t it?” I chirrup encouragingly. “It’s fucking bleak” he says slowly, making menacing eye contact.

This is not the mad, passionate boy I fell in love with…

This is not my husband. This is not the mad, passionate boy I fell in love with 15 years ago who fathered our children and bought our house together. It’s not the cool, creative music producer who would take me to gigs and festivals, on big group camping weekends and surfing holidays. It’s not the wry, emotionally intelligent gentlemen all my friends and acquaintances fell in love with too. It’s a frustrated, caged animal railing against the system and circumstances, who can only look at his phone and his feet, falling down social media rabbit holes of half truth and anarchic conspiracy. I do not recognise him anymore.

…a frustrated, caged animal railing against the system and circumstances…I do not recognise him anymore.

Our relationship now plays out in daily domestic micro battles rather than grand universal themes. Why must he use every pan in the cupboard to cook a Tuesday night dinner? Why must he abandon it half way through to source a “vital” pink Szechuan pepper from the local Chinese supermarket? Why must he stay up late watching Japanese anime, toss all night and then hang around listlessly all day? Why doesn’t he exercise? Cook sausages? Walk the dog? Answer the bloody doorbell?

Numerous new habits have appeared which grow daily in their capacity to irritate. The habit of tuning the Spotify account to “Radio” so our entire life is played out against a continuous stream of algorithm-identified music. The sound is monotonous, hellish, unthinking, an unwelcome anaesthetic that mounts slowly in irritation until I have to punch the stop button and return the silence. Whatever happened to serendipitous discovery and joyful kitchen discos? They seem like a parallel universe.

Like many business owners he gave up the expensive rent on his office in Lockdown One so we are both now working from home, sharing a room where I am chatty and noisy and he is surly and silent. Our desks face away from each other and the air between our backs grows thick with tension. It breaks when he finally gathers up his laptop and slams the door behind him as I tune into the fourth video conference of the day.

Our desks face away from each other and the air between our backs grows thick with tension.

The growing Twitter habit now funds his thinking and the revelation that his deep non-conformity, which seemed so cool and independent in the swagger of late youth, now resembles that of an Alf Garnett character, grumbling, old and out of touch. Worse it is dangerous – when he starts talking about vaccines and eulogising ‘the tin hat brigade’ I have to walk out of the room quickly or I think I might file for divorce on the spot.

And so our conversation has shrunk to the safe zone of children and screens, the one thing we can agree on. They are on them too much. Have you set the parental controls? She’s worked out how to get round them. TikTok’s a joke (but twitter is ok, obviously). The children are now rising in insurrection against us, staying up late, cooking their own snacks, pushing food around their plates at mealtimes and fleeing the moment Dad finally puts down his fork. The kitchen table has become a painful battleground where snarling over table manners and general infant inadequacies are voiced in a monologue of derision. Occasionally they argue back and beat him at his own game.

The only remaining, meaningful tools that connect us to the outside world are slowly rejected. Lockdown Three has broken him.

Meanwhile the only remaining, meaningful tools that connect us to the outside world are slowly rejected: WhatsApp is too annoying so he leaves it in a fit of pique, thereby expelling himself from every family and friendship group. Family Zoom is painful and the moment a relative calls he passes the screen onto the children like it’s the damn virus. Daily walks across the local park where we are allowed to see a single friend are ignored.

The lack of stimulation is killing him, killing us. Lockdown One had a novelty factor, the garden, some nice weather. Lockdown Two he could still cling to the last vestiges of his business. Lockdown Three has broken him. His self worth is on the floor and he won’t help himself, me or us. The end is finally on the horizon and, as my online yoga teacher says, we must all just breathe through it, taking it one moment at a time. Like a prisoner in a cell my daughter has taken to crossing off the days on her calendar.

I look at the summer months and dream of finding him again.

– Amanda Easter

Marriage and Divorce

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Picture: Getty Images

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