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L.A. Affairs: Where is my pandemic love story?

An illustration showing music wafting from a speaker, the sun, birds and flowers then a small dark cloud with rain
I imaged myself grabbing and kissing him from across the table.
(Eleanor Grosch / For The Times)

When a heatwave hit Los Angeles in August, after I spent five solitary months in quarantine, my ability to remain isolated broke along with the AC unit in my Hollywood apartment.

I was tired of talking to snails on my solo evening walk. Tired of eating dinner by myself. And to do the rest of the pandemic alone felt like facing obliteration. So I re-downloaded Bumble, determined to find someone with better conversation skills than the slugs and a shared need to escape isolation.

Maybe I would find what my socially distanced friends were calling a “lockdown buddy.” Better yet, maybe I would walk away with one of those pandemic love stories I kept hearing about.

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It didn’t take long before I received a message that elegantly stood out from the cacophony of annoying pickup lines. After a few weeks of thoughtful exchanges, we broke free from our safer-at-home orders and met for dinner in Larchmont.

My stomach flipped, excited for IRL conversation with a human and anxious that I’d be disappointed by my date, that he’d be unattractive or oafish or worse … arrogant. But when our eyes met for the first time at the makeshift sidewalk cafe, my hair might as well have been blown aloft by the magical spell cast from his handsome smile. As we talked over branzino, I grew intrigued. I imagined grabbing and kissing him from across the table. He was kind, smart and well-mannered. He looked at me as if he was imagining doing the same.

Later in the evening, when he told me he was leaving soon to shoot a movie in Portland for four months, a fake smile masked my disappointment. “How exciting,” I cheered supportively.

But I was really thinking, “Why are you here with me if you’re leaving?”

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One date was risky enough; I didn’t want to go through a revolving door.

But he was unfathomably lovely. And in spite of his pending departure, we made plans to see each other again right away.

Our second date found me pulling my little green Fiat into his gated driveway in the Hollywood Hills, where we unpacked groceries and cooked dinner together. Pandemics have a way of making two single people get real close real fast. I chopped veggies in the kitchen while he grilled fish outside. Opera played over his speakers as I sipped my rosé. The sun set. His dog chased squirrels. We talked until we had emptied two bottles of wine.

When I woke to the earthy smell of his skin the next morning, he took me into his arms and asked, “When are you coming to Portland?”

We met in the middle of the pandemic. In a time with not much to look forward to, she simply brought a lot of joy into my life. But the clock was counting down, and time was running out.

For the next few weeks, I floated through the most sensory intense time of my life. The quarantine had a way of intensifying experiences, especially when the previously alone were finally touched. But there was also the 110-degree date for which we learned how to shuck oysters and made iced everything. There was the silk dress sticking to my sweaty skin, the yellow of forest fire air so thick we didn’t see the SoCal sun for a week, the opera charming my ears, and in the mornings his tender embrace and that unique earthy scent.

When our eyes met in the kind of gaze that makes you unsure whether your feet are still touching the ground, he asked, “Is this normal for you?”

“No,” I replied, delighted that he felt the same magic. “Is this normal for you?”

“No,” he looked at me with a besotted smile. “I think this is rare.”

On the morning he left to shoot his movie, we stood in his driveway saying goodbye. He took me into his arms and reassured me, “I’m coming home for a few days in two weeks.” Again he asked, “When are you coming to Portland?”

“Whenever you want me,” I replied.

“Next week,” he insisted.

I went home and set out my most Portland-like clothes.

The days passed and I walked on air, researching rental cars and smiling at the thought of our September reunion. But his movie became impossibly hard to make, “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he’d said. Days turned to weeks with no mention of a visit. Longingly, I waited.

As time passed, his messages grew less frequent, and when they came they were cries of distress.

“We’re underwater,” he’d say.

“I’m sorry,” I’d reply. To be supportive, I avoided the “what about us” questions. That homecoming kept getting bumped down the calendar. The season changed from summer to fall, then to winter. All the while, no mention of a visit.

“Are we looking for something different?” I finally asked by text.

“I cherish our beginning,” he replied, “and I don’t want it to end.”

December. I was still at home alone around the clock and unemployed. I found myself crying at a stoplight for no reason. I went to a Christmas tree lot by myself and dragged home a little fir to decorate. Pandemics have a way of crushing your soul.

I clung to the daydream of our reunion like a prayer. But I no longer heard from him unless I initiated. Instead of accepting this as his way of saying “it’s over,” I remembered him saying, “I think this is rare.” So I kept waiting.

Late February was supposed to be the end of the film shoot and the ultimate homecoming. But his expected return date came and went, and I never heard from him.

In March, I finally texted the question that once felt too selfish to ask.

“Will I see you again?”

“I don’t see anything long-term between us,” he replied.

And yet he still wanted to see me if I was OK knowing he saw no future. And was I? Of course not.

The magic that once blew my hair aloft became sorcery. “Rare” became a lie. I swallowed the loss of both a lockdown buddy and a pandemic love story in one painful gulp, left only with the obliteration of total loneliness I once flung myself at Bumble to avoid.

But pandemics have a way of making us betray ourselves.

Six months after he left for Portland, I drove my little green Fiat back into his gated driveway and believed I could feel aloof enough to enjoy this casual affair.

But sense memory is a powerful thing and, when he came close to me for a kiss, the earthy smell of his skin transported me to those August summer nights. To the oysters and the forest fire air. To the silk dress sticking to my skin and the opera in my ears. To the mornings in his bed, his tender embrace and his question, “When are you coming to Portland?” I now knew the answer was “never.”

Later that night, I tried to smile as he walked me to my car even though I knew I was never coming back. Then, as he stood on his front lawn waving goodbye, I held my breath, backed out of his driveway, let the automatic gate creak to a close and, as the tears streamed down my cheeks, took comfort in the knowledge that I made it through. I had spent the rest of the pandemic alone — and it was hard, excruciating, but I wasn’t obliterated.

Pandemics have a way of showing us how strong we really are.

The author is a director and editor. She is on Instagram @tkaylove

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story.


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