Upper-body shot of person sitting on a wooden bench drinking out of a white mug. White wall in background with large painting hanging.

Blak Bloggers: Isolation-ship; A love story.

By Tuuli Narkle © | Yued/Wiilman

So late last year I fell in love. HARD. After a couple years of particularly shitty relationships with the wrong people (to be honest I knew they weren’t right, my mother will happily attest to that) I was jaded. I declared to the universe that I planned to finally give up my teenage fantasy of starring in a real-life version of  The Notebook, and in the day and age where ghosting is the ‘in thing’ and being emotionally unavailable is the norm, I would rather become a boujee dog mum anyway. However, the Universe, as it usually does, laughed bitterly in my face and reminded me that it gives ZERO f**ks about my plans. Because suddenly there she was. The hopeless romantic in me that I tried to bury was reawakened, and I was hooked from day one.

Our story began in a heightened space, I am an actor from Nyoongar Boodja originally (my mob are Yued and Wiilman) but I had been based on Gadigal land for the past four years. My girl is Taungurung, from Victoria. We met, one fateful Wednesday matinee in Melbourne, while I was on tour with Sydney Theatre Company. When that tour ended I was scheduled to go straight into another that would have lasted six months, but despite the prospect of long-distance from the very beginning, it was wildly exhilarating and so goddamn easy. Somehow everything just clicked into place, effortlessly, in a way that can only happen when two people are all in. All of the moments we shared in those early days were so sickly sweet they’d make your teeth hurt. To be honest, if I wasn’t in it I’d be looking on with cynicism and eye-rolling, like I’m sure everyone around us was/is doing. But there I was, right in the middle of my very own Notebook worthy love story. I remember calling my mum and my little sister and feeling like I could quite possibly explode when I told them ‘Guys, I’ve finally found the Kokoum to my Pocahontas .’ (Please, someone write a blackfulla fairytale princess story soon so I have another point of reference!? Thanks.)

After suffering through about a month and a half of long-distance,  my second tour fell through and I ended up making the big old move to Melbourne earlier than expected. While we were only just starting our relationship we made the decision to move in together. Crazy, I know, but when you know you KNOW, right!? So there we were, tentatively trying to carve out a life together. Excitedly making plans for how we envisioned this new life, OUR new life going. Re-enter that old trickster ‘the Universe’ again, and out of what felt like nowhere the world effectively ground to a standstill. Suddenly an unforeseen pandemic from a faraway land breached our shores and life as we had understood it has stopped. So… what did this mean for ‘us’? Well basically in the space of five months we went from not knowing the other existed, to getting into a relationship, to navigating long-distance, to living together, to now tackling being in isolation together (along with our delightful housemate)… cue every single insecurity and anxiety you have about yourself as a person, times about a million. Because when you’re hiding from a virus together, there is nowhere to hide.

When the old COVID-19 went from being the subject of random memes to worming its way into our reality there was kind of delicious excitement to it. It’s terrible to admit but I think it’s a fundamental part of the human psyche to get a kick out of the prospect of a post-apocalyptic world, to having to ‘re-boot’ society. I mean why else do we keep pumping out movies and binge-watching series based on the very idea? As the isolation measures slowly started to trickle into our daily lives and we both started to work from home (we are both so lucky in that respect) it felt like we were wagging school together to hang out. Dare I say fun? We slept in a little later, we went for walks in the park, we cuddled on the couch, perfected the art of the ‘at home’ coffee and took it in turns to guess how long until this worsening nightmare would end. But as the reality began to settle in that this was our new norm, we began finding that ‘what ifs’ of a world in flux are a little more fun than actually living it.

Firstly, 24-hour togetherness is a lot of pressure to put on a relationship in general, let alone one that is only beginning to bloom. You get to that ‘comfortable’ phase real quick. Around the two week mark I ran out of stealthy places to fart undetected. One fabulous day I completely forgot myself for a brief moment and ripped one practically on my partner… and let me tell you that a two-bedroom townhouse has never felt so goddamn small as it did when I had nowhere to run from the shame that was letting fluffy out of the cage for the first time. We have both gone from meticulously preening ourselves and putting a considerable amount to effort into looking fresh, to existing primarily in trackies and oversized hoodies and not to self-shame but there are days when I haven’t even bothered to brush my hair. Add to this the stress eating. Dear lord the stress eating. I think if we calculated it, we may have collectively eaten our body weights in chocolate and donuts, which has lead us to putting on a “cute” layer of puppy fat. There is a fair bit of looking back on old photos of ourselves exclaiming ‘Oh baby, look at me there, I’ve gotten CHUNKY’ going on in this house… Did I mention we have almost bought a puppy at least ten times since this all started? It’s a wild time.

In all realness, some days are easier than others and some days you have to accept the distance that can be felt even when you are in each other’s space. Some days the collective devastation of what’s going on throughout the world is overwhelming and all you can muster is making room for how YOU feel. There are days when I haven’t been able to keep my anxiety at bay. I have been rude, I have snapped, I have been unavailable and I have taken my fear and unsettledness out on our relationship. Sometimes the boredom sets in and playfully tormenting each other seems like a good idea at the time. It’s never a good idea fam. I have cried on multiple occasions for what seems like no reason. I ugly cried for the first time when my state, where my country lays, my kinship, my connection to land and culture closed its borders without me in it. That one HURT. But as the weeks roll by I am realising now more than ever is a time to be gentle, to practice stillness and generosity within yourself and let it bleed out onto the people that you are BLESSED to have around you in these uncertain times. Because there have been so many amazing moments in this madness too. We have a roof over our heads, we have incomes, food on the table and whilst it’s a slightly unorthodox beginning to a relationship, we have love and it’s goooood.

A friend of ours had a theory that goes ‘A couple who can survive traveling to India together, can survive anything…’ she has since updated that theory to ‘A couple who can survive the COVID-19 isolation together, can survive anything…’ its early days yet but I reckon she might be onto something and I’m going to hold onto it with both hands.

This article is part of Blak Bloggers, a pilot program as part of YIRRAMBOI’s Resilience in Isolation, supporting First Nations to keep creative during physical-distancing.

Image supplied by Tuuli Narkle.