tess mangiardi

our world has five rooms

When I envisioned 2020, I thought of The Great Gatsby. I saw myself on rooftop bars, drinking cocktails, and talking in a loud voice with my friends. I envisioned travel, weekends in Prague, weddings where we danced by the light of fireflies.

Instead, we got the plague and I got gin and tonics on Zoom calls, wedding invitations discarded, and cocktail dresses laid to rest in the back of my closet.

I can’t complain, though. I have a warm bed, a job that allows me to work at my dining room table in sweatpants, working WIFI, plenty of food. I get to be quarantined with the love of my life and my best friend, Michael. The Swiss guy with soft blue eyes and a glittering smile that is easy to love. I think, despite everything, that makes me lucky.

I’ve spent much of quarantine anxiously reading the news, worrying myself sick over friends who work in hospitals, and family living in places where the pandemic is killing thousands.

During my daily frantic deep-dives into the news-cycle rabbit hole, I’ve noticed a trend about relationships. People tweeting about how they’re going to kill their significant other, divorce rates skyrocketing, the Reddit /r/relationships thread flooded with unhappy people begging for advice.

I could wax poetic for hours about all the different kinds of relationships around the world, about how this pandemic continues to hurt and provoke and crumble. But the only quarantine I know is the one I’m living in. The only relationship I truly know is mine.

My mom asked me the other day, “Have you killed him yet?” And I said, “No, not even close.” And I was honest.


I met Michael when heartbreak was the standard. At that point, I had been torn down so many times that I was convinced, if it happened again, I wouldn’t get back up. Two of my friends had died in succession the month before, and I came to Switzerland swathed in grief.

As many people in their late teens/early twenties are known to think, I was convinced that love just wasn’t in the cards. I contented myself with the idea of living a long, single life with only my books and cats to keep me company. Then, I got on a train and came face to face with the person who would change my life.

We spent our first date talking on a bench in front of Lake Zurich for seven hours. He was (and still is) wickedly funny and being by his side felt like something I’d been doing all my life. We told each other our secrets, laughing as the sun went down. We ended the night dancing to no music under the stars.

When he dropped me off, he said, “Being with you feels like coming home.”

It’s been almost four years since I decided to move from New York City to Switzerland to continue our love story, but being with him still feels like coming home.

This is who I’m quarantined with: someone who could teach the world a lesson in kindness, who would drive for hours in the middle of the night if you needed help. Someone who learned fluent English by watching YouTube videos and reading Harry Potter (if you know me, a one-way ticket to my heart). He is witty in whichever language he’s speaking and quick with his comebacks. He sees the best in people. He gets anxious in crowds and thrives in intimate conversation. He is always unapologetically himself.

And you wonder why I say I’m lucky.

For the past 62 days, life has been like this: dancing in the living room, tweeting about our lives, crying in the kitchen, laughing on the couch. I always knew the ease of my relationship, reveled in the comfortable silence that four years of living under the same roof has brought us. I don’t think I actually saw the whole picture.

We like to think that we might crumble from a deviation in routine. At least I do. I’m afraid of change, afraid of turmoil, worried that one little slip in routine might throw everything off balance. This quarantine has shown me how wrong I’ve been. All of our plans have come to a screeching halt, our routine thrown completely off course, and yet, here we still are. Loving and laughing under the roof that has now become our world.

When we find our new normal in the months to come, I’ll know that we had the chance to be certain about love in a time when everything else was in disarray. I’ll miss the smallness of it, the simplicity.

I know now that even though we didn’t get to have Prague or dance by the light of fireflies, and though it feels like the world is falling apart around us, the two of us have each other.

While I’m wracked with anxiety about what’s going on in the world, I now know that our world – the one that’s five rooms big and littered with books – is enough. And will always be enough.

© Tess Mangiardi

Tess is an American writer who left her life in New York City to move to Switzerland in 2016. She runs a travel blog, works in marketing, and loves cats. When she’s not reading, writing, or tweeting, you can probably find her in a café somewhere, drinking a cappuccino (or glass of vino) and talking about what she’s reading, writing, or tweeting.