Guest Columnist

Covid-19 made me close my B&B, but my community gives me hope

Ash Bruxvoort arranges flowers in a vase at Thistle's Summit, a bed and breakfast, in Mount Vernon on Wednesday, Aug. 21
Ash Bruxvoort arranges flowers in a vase at Thistle's Summit, a bed and breakfast, in Mount Vernon on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Owners Ash Bruxvoort and Marti Payseur changed pace from their jobs in Des Moines to buy the large old house and turn it into a B & B catering to the LGBTQ+ community. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

My quads are throbbing in places I never knew existed, the tendons in my arms and wrists feel like they are going to snap as I pound away on the keyboard. Everything feels sore but the pain is acutely satisfying. The past few weeks for the United States have been filled with heartache, anxiety, concern and the most certain knowledge that things will get worse before they get better. I feel relieved, almost lucky, to have earned a physical manifestation of that pain. Something that feels so firm, in a moment laden with the surreal.

When we had to close the doors of our bed & breakfast for the foreseeable future because of Covid-19, I fixed my vision on whipping our yard into shape. Nearly every moment since has been consumed with raking, weeding and clearing our woefully neglected half an acre. In moments of pause, I have found joy in uncovering spring ephemerals once matted down by leaves, now dotting the corners of our property. We announced our closure through an Instagram video, tears lapping at my eyes.

The sorrow overwhelming, that we could not serve the queer community during this difficult moment when for some among us, the isolation and fear of the AIDS crisis is a not so distant memory. Copious reservations refunded, canceled plan after canceled plan, guaranteed capital disappearing into the ether. It was as if overnight the bottom dropped out and into the gargantuan economic hole our income disappeared entirely. We have been in business for less than a year and even the most frugal of ways could not have prepared us for an impact of this magnitude after the stillness of winter.

People have been called to share their talents online to create a digital community, from the isolation of their living room. The kindness of near-strangers has been staggering.

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The patchy lawn and the shaggy landscaping was something I could control when everything felt moments away from spinning out. And I am not alone, people are grappling for something to hold on to in the dark uncertainty. We have witnessed the hushed conversations between fellow small business owners expressing concerns over being able to pay the rent on their shop and the mortgage on their home. We have heard the quivers of fear in the voices of shop owners, that if infected with the virus their medical debt would surely swallow them and their business assets whole, but refusing to close because of the aforementioned. Over a dinner of pantry staples, my partner and I reminisced about reading American Girl Doll books as children and recalled the victory gardens Molly started during World War II to help her family. Neither one of us wanted to admit out loud that we want our yard to be pristine and garden to be abundant because we are worried about food insecurity.

Even in this darkness, we have all witnessed community build and solidarity grow. Like the snowdrops of early spring, out of the frozen ground emerge white flashes of hope. I have observed friends holding up local businesses, giving what they can to ensure survival for another month. My mother has doubled her volunteer hours at the already strained food bank, despite being in the at-risk category for fatality from the virus. Folx are finding comfort in nature. We have seen digital tip jars overflowing with donations for service industry workers whose income has dried up. People have been called to share their talents online to create a digital community, from the isolation of their living room. The kindness of near-strangers has been staggering.

The effects of Covid-19 will not just be realized in the direct impact of the virus on the population or the burden on the economy. It will be found in the moments when we abandon the rugged individualism of the American psyche to think about the collective. We are being invited to think about every single person as having value and to think about the world with a far more ethical lens than we ordinarily do. I wish out of this catastrophic moment, for a reset of the American medical and insurance system, to ensure that people don’t have to choose between being treated or affording to live. I hope this sense of solidarity and compassion charts new pathways in the collective consciousness that endure far beyond quarantine. May fierce compassion bloom from this and outlast all of us.

Marti Payseur (she/her/hers) is the co-owner of Thistle’s Summit Bed & Breakfast located in Mount Vernon, Iowa. It is affectionately called “Iowa’s Queerest B&B.” She is a community activist, organizing around LGBTQ and feminist issues for One Iowa. She also makes a legendary sea salt chocolate chip cookie.

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