“we have to be able to look to our partners to be our primary partner in care and wellbeing.” — Oryoki Bowl
How true, how true this is.
I’m going to start with a Bible quote, not because I’m particularly religious (although I am getting more and more so) but because I’ve been finding much poetry and metaphorical truth in the Bible lately (which is quite an accomplishment for a girl raised as a staunch academic atheist) such as the following from Corinthians 7-4:
Interestingly, other translations instead of the words “belong to” use “power over” and “authority over.” But always, it's reciprocal.
In the past three years, my husband and I have both faced life-threatening illnesses. First was my massive pulmonary embolism that was due to third generation birth control pills made with synthetic hormones (please, avoid these things) and he much more recently from a stroke caused from a brain hemorrhage from marginally high blood pressure that could have probably been controlled through diet and lifestyle and relatively common drugs.
At this point, we are both healthy enough that it’s easy to see these two events as a gift: as a chance to renew our commitment to health and to each other. But there is also the lingering “what if...” “what if...”
What if my husband had just gone ahead and had a vasectomy after our child was born, so that I wouldn’t have had to go on those awful birth control pills to try to retain a spontaneous sex life, at my advanced age? What if we had created a better marriage, if I hadn’t had been so searching and restless and unhappy so that we hadn’t fought so much and frequently caused his blood pressure to rise? What if I didn’t keep harboring this unfocused resentment about not being free to pursue my “art” and not being “recognized” and not being loved in the way I imagine an artist ought to be loved? What if I could finally let go of the relentless fear that I’m “squandering my talent” or “not living up to my potential” or that I’m somehow just not a very good person and the world is bleak and there is really no hope, after all?
When I was in the hospital, with the doctors telling me I was “very, very lucky” to have survived, I couldn’t understand why my husband seemed so angry with me. Why he was pressing me to ask the doctor more and more questions and to give him more and more answers and telling me I was fine and “it was no big deal.” It made me think that he just really didn't love me. I just wanted to be left alone for a while to consider my mortality, and thankfully, I was. I had 8 days of recuperation with my laptop and great wireless, during which time I worked on an doomed and irrelevant assignment like a banshee and tried out Second Life and flew my avatar and dreamed of a condo with a view: a place to live where I didn’t have to take care of the yard and had less stuff and as lovely a view of the green hills of our fair city as I was enjoying immensely from my hospital window. My mother came to me as a ghost: I finally understood why she had died at 64...it was okay to be tired, to just give up. I forgave her for leaving, first our family, and then this life. I had a huge life insurance policy. If I died, they would be half rich. Maybe the boys would be better off without me: they didn’t really seem to need me, in any emotional or personal way, just financially. And I wasn’t very good at the housekeeping tasks they kept asking of me. At the attention they always wanted on the day-to-day things, except the cooking and book reading. Another wife and mother might be better for them, someone more domestic with less public and professional ambition. I might be better off dead than alive. In fact, I would probably have been okay with it if I had just slipped away that first night.
Life can be...exhausting. Disappointing. Lonely. It’s an effort sometimes not to let it be that way.
But, I know now why he was so angry that I had to hang up the phone on him when he called me in the hospital. He was scared. I know, because now I’m the scared one.
One year of blood thinners and no more synthetic hormones, and I’m fit as a fiddle. Started working out and dropped some weight and people tell me I look like I did back in graduate school, fifteen years ago. I’m not even so depressed anymore (St. Johns Wort and Evening Primrose Oil and some Nattokinase or aspirin when I get nervous about the clots returning, which the western doctors say isn’t likely, and consiously trying to cultivate the good thoughts and turn away from the bad ones). Amazing.
We’re cruising along, and then, my husband, he suddenly one morning, well, okay, the very same morning that he has an argument with Our Friends Who Watch Fox News (yes, I omitted that part, it was too strange to believe), gets sick as a dog, nausea, headache, like the flu, but no fever...and wow, loss of vision, damn, emergency room, MRI, stroke. STROKE. Bleeding in his brain. I literally burst into tears when the doctor tells us. Try to explain to angel child. “Daddy has a boo-boo in his head.” Go home with child and read books and make art and bake cookies. "Is he going to die?" "No." Daddy stays in hospital 8 days. More MRIs. Drugs. Happy drugs. Sleepy drugs. Angry drugs. Can’t think straight, either of us. I’m supposed to do everything. I’m supposed to take care. I CAN’T DO EVERYTHING THE WAY YOU USED TO AND THE WAY I USED TO AT THE SAME TIME. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE. Scary set back. Back to hospital. More MRIs. Is the bleeding back? Talking in intensive care about the stashed secrets in the attic. There’s money. Don’t forget the Euros we left in the bank from our trip to France and Italy. SHUT UP. DON’T SAY THAT SHIT. So scared. I can’t do it alone. Don’t you dare leave me alone, you asshole.
20 years of marriage. Did I cause this, because I accidentally sort of fell in love with someone else for a little while? Please all you new age Law of Attraction people, don’t make me believe that my self-indulgent fantasizing of escape made my husband's brain bleed. I didn’t act on it, and I never stopped loving you. I never really wanted you to go away. I just got...angry...sometimes... because you sometimes don’t really listen to me, and sometimes I’m afraid you don’t really understand me at all. But what a man you are to forgive me when I confessed that I had strong feelings for another but nothing happened and it was over and I was terribly embarassed and so, so, sorry. What a man you are to say you were sorry for not knowing how to comfort and support me better, and for promising to try, and for finally reaching out to me by the window, however awkwardly, when I was crying...
Isn’t it a beautiful gift that we still, after all this, want each other? That when we touch, we still melt, and everything is forgiven? That when, despite science and religion and better reason, we can still come together, soft and gentle and pure and true? Sex for us isn’t only about the physical, it’s about the spiritual, and that is the greatest gift that God can give any man and woman, a communion, a transcendence. And look at the miracle of a child we made together with the grace of God.
So what if I’m a writer and the stroke took away your ability to read text. You can still think like a tree wizard sage and talk a blue streak, you can walk and move with balance and strength, you can see enough to drive and keep your freedom. Maybe it’s a blessing you don’t have to read all the crazy shit I write. Maybe that will come back, eventually, and you can give me first reads again, with your short qualified comments. You will probably be mad I posted this for all the world to see, and I will remind you that this is a pseudonym that I’ve taken great pains to fully separate from the rest of our physical and digital identities. Maybe someday I’ll write something that will make you really proud. A good solid piece of literary fiction that transcends our "lives of quiet desperation," as you like to quote Thoreau to me when I'm sad, as if it could provide some comfort. But I fear the writing is mainly just a practical tool for my sanity, and there are plenty of people writing out there better and more seriously than I—writing for the greater good of humanity. My story is a good story, but it doesn’t really matter if people read it. Anyway. It doesn't matter more than us.
I do so love you my husband. I will take care of my body for you, and for our child, and please, please, please, take care of that lovely, handsome, manly body of yours. Take your drugs and do your therapy and we’ll both eat better and work out. I need you in the world with me, right here, right now. I would be lost without you. Let us do our best to take care of ourselves and raise our magnificent, innocent child into a compassionate and healthy young man, together. You are my body, and my body is yours. ‘Till death, and maybe, even happily ever after.