What seems like suddenly: I’m half of an old married couple. Random people, and even those who know us, make all kinds of assumptions about our many, many years of marriage. Some are convinced we’ve been miserable from day one. Others, influenced by fairytales or drugs, fantasize decade after decade…after decade of bliss.
Once, a college kid sitting behind us on BART interrupted our bickering, (something about how my husband wears shulb-shoes knowing full well it’s a turn off for me) to tell us how special it was for her to see such a doting, old couple. “It’s so rare these days,” she declared with full authority. She hoped she would “feel so loving” toward her husband when she is as old as we are.
Yes, she really did say old twice.
We were so taken aback we said a simultaneous, “thanks,” before we broke into a conspiratorial laugh. Anyone who has been married for more than a month understands that love is a wild beast and leashing it with marriage is unlikely to tame it into an adorable pet.
Not long ago, a bicycle accident landed my husband in a medically induced coma and I was left to fend for him; you know, that spousal responsibility of plug-pulling or whatever. Cautiously, the nursing staff in the ICU asked me if I thought he would be glad to see me when he woke up. I worried about it for nine days.
What if he came to and all he could remember about me and our life together were the hell times? There have been plenty of them. Times, that in hindsight, I should be very embarrassed about. I’ve been mean, rude, callous, crude, disregarding, hostile, petty, and other things I know better than to put in writing.
Would the first thing flashing in my beloved’s mind when he finally opened his eyes and saw me be the time I left him (“that’s right, Mister! I’m sooo outta here!”) barefooted in the desert with only a bicycle and bottle of water? His spandex clad image shimmered like a mirage in the rear view mirror as I sped away cursing. I put thirty miles between us before having a second thought.
Or what if he remembered that time when in a fit of house-wifing self pity pettiness; because let’s admit it, there is limited satisfaction in doing someone else’s laundry, I told him the only reason I allowed him in my life was because I needed his money.
Why should the nurses assume I am a trustworthy wife?
The two hundred and nineteen hours I waited for reckoning held plenty of time to remember the good stuff too. But there was no reassurance in doing that. Things were far too serious for me to go patting myself on the back for having put up with his snoring for forty plus years. Thinking about the sentimental toast we made at our son’s wedding dinner just made me cry.
When the medical team* coordinated removing the ventilator and bringing him conscious– with all the skill, tension, and drama of an Apollo launch, and the anticipated look of recognition passed between my love and I, it felt, well, it felt like we were really glad to see each other.
*Endless gratitude to everyone at the Highland Hospital ER & ICU.