I can’t help it. No matter how well he’s doing, ever time the MRI comes around, I get nervous. I’m a mess of what ifs and what thens and not nows.
For a few days every month, when people ask how he’s doing I stop saying, “He’s fine,” and start saying, “I’ll know after Wednesday,” as though they can’t both be true. Three weeks out of the month I’d tell you they can both be true, but not today.
Today either he’s fine or he’s not.
And he has to be.
People like to tell me how strong I am. That I handle M’s cancer with grace. That I’m amazing for doing what I do. I will never understand how it can look that way from outside my head, because the truth is that I am not strong, and I am not full of grace. The truth is that I am a selfish, self centered person, and I don’t know how I could function without my husband. The truth is that I am protecting myself by believing my husband will not die. The truth is that most days I can’t face the idea of living without him, of having to parent alone, of having to go to sleep without him keeping me warm.
After ten years, I don’t even know how to keep myself warm anymore. I don’t know if I know how to stand without him.
Years before I met M, I read and reread “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran, and imprinted the passage on marriage into my heart.
Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
We have failed in this. There are too few spaces in our togetherness. We drink from one cup. We eat from the same loaf.
The idea of being alone terrifies me, and I fight against it.
After seven and a half years of marriage, M has started to cook. Not because he wants to, but because for the first time I am unable to do this simple task. With my right art coming close to uselessness, he has to pick up my slack and bring some kind of stability to our home. Last night he made spaghetti, and our family sat at the table and ate together for the first time in over a week. Under most circumstances I would be grateful for this, thrilled that finally my husband is mastering these basic life skills. Not this week, though. This week I am terrified at the idea of living in a world where I do not have him to fall back into when I am pushed to the point of collapse. And I am pushed to collapse now.
The fact that what has leveled me is something simple and mundane as pain makes me more ashamed than I can say. That I can soldier on in the face of M’s cancer, his surgery, his treatment, but I crumble under the strain of physical discomfort makes me feel so small.
It’s a lot of pain. It’s constant pain. It’s been two and a half months of mostly untreated pain that becomes so severe I sometimes cry when I have to put on or remove a shirt. But this physical pain pales in comparison to the weight of everything else we’ve been through. A rotator cuff is not that important, not next to brain cancer. Not next to unemployment. Not next to to emergency middle of the night c-sections. Not next to any of the things we’ve been through, every single day since M asked me to marry him.
I’m used to ignoring pain. I’m a master at refusing to feel it until I believe I’m safe, at not crying, at not complaining about what I can’t control. But this has shattered me, and the only thing keeping me whole is M.
Today, I am siting in an MRI waiting room I’ve spent collective weeks of my life sitting in. I’m staring at the same walls, at the same paintings, at the same colorless chairs and the same exit signs and the same carpet as eight years ago, when I had no choice but to be strong.
Today I cannot be strong. Today I am terrified and in pain and I cannot imagine having to survive in a world where I don’t have him with me.
This too shall pass, I know, this too shall pass. Somehow, maybe, I’ll get this pain under control. Maybe I’ll have shoulder surgery and get back to being the version of me that might drink from M’s cup and eat from M’s loaf, but I will at least be able to stand on my own. Maybe in another month I’ll feel optimistic and graceful and brave.
Right now I’m just tired, so unbelievably tired, and desperately scared.
Right now I just want to fall into M and let him hold me up.
But I can’t. He’s getting his MRI. We’re finding out if he really is okay.
And if he’s not, I have nowhere else to fall.
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