If you live in the Northeast or know anyone who does you already know what a horrific thing this past winter was. There were monster piles of snow. Then it warmed up and they turned into monster piles of slush. Then the temperature plunged and the slush turned to rock-hard ice. And stayed that way for months. When Bill dropped me at the Poughkeepsie train station on my way to the ASJA conference in late April, I gasped as we drove in: Piled up against the side of the station, more than a story high, was a mountainside made of dirty, hard-packed snow that obviously had been transported there to get it out of the way somewhere else. I bet some of it is still there.
A few things turned this past winter even worse in our household. First, there were kidney stones. Bill was told he had large stones in both kidneys that required serious medical intervention. He hates Western medicine so he decided he would treat them himself with lemon juice and then apple cider vinegar diluted in endless glasses of water. It worked, to my amazement, but it took much of the winter, during which time Bill stayed mostly stretched out in his white leather recliner.
The recliner is at the exact center of our rather small house. There is no way Bill can speak or even belch in that spot without my hearing it, wherever I may be, unless I put headphones on. It didn’t help that he was miserable and in pain and generally inclined to gripe, or that he couldn’t go much of anywhere else.
I couldn’t either. A massive amount of work kept me at my desk most of the time. Plus, early in the winter I managed to injure my rotator cuff on the right side. I was in a fair amount of pain myself and at one point the two of us shared a hot-water-and-ginger compress in an attempt to cure both his kidneys and my shoulder. Unable to put any weight on my right arm, there was no way I could go to yoga class, and yoga is one of the things that keep me sane.
So there we were, trapped and grumpy. Bill craved attention. I mostly craved being left alone. The more I wanted space, the more he wanted interaction, a perfectly unhappy spiral. And so, for fleeting moment, I asked myself the unthinkable. Why was I moving across the country (in an RV!) with a man who, most of the time, I just wanted him to get away from me? Was I sure I wanted to do this? Should I consider splitting up instead? This line of thought didn’t get me very far. One of the few things I’ve known for sure for the past 19 years is that Bill and I belong together. Any serious thought of separation was met by the certainty that if I ever made that move I’d regret it immediately and forever. But in the moment, all I could feel was trapped and claustrophobic. There seemed to be very little joy in our marriage.
Time passed, and things got better. It helped when, around Christmas, I read an article about a woman who literally worked herself to death and began slacking off my own work schedule a bit, letting some things happen late or not at all in exchange for one work-free day every week. The worst of the winter went by. Bill’s kidneys hurt less, and he became more mobile.
The joy was still missing though. I was still working too hard, or Bill was too focused on planning the move, or for whatever other reason. So we did two things that always work whenever our marriage hits a snag. The first is, we talked about it. I told him how claustrophobic and unhappy I’d been feeling, and how I was much less connected to him than usual.
He apologized for his kidney pain-inspired grumpiness. But then he said something that surprised me: He thought our disconnect was because his heart was already in Seattle, whereas mine was still here. And he was afraid that my subconscious didn’t really want to move.
“Of course I have mixed feelings about it, I love it here,” I said. “And I’m sure my subconscious may not want to move. But I’m confident that my conscious mind will get the rest of me to the West Coast.”
That seemed to satisfy him. Then we did the second thing that always helps, we went out together for some fun. We had brunch in Kingston and then set out on our favorite stroll by the edge of the Rondout Creek, past the tugboat museum, and the marina full of pleasure boats, the PT boat being restored, the waterside restaurants and leftover warehouses.
As we started on our walk, I thought back to a night early in our relationship, years before we married. We’d been fighting all evening and were now going out together somewhere, though I don’t remember where. I don’t remember what we were fighting about either—probably nothing of substance—but I do remember that I was completely furious at Bill, and had been for hours and hours. As I opened the door to get in the car I thought to myself that I would be perfectly happy if he left and I never saw him again. But the reasoning part of my brain reminded me that this was temporary, that he was the man I had chosen to be with, would likely be spending my life with, and that, at least most of the time, I was a lot happier with him than I was without him. Having remembered all this, I got in the car with him.
Now, standing next to him more than a decade later, I thought back to that evening. And I knew that I would always remind myself again, and again, any time, as many times as I needed, that my life without him would be immeasurably sadder and emptier. That he was my life’s partner and we belonged together.
I put my hand in the crook of his elbow. I wanted to say all this to him, about how I would remind myself as many times as it took that I loved him. But I knew it would come out sounding wrong. So instead I just said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I hope not,” he answered. He put his other hand on top of mine.
Then we walked off together along the creek.
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