Sunday, June 4, 1995 at 6:00PM.
I have a habit of getting married on a weekend at six. I did it the second go around, too.
Time hadn’t changed the fact I didn’t like being the center of attention. Some of my discomfort that night stemmed from my hair. It had been professionally done by a stylist I'd never met before. I looked like a mafia princess. Getting married in my mother’s backyard didn’t help quell my awkwardness. I walked quickly down the makeshift aisle, without the presence of my father who had died the year before, to pledge my life to another.
We’d spent almost twenty-two years together as husband and wife. That is if you don’t count the four previous times I left him, which I don’t. This time is different. There is no blame. You know, those irreconcilable differences. He still loves me, and I am ripping out his heart. Don’t most wives say a version of the same thing – their husband doesn’t talk to them anymore? We never really did. We played tug-of-war. Each of us trying to convince the other we were right. We couldn’t drive to the corner Walgreen’s without a ten-minute discussion over which streets yielded the quickest route.
I remember after the last breakup about two years ago, I headily stated my demands. “From now on I’m drinking Fiji. I don’t care if it’s more expensive. It has a healthier PH value and it tastes better. I hate Dasani.”
“Fine,” he shrugged.
Each week, he would drive out of the way to pick up said case of Dasani at Sam’s Club because it cost a few dollars less there. Didn’t he burn more gas getting to Sam’s, thus the water actually cost more? He seemed perturbed at having to spend the extra money on my new libation, and thoroughly unimpressed with my declaration. I was convinced that trying again to repair the shards of our union, this time with the help of a therapist, was finally going to make us stick. That, and better bottled water. And agoraphobia. I moved out of our house into my own apartment but did not spend one night there alone – I was too scared. He stayed with me.
Now it boils down to 105 days. That is the time from when first I announced the ending of our union yet again, until the day we are set to go our separate ways. That is only three weeks from now. These have actually been some of the best for us. We’ve communicated more now than ever before. We’ve figured out who is taking what, when, and where. Our feelings spill out and we’ve cried; sometimes we’ve even laughed. It’s the least stressed I have felt, in terms of this relationship, since that awkward walk down the aisle. It says a lot about the coupling when the best times are during the transition from selling the house to prying your lives apart from each other. I’ve been crippled some days with the thoughts of my being on my own. Not having him, my safe person, with me any longer.
At the height of my agoraphobia in 2013, I sat humiliated outside of St. Rose Dominican Hospital staring up at the third-floor windows, wondering which one my husband was in. Paralyzing thoughts stabbed my brain. I’d been there for hours, too anxious to get in the elevator and go up. I couldn’t take the stairs, either. They were locked on both sides by doors that required card access to open them. I imagined getting stuck in the stairwell which filled me with so much panic I could barely stand up straight.
I saw them coming from what seemed a mile away. My brother-in-law and his new paramour. The relationship was very young. He’d made mention of the fact she always wore the same thing every time he saw her, like the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry breaks into his girlfriend’s apartment to look inside her closet because she is always wearing the same dress. This woman did not wear dresses. She wore athletic shorts. And a tank top. Does a woman who wears the same outfit every day pass judgement on a woman who loiters on hospital grounds unable to go up to her husband’s room?
The weekend before had been spent at the very same facility. Only that time I was able to accompany him to the emergency room, being it was on the first floor. I stayed until three-thirty in the morning until I could no longer contain my rising panic, then I called my sister to take over for me so I could go home and try to collect myself. I wasn’t there when the doctor gave him his initial test results. Later he told us to be prepared for adenocarcinoma. He told us to Google it. I wondered why he didn’t just say pancreatic cancer. He wasn’t sure, he said, and he gave us the number of an oncologist. Five days after that I gathered an entourage in the waiting room for the first appointment. I sat between my sons, Max and Jake. I was woozy. I didn’t want to be there because the last thing anyone needed was to have to deal with me; I was on the verge of a melt down.
But how do you not go to the doctor on the day you think you’ll hear your husband is going to die?
“Is your primary care doctor an internist?” my sister-in-law asked.
“What?” I was looking directly at her but hadn’t heard a word she'd said.
“He needs an internist. Dr. Wikler isn’t an internist. He’s going to have his oncologist, of course, but he needs a good primary care doctor. I’ll text you the name of mine.”
“Dr. Wikler is a D.O. and an internist, Fran. I’m fifty-one years old; I think I know how to pick out a doctor.” I spat.
The door to the exam rooms opened. “Mr. Meyers?” The nurse called out. He winced when he got up, walked in her direction, my sister and his following. I watched them disappear and stayed put between my boys.
Max was being an asshole. He was still coming off heroin, or trying to. He'd been reading Eckart Tolle and was spouting some philosophy he thought was about enlightenment. How death didn’t matter, everyone is going to die sometime, right? I wanted to strangle him.
My phone buzzed. The text was from my sister. It said, GOOD NEWS!
And it was good news considering the alternative. Lymphoma. Huge lymphoma, but lymphoma all the same. Inoperable, yet treatable with some toxic medicine that might kill him the first time it was to be administered. That was why he was in the hospital on the third floor; they had to keep an eye on him. Then he’d do chemo, and hopefully that was it. He managed it brilliantly. He continued to work, most days. There was one in particular, as we sat on the bathroom floor in front of the toilet, that I looked at him and gently forced him to call in sick. He needed me then, and I am glad I was there for him. It is the least, the absolute least I could do for him.
If we had been parted back then by disease, perhaps I would have ventured out as I am doing now. Dipping my toes in the water of freedom. All I know is that the very thought of such things sent me into a panic to the point I could barely breathe, until a few short months ago. In order to fully realize myself back into the world, I have to do it alone. He does not understand this, and I can see why. Recently, as I have triumphed by going to the dentist without him, or driving myself down a street I previously avoided out of fear, he sank. Each milestone brings me giddily closer to an independence I never thought I would experience again, as it pushes him further away.
Divorce hurts no matter what side of it you are on – victim or perpetrator. And in fairness, even though our marriage has been difficult I cannot say I am sorry I married him. I’m not. To say I thank him doesn't nearly do justice to the time we spent together, to the growth it lead me to, to the rights I now see before me instead of the whispers of what I should, could, or might want to do. Yet I do thank him. And I wish him every happiness. He is good people.