It was the morning my husband was to leave on one of his four day fishing trips. I awoke in the wee hours of the morning, that mystery pain that comes without reason, creeping up in my belly. I took the pills I had been prescribed for this impossible to diagnose problem. Rolling over to my husband, I woke him and asked for his comfort. Lying beside him on the bed, his arms wrapped around me, as I writhed in pain, tears welled up in my eyes. I cried there, and realized that I did not want him to leave me. All the time that I told myself I do not miss him when he goes, that I wanted him to leave, and that I would enjoy a few days apart, I realized that inside, this was what I was really feeling.
It’s funny, love is.
In high school, love was hearts and plus signs and notes slipped under study hall tables. Dreams of finding that one true love; the one who would love me endlessly and completely. Fantasies of spending every moment together with this person.
In my twenties and thirties, love was about support – both emotional and monetary. It was about sharing responsibilities – or expecting to. It was about facing life as a couple without losing my identity. It was angry and demanding, comparing and sharing, disappointing and lonely.
Finally, in my forties, I think that love has been redefined once more, but I feel it is closer than ever to the real definition. I’ve given up the fantasy, the expectations of love, and have realized that love is not what we expect it to be or what we expect it to give to us. Instead, I find that as I give it, I receive it. Where I thought it would show up, it only took my own showing up to feel it. It is still such a mystery, and I want to put it into words, so I can share it with others, like me, who had it predefined, and felt that disappointment over and over, as love showed up in disguise. I find that it is like a burning ember deep inside that glows with a knowing that is unique, I am sure, to the holder of the glow. It is stimulated by outer sources, but has actually been there all along.
Today I listened to an older couple tell their account of the wife’s recent illness. Her husband looked at her with such sweetness and told her, “You’ve lost too much weight. The wind’s gonna blow you away.”
My heart squeezed, and I felt tears surfacing. He was teasing her, yet in the guise of his chiding, I felt the vulnerability and fear of loss that he had experienced during that trying time. I saw his eyes, just blue spots amongst the crinkled skin of his face, so full of love and longevity. This was a new side of love. Something I had never gone so far to imagine the feeling of. Songs sing of wanting to grow old together, and yet, I could never go that far. Not in my mind. Not till now. I didn’t know what it meant.
When my husband and I had been married just fourteen years, a young woman commented that fourteen years is a long time. Although I agreed, I didn’t take it to the depth of what that statement really meant. Rather than seeing it as fourteen years of growth and growing closer, I saw it most times as a jail sentence.
Now, at twenty-two years of marriage, a long time means lots of history. And if you don’t feel what history means, or don’t feel the power of that word, I will tell you what I have realized. History, for me, is defined as childbirth, raising children and all the happiness, sorrow, fun and fear that go with that, financial struggles, many Christmases with Christmas surprises and celebrations of love and joy, and family gatherings, tears and laughter, inside jokes, love making and love taking. It means living with and learning through time the very most inner part of this person, the part that isn’t about their political views, their shoe size or any of their habits or skills. This history becomes part of your being till the notion of living without them is as unthinkable as living without your right wrist. (My right wrist gives me a lot of pain, but as a right handed person, it is very crucial to my life.)
There have been so many times throughout my marriage that I have wanted to throw in the towel. Trying to “make” him love and appreciate me seemed unachievable. Yet now, even though it might appear as if nothing has changed, there’s been a change in me. This shared time travel that he and I have been through now seems like a secret that only he and I know, and one that no one else could ever possibly understand. Like a buried treasure that only he and I know where the map to it lies.
I wish that everyone could realize this destination before they get there. To know this feeling can and will be found. And mostly, I wish they could know what I didn’t know, but kept going anyway – love isn’t what or where you think it is, but it is there, and if you keep giving and forgiving, you will find it. Just look in the mirror.