Thursday, March 03, 2011

Growing Old, Together

Sunlight pours through the window, dancing on the sheets on his bed as I sit, watching the wind shake the branches outside. Pussywillows, already? I'm grateful for the window this time; the sunlight is cheering, unlike the cavernous rooms we've been in before.

I can hear the man next to us, being attended to by his daughter, snoring softly. We have been in these places for too often for my liking over the past year, John and I.

Years ago when my young nephew was critically injured I spent a week of my life at Children's Hospital, and before long one begins to learn more about the hospital than you really care to. Where the best coffee is, what food to avoid in the cafeteria, the best seats to catch a stray ray of sunshine.

I crave sunshine when I'm in hospitals, as if just the very light and warmth of it touching my skin can right all the wrongs with the situation that has brought me there. I vowed after that week, with it's dizzying highs and crushing lows, that I would never find myself that familiar with a hospital again.

Yet I'm sitting here beside a bed for my husband, this scene becoming far too familiar. I remembered to pack a lunch that morning, so we'd avoid cafeteria food. Change jingles in my pocket so I can grab a coffee, my ipod is charged, a novel within reach. I'm becoming a pro at this hospital thing, you know.

I don't want to be a pro at it. Instead, I want to be blissfully ignorant, as I was when I was young. When John and I began dating, it slipped unexpectedly that he had leukemia. We stood on the porch that warm summer night, and I could see the hesitation in his eyes. Did it matter?

I didn't even blink because in my naive 21 year old mind, of course it didn't matter. It couldn't because that kind of thing happened to other people, not to me. Not the people I love. He wasn't allowed to die because the people I love are magically protected from all harm, right?

If only life were that easy.

Almost 20 years have passed and in that time there have been near misses, lost friends, and now I'm older and wise enough to know that my 21 year old self was idealistic and a bit stupid because here I sit, with the beep of heart monitors, the drip of IVs, and nurses padding softly to and fro.

When I married John, this man a full 20 years older than me, people scoffed. Aside from the usual assumption that I was only marrying him for his money, or he was just looking for a young bit of tail, people thought we were nuts. Just you wait, they said. He will get old and you won't be happy. Your marriage will die. You will be still young, ready to have fun and he will be OLD.

He isn't old yet, but he is older. And as I watch my twitter stream scoff at Celine Dion and her 'grandfather' (clearly, her husband) at the Oscars, or laugh at Michael Douglas's arm candy, I ache to get a message across that I doubt will be heard. I see myself in those women, in those marriages that are only a few years ahead of my own. Be gentle on them, I want to plead. You have no idea how hard it is to watch your spouse, who intellectually you know is older than you, start to age. You don't know what it's like to wake in the middle of the night and hope that the time-the precious time when you are both healthy and young enough to do active things together, is at least another 15 years, which feels frighteningly short. Or what it's like to hear your co-workers speak about their aging, ailing parents and realize they are not much older than your spouse and that could be YOUR reality.

John stirs in his sleep, and smiles softly. It's been a crazy year of ups and downs, of tests, waiting for results, avoiding Doctor Google, aching to just burst and allow all my fears and hopes be splayed all over my blog in print for the world to see, but holding back out of respect for his privacy, and praying that no news means good news. It's just the business of getting older, he says, which still doesn't sit well with me. This time, as I sit in the sunshine looking at the pussy willows outside the window, I think we've turned a corner. He looks well and strong, more like the guy that I knew instead of the man he had faded to sometime last year. (for the record, he is fine.)

My hand reaches for his across the bed and I give it a squeeze. A smile slowly, playfully, flits across his lips, before he squeezes my hand reassuringly-always the rock, the strong, protective guy he is, making sure that I'm feeling like everything is fine.

In that moment, the answer to my fears and uncertainty comes like a wave, and I see that it is simple, really. The one thing that nobody ever counts on, which can't be measured, bought, or sold but has grown and strengthened through the last 20 years to something that not even time or illness can shake.


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