As promised, Katie, the night nurse, comes into the room every four hours to check your vitals. We’ve been here for six of those rotations now. It’s dark everywhere when she opens the door this time, but she’s nice enough to keep the lights off and work around whatever the hallway fluorescents give her. I wake up anyway, tapping for the glow of my phone that declares 4:13AM.
Katie does her thing: gloves her right hand then her left, pokes where she knows she needs to and then tip toes out of the room. And not more than a handful of seconds after she leaves, you’re fast asleep. And I’m restless, left to the dull patter of your bubbling oxygen and the lilting beeps of all the monitors – their exact purposes still a mystery to me.
I’m watching you sleep five feet away from me and, somewhere in the distance between our breaths, I have to squint to see the rise and fall of your chest. I squint to make out the detail in your face, the furrow in your brow and to survey how fast your hair has grown since its last cut. And somewhere between my squints and your shallow exhales, I’m confused at where I am – where we are. Lost.
This is not the life I planned. No twenty-something of any ability is equipped to wade these complexities with the necessary grace and wisdom to make an ounce of sense, especially me. I take no pride in knowing the breadth of your medical history, having heard the intricacies told dozens of times, having to retell it over and over to nurses and specialists and co-workers and CVS pharmacists – retelling it to myself as I lay insomnia-ridden on the pullout sleeper beside you. No. I figured that 11 months into our marriage we’d be converting the spare room into a nursery or sitting together at the kitchen table, opening a graduate school acceptance letter. Those plans didn’t include counting pills, counting oxygen tanks, counting the stairs to the front door or discounting insurance premiums. But here we are, somewhere between the plans we make and the realities we greet.
This is not the woman I married, someone connected to tubes and wires and IVs – someone jabbed and prodded by medical students younger than us, someone pitied by nameless passersby. The woman I married leapt at each day and opportunity, ran down every tennis ball I’d fire at her and left every stranger she met with a renewed sense of value. And yet, I too was a different man than the one lying in this hospital room, staring at you at 4:42AM, willing the sleepiness to leave him be. I suppose we’re there too, somewhere between the woman you were and man I thought I was.
This is not what I deserve – I think to myself – this consequence does not match my prior action. I’ve lived well, I feel. I’ve always tried to be kind, to be honest, to show up to work on time. And I acknowledge the many times I’ve failed in all those areas. But I don’t make the rules any more than I understand them. And regardless of any just or sound rationality – the world doesn’t measure in favor– here I am, somewhere between my allotment and God’s seemingly distant mercy.
…And following the moments I indulge these last few thoughts, I come to myself. Because, yes, this is not the life I planned, you’re not the woman you were when I married you, and this new circumstance may be harder and deeper than what I feel I may deserve. But so it is for you too. And a thousand times over. This is not the life you chose, you are not the woman you once knew yourself to be, and this – by every angle and interpretation – is not the life you deserve. And where does that leave the two of us? What does that put us between?
Does it put us between victories and not just between appointments? Perhaps it leaves us somewhere suspended between the thoughts that are mine and the thoughts that are yours, the fears that are mine and the fears that are yours; our pains, our sorrows, our hidden tears. Our dreams. Between you understanding the instincts behind my words and me sensing the pleas and the pleasure in your tones. Between peace and sleep, between fire and water, between the devil and the deep blue sea. Between somewhere and nowhere. Wherever that is.
Or are we already there, exactly where we need to be? And am I just too narrow in vision?
Because seeing you in your hospital gown, in your hospital bed, head resting on your hospital pillow, body entwined in hospital tubing, I know that when you wake you won’t see any of that. I know that you’ll open your eyes and search for my yearning face, accepting it despite the harsh changes made to it in the past year. I know that you’ll look around and, instead of seeing the stark fact of our actuality, will define the scene as nothing more than some precious time to spend alone with the imperfect man you’ve chosen to love. And I’ll never know how you do it.
This is not the life I planned. Because the life I planned had everything to do with what I wanted and nothing to do with what I needed. It was constructed for the man I was, in my limited scope, and gave little thought for the man I am capable of becoming, should I accept the refining fires life offers. And it was a plan with infinitely limited foresight of the woman who would make mountains of my pebble dreams. No, this life is not the life I planned, because I never thought I’d be worthy of a life so rich with color and possibility and magic.
This is not the woman I married. Because the woman I married on that August day has morphed into an authority on hope, a character of triumph, a victor. You’ve become my hero. And if you’ve ever thought of yourself as someone who could change lives before, you’ve developed into someone who can change the world. Because you’ve changed mine.
This is not what I deserve – I think to myself – this masters class in honor and gratitude. This is a hero’s tale and I’m just a 5’8” English major with road rage and terrible eating habits. This story calls for someone stronger, someone smarter, and someone who functions better on little sleep.
…And then I shift my body weight to my other hip, look out at the new day’s faint new light and I come to myself once again. Because, yes, while this story calls for someone I’m not, it qualifies for someone you are helping me become. Somewhere down the road of our journey, you will have ushered me into a manhood capable of challenges beyond the one we’re currently going through because we’ll have already gone through it. You will have helped lay the bricks to an unshakeable family foundation because you’re doing so now, every time you forgive me or correct me or rock me in your arms as I cry out the frustrations that pale in comparison to the ones you should be crying about. You will have placed me into a life and circumstance that will far exceed anything I’ve earned or deserved, and you will have done so with a grace that marvels.
And until that day, I’ll be here, thanking God for the air in my lungs that gives me the days and strength to help you find yours. I’ll be looking back, at times, to remind myself how far we’ve come. And I’ll be looking forward to see the climbs we’ve yet to conquer; the doors yet to be opened, the scrapbooks yet to be filled, the promises yet to be kept. The quiet room on that quiet and distant morning where I watch you sleep, in awe of the distances we’ve crossed and the humans you’ve helped us become. That’s where you’ll find me – someday, somehow – between you and forever.