Susan and I, as of this writing, have been together 24 years, 2 months, 2 weeks, and four days. Roughly. That’s almost half of my life, and more than half of hers, poor girl. She’s given me almost 25 years, many of them willingly.
We’ve grown together, had kids together, travelled, learned, loved, laughed, fought and made up together. There’s always been, it seems, an us, together. So what happens when there is no more us? When there’s just a me?
I’m not gonna lie to you, I have a great deal of anxiety about being a single parent. Perhaps anxiety isn’t the right word. Terror might be better, dread more accurate. All decisions will fall to me. All of the administrative impedimenta – the school forms, the banking, the taxes and registrations and residency requirements – will have to be hefted by one rather than two. I find the prospect of that daunting, to say the least.
But Susan has her own fears to deal with. The other day she said for the first time, ‘Having terminal cancer is scary.’ I asked her for specifics, and much of it was the unknowns. Where she’ll end up dying and when, how much it will hurt, how she’s going to be able to say goodbye. These are large questions, and not ones I’m able to answer. You can’t just Google this stuff.
So we both live with a lot of anxiety, some overlapping, some solely our own. But although there is nothing about this whole thing that isn’t bad, there’s a lot about it that’s good. I contradict myself, I know. But Susan’s prognosis has in many ways brought us closer. Caregiving can be an intimate and wondrous thing. When I juice the fruit and vegetables for her morning concoction, put her pills out, tend to her bags and tubes and other extra-anatomical accoutrements, go with her (once again) to the emergency room, I feel a love for her more potent than anything I felt even in our earliest days of discovery, romance, infatuation, and general sexual abandon.
But its a lot more than just the shared experience of her slow physical deterioration. Knowing that a certain amount of future has been taken from you, that you’re living life on a more compressed time scale, makes you more cognizant of the present. It may be cliché, but it also happens to be true. We tell each other things we’ve never shared before. We find humor in unlikely and sometimes distasteful places. We have frank discussions about what’s coming our way next. But perhaps most of all, we try to enjoy the time we have left. As Andy says in the Shawshank Redemption, ‘I guess it comes down to a simple choice: get busy living, or get busy dying.’ We’re trying to get busy living.
There are many ways to look at this whole shitshow. It’s a tragedy, yes. It is also, at times, a romantic comedy, a biopic and a hospital drama. It’s dark comedy. It’s Theatre of the Absurd. But there’s also beauty there, and love, honesty and tenderness.
24 years, 2 months, two weeks and four days. So far. And when this whole show finally ends I hope I’ll have the presence of mind to cherish all the time she gave us, rather than dwell on the time we didn’t get to have. And to know that, ultimately, it was a love story.