Today would have been our anniversary
As I’ve mentioned before, I met my wife back in the Dark Ages, using a Commodore 64 and a 300 bps modem. I first met her online in 1986, talked with her a lot in 1987, and married her in 1988. On July 30th, 1988.
Someone who hadn’t been born when we got married asked last night “Did they even have the Internet back then?” Well, online services for the public back then didn’t use the Internet. Online services used dial up modems and X.25 networks that were designed for business. Those business networks were empty at night, so the networks considered selling access to the new online services as found money. (This is me manfully resisting the temptation to keep talking about old tech. It would be easier than the post I’m here to write.)
She lived in Arlington, Virginia and I lived in San Diego, California. Lots of long talks online, as the long distance bills (there wasn’t any VOIP) would have ruined both of us, though we did call each other more and more as time went on. Our first date was when another couple that we knew online got married. My pickup had a flakey head light. I was banging on it with my fist to get it to come on and was so nervous that I stuck my fist through the headlight. By the time our friends’ wedding was over I was bleeding through the bandages, so Ginny bullied me into going to the hospital. Sitting there, I still thought I didn’t need stitches. (I did.) We argued back and forth about it. When I went up to the desk to sign a form the guy there asked me how long we had been married. I told him it was our first date. “Well you FIGHT like an old married couple” he replied.
When I asked her to marry me, she said she would, but there was something that I needed to know. “The Bible says a wife should obey, and I believe the Bible, but I’m no good at it. I can promise to obey you if you want, but I probably never will.” The word “obey” became a running joke between us for the rest of our life together.
The first few months we were married we weren’t online as much as usual for some reason. When I got back to the message board for Q-Link’s Trivia Club I posted a note to explain why I’d been so scarce of late. I began by explaining that I had gotten married on June 30th. Later that night she saw the post and pointed out that the actual date was July 30th. I tried to explain that it felt like we’d always been married, but the words that came out were “Well it FEELS like longer!”
We never had any kids, it wasn’t in the cards for us. When women asked her if she had any kids she would reply “Only the big one I married.” For some reason every married woman she said this to exchanged a knowing look with her and nodded. I’m sure it had something to do with the Vast Female Conspiracy.
I’m not an easy man to live with. I’m not going to catalog my faults; I’m far more comfortable pretending I have enough virtues to offset them. But in the moments when I’m honest with myself I seriously doubt it. But she not only put up with me, but more. She loved me. It was either insanity or a miracle from God. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. The whole nine yards.
A book wouldn’t be enough to write everything about her, but the fact is that even this much about her would have horrified her. She loved to play online, but she drew a hard line about things that were private. This was doubly true after her first online stalker. She fumed at rudeness, especially after we moved to the South and the Chicago native discovered a world of polite people. Once she got used to that, the occasional thoughtlessness of fellow Yankees infuriated her. She never wanted pity. She refused to let me tell anyone, even family, when she was being treated for cancer because she didn’t want the kind of looks that mentioning the “Big C” so often brought. And she beat the cancer.
Late in 2006 I started getting sick. It was frustrating, there were lots of little things and the doctor was sure there was an underlying condition, but couldn’t find it. It was finally identified as a problem with my left kidney, probably cancer. (Biopsies don’t work well on kidneys.) Surgery was scheduled but I got weak faster than a cancer of that size would explain. Surgery was moved up. In March of 2007 I went into the hospital. It wasn’t cancer, it was a huge infection, and my organs were trying to shut down while I was being operated on. A left kidney, gall bladder, and 8 inches of large intestine were removed while I was on the operating table for 8.5 hours. When I woke I couldn’t move my limbs, or even breathe for myself. It was critical illness polyneuropathy.
Six weeks in intensive care and six months in inpatient physical therapy later I used a walker to leave the hospital. She’d been with me the whole time. She bought a little Nokia linux tablet so I could get online, read mail, read news, and download ebooks. (No, they weren’t born with the Kindle, you just didn’t hear much about them before that.) She brought me real books. She brought me pizza. She brought me Chinese food. (The doctors didn’t mind, they said I needed to eat more to regain strength.) She told me about life outside the hospital, something that became vital after a few months of the same four walls.
She cheered me on as I learned to wheel myself about, then walked a few steps with most of my weight taken up by a fancy machine. She cried the day she saw me stand up, grab the handles of a walker, and take three steps under my own power. She would stay late, until the nurses caught her and chased her out. She did everything to take care of me- And nothing to take care of herself.
7.5 months after surgery I got out of the hospital. 2 weeks later she was dead. All of that time taking care of me and not taking care of herself had taken a toll, and her heart gave out. She was 51 years old. My friend and neighbor, who was with me when I found her, told me that had she known that it was her or me she would have picked her being the one to die. The hell of it was that the reverse was true.
Giving everything to take care of the ones you love is not enough. They love you, too. You’re important to them. Taking care of you is part of taking care of the people you love. Yeah, you’re busy. Yeah, you’ve got a million things to do. But do it for the people you love. You’re their most important You.