About 15 years ago, the Big Guy had an infection at the base of his very long windpipe that nearly cost him his life. For a week, the ICU doctors and nurses worked to find a drug that was strong enough to help him without killing him at the dosages he needed. Anyone who has come close to losing a loved knows that those moments of worry are when you take stock of how important a person is. What I didn’t understand at the time, is how those moments can implant the fear of loss like a scar on your psyche.
Before the Big Guy, I was very closed off. I had had miserable experiences with men, driven by bipolar-shaped misperceptions and memories of sexual assault with which I had not yet come to terms. But, as anyone who knows my husband, a six-foot-six premeditated act of kindness (my 6 PAK — go ahead, groan), it is impossible to stay closed off for very long after you get to know him.
The problem with opening up, of course, is that you make yourself vulnerable. With most people, being vulnerable means being open to the possibility that they will hurt you. With the Big Guy, however, the most likely danger is that a foot gets stepped on or that you are in firing range of a post-diner breakfast burp. I don’t mean that we never have serious differences or that he’s perfect, but in the 25 years that I have known him, I have never known him to say something intentionally hurtful to anyone. I wish I could say that about myself.
When he got that sick, however, I realized there was one way he could really hurt me, and that was to leave. And, unintentionally, I started doing what I had always done best. I started closing parts of myself off.
In the name of making sure I could support Thing1 (then the only little Thing in our lives) on my own, I ditched an attempt at a creative career (I was doing wedding photography for a while) and went back to more conventional, technical work that offered stable benefits. I began looking at all the things in our life at home that I needed to learn how to do for myself. I began making sure I didn’t need to lean on the Big Guy.
The problem with working so hard not to lean on someone logistically is that you also begin to stop leaning on them emotionally, and, in a marriage, you’re supposed to lean on each other. When you stop letting yourself be vulnerable, it becomes harder to accept and easier be annoyed by the other person’s vulnerabilities. I have been keenly aware of those moments over the years, and, even though I have felt guilty, fear of losing him has often kept me completely opening up again.
Yesterday on that most romantic of holidays, I had to lean on the Big Guy in a big way.
I had foot surgery yesterday morning. The Big Guy did what he always does. I woke up to bedside-table sized flowers and candy to come home to. He had prepped the car so I could drive one last time for the next week. He made sure crutches were in the car for the walk back into the house later. He was one gigantic Premeditated Act of Kindness.
I try to make sure that I am giving the Big Guy what he needs logistically and emotionally. I try to make sure he has a safety net with me. As I watched him yesterday, however, trying to keep my focus on the details of the pre-surgery to do list, I felt my heart really beginning to lean again. As the sedatives kicked in, I became very conscious that I need to fully open up again in a premeditated way because there’s nothing random about real love.
The first sparks may be serendipity, but the long, slow burn of true love is fueled by a lifetime of premeditated kindness and caretaking. And he deserves that.