Monday, August 8, 2011
Day 460: I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
I've said before in this blog that one of the strange things about writing it is that people think they know what is going on with me because they read these words, when in reality 95% of what's going on with me is never represented here. I said this again when I went out the other night with some girlfriends for a much needed night out. I said that one of the things that I was always reluctant to write about was how tough cancer was, and is, on my marriage. In the popular culture of cancer, the only acceptable thing to say about relationships is that going through this together makes your love stronger, brings you closer together, and makes you appreciate each other every minute of every day.
No one ever talks about having cancer at a young age and wanting to strangle your spouse anyway. If Gabe and I make it through this move without killing each other, we will definitely have reason to celebrate. Owning two houses--one that is being renovated, and one that must be kept pristine in order to be shown to prospective buyers--while working full time and taking care of two little kids has made us both a little crazy. We had a huge fight last week and I started to wonder if we should just keep both houses, and live in them separately. I actually suggested that out loud to Gabe. I left him speechless with that one.
Of course I didn't really want that, and I knew I didn't want that, so I didn't feel too bad laughing about that idea with my friends. They could relate, which made me feel better, and less guilty. The thing is, even when I am shaking my head and thinking, god this man is ridiculous, I don't want to put that out there in cyberspace because I don't want anyone else to think those things. It's ok for me to bitch about my husband, but I don't want other people to think bad things about Gabe or about my marriage, so I can't write about that here. I need to get that stuff off my chest in real life, with real people, who will commiserate with me and tell me their stories about wanting to just give up and go live in a cave somewhere.
We got past that fight, but having it, and talking to other women about all the things that were bugging me made me think about cancer and how it has affected us. The thing is--it hasn't changed our relationship that much, and the problem is that everyone, including me, thinks that it should have changed everything. I have never had much patience, and I hate made-up drama, but all cancer has done is made that worse for me. Now Gabe does something I think is stupid and instead of having some epiphany moment of clarity and Zen-like understanding, I think, did I really survive breast cancer to deal with this shit? He snaps at me and I think, oh hell no, after all the shit I've gone through you're not yelling at me about nothing. Aren't you supposed to realize what you have, what you might have lost?
There's a lot of pressure to be better than we are. We made the decision to do normal-people things, so why the angst over having normal-people reactions to those things? We fight about who's going to deal with contractors, we argue about money, I get pissed when I feel like Gabe is cranky all day long until I change into some outfit like the one I'm wearing in these pictures so I can make dinner and clean and suddenly he's all over me, all nice in anticipation of getting me into bed (I had to include the unflattering faceless shot of us taken right after Gabe came in from a rainstorm and I had just taken a meatloaf out of the oven, because Lenny took these pictures of us, and it made me realize how she sees us most of the time, how tall we must seem to her). Doesn't everyone have these issues? Of course they do, but in the back of my mind I often think, I shouldn't feel like this, this house is a great promise for the future, we both have good jobs, aren't I lucky that after everything my young husband is still so attracted to me? Why do my kids make me nuts sometimes?
I even feel guilt about the new house. I wanted to buy it primarily for its investment value considering my precarious triple negative status, but I also wanted it for a much less selfless reason: The house is big enough to give me a multitude of places to hide. I daydream about when things get loud and obnoxious in the house and instead of shooing everyone out the door and pretending that I live by myself for a few precious moments (that's what I do now), I could just go sit on the landing and read a book and ignore everyone. I could go sit on the porch. I could go exercise in the room dedicated to that purpose. I could escape to my huge bedroom and curl into the reading nook I've created for myself and get away from everyone while knowing they're still there. I actually created one of these nooks for Lenny in her room as well. If she, or Augie, can escape total nerd-dom after being raised by the likes of Gabe and me I will be surprised.
But how is that for a shitty post-cancer mom? Aren't these kids what brought me through, what I am trying to live for, isn't my family my everything? I have to tell myself that they will understand someday, that the strange ways that love works will become clear to them and they will forgive me my trespasses. After all, they love each other to pieces, but a majority of the time they look at each other like they are in this picture, full of disdain and annoyance.
I still feel like it's wrong though. I mean, why do I still fantasize about the seven years when I lived alone before Gabe moved in with me, before I had kids? I never had a live-in boyfriend, never had a roommate after college. I worked two jobs to avoid having to live with anyone else. I dated the same man for years, and we had keys to each others' places, but we kept house separately. After we broke up, I bought a condo when I was 25 and single, earning about $30k a year. My relationship with Gabe, whom I met at age 27, moved pretty fast, and within six months he was at the condo all the time. By eight months he had asked if he could move in with me. I remember saying, well, I don't really want to move in together if we're not going to get married. It wasn't because I had some high moral standards, but rather because I really loved living by myself, and I didn't want to give that up unless it was for something permanent. I owned my place, didn't really need help with the mortgage, had already put myself through grad school. The furniture was all mine, I knew what I liked to cook, I took care of everything myself...why shack up? As I was thinking all of these not-so romantic thoughts, Gabe said, yeah, that's what I thought too. I thought maybe we could get married. There was no bending down on one knee or anything; I just started to shop around for pearl engagement rings (no blood diamonds, thanks) and a few months later he officially proposed in the ring-in pajama-pocket incident I have already related here. In the meantime, he moved in with me.
And boy did we fight, when we really never had before. It was hard to get used to someone else being there all the time. It's still hard. When I was telling my mom about our fight (yes, guys, women talk to their moms about their fights with you), she said, well, he's had a rough time all his life, think about the things you've been through together, think about him shaving your head and all the things he did during your cancer treatment.
And you know what I thought? Well, how exactly would he not have done those things? The kids were his to raise too, I was suffering and potentially dying and he's obviously not a total jackass so what's he going to say, no, honey, I won't shave your head, screw you? The thing is, of course I appreciated all of those things, of course I think about how much more we've been through than other people our age, but it makes me wonder why we can't just live blissfully like we should be able to do. I get defensive when cancer is supposed to be the reason I'm not mad at him, the reason I'm supposed to forgive him right away, the thing I'm supposed to think about instead of thinking about throwing in the cards. I want to be a normal wife. I want to be myself, and I'm impatient, and extremely independent, and I'm stubborn and difficult and if I've ever been really angry with you, you have never forgotten it. I don't want to be all, hey, I've had cancer, let's concentrate on the love, you know?
Because the love is there. No one can make my son giggle and get cozy and happy before bedtime like I can. It's not lost on me that when Lenny was reciting poetry (from memory) about the rain before bed tonight, she was just acting like a pint-sized version of me. I love having a husband who is so crazy about me, who seems to want to be around me almost all the time, who acts like a teenager around me, all sappy and puppy-dog eyed and horny and obnoxious. It's just that cancer doesn't make me love these things more, and that makes me feel guilty, because everything I've ever seen or read about cancer tells me that it should.
On the flip side, I am coming out of something huge (I am coming out of it, right? this isn't just a dream?), and it's hard to have any tolerance for the bullshit in life, in marriage, in motherhood, after that. It's hard not to think that things won't turn out badly. I want to think about us raising our kids in this new house, growing old together. It's just so hard to picture right now. I would never begrudge Gabe the opportunity to raise the kids and grow old without me, in this house or any other. But when it's difficult for me to see that future for myself, I revert to thinking that the whole thing was just a colossal mistake, because what's the use of trying? You hope, you love, you live well, you get an aggressive form of cancer anyway. My mind only goes there for a moment or two, but I'm going to be the unpopular cancer lady and admit that it goes there. Perhaps my greatest strength, or arguably my greatest weakness, is my ability to ignore all the things that I think about life, good and bad, and just plow ahead anyway, big brown eyes focused straight ahead, staring down fate. Hell if I know.
So what to do? Get out of the ether and into the world, tell people about it when I'm having the proverbial problems at home, remind people that I'm not just cancer girl, a woman with a strangely progressing haircut. I need to remind myself that life is as it was, and that maybe that is what I wanted all along, the right, the chance, to be pissed off and cynical and annoyed just like everyone else. And I know I'm dating myself with this blog title, but truer words were never spoken. I never promised you a rose garden. I never promised Gabe, or the kids, or myself anything other than the fact that I would try my best. My best might be less than some people's, more than others, but it's mine and it's all I have to give. If you want to know more about what that is, you'll have to call me, come see me in person, have a drink with me. Whatever it is that I've got, it isn't here on this screen. This is just what would be left if nothing else of me was left. Since I'm still kicking, I'll leave this blog written on a wonderfully dreary rainy Monday on this note:
When Gabe and I got married, our first dance was to Johnny Cash's Would You Lay With Me in a Field of Stone. He never gets an answer in the song, and I think that's for the best. When you love someone, the right answer is yes, of course I would. The real answer is, well that would be stupid, because we would both be dead, and who then would be singing this song? The real answer is screw the stone field, but I will dance with you. I'll listen to this song about blood and suffering and death and I'll smile at you, put my arms around you, give you a wink. The real answer underneath it all is that sometimes I might cry when it would be better to laugh, but at least I am in on the joke. And I would tell it again.