Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day 406: To My Husband on His 36th Birthday

I figure I have a theme going here with these birthday letters, so it makes some sense to keep it up. Yesterday, Gabe turned 36. I didn't have time to write a blog then, because we went out to dinner right after work and then to our first Cubs game of the season. Besides, for the last two days, I've been at a training for work--focusing all of my brain power on "efficacy for women." While I take issue with some things we discussed and found other things useful, there is one thing that I definitely learned from this career development session:

Apparently, for the sake of all forms of communication, I am a man.

I'm not kidding. I literally exhibit every single one of the supposedly "male" forms of communication. I found myself sticking up for the guys yesterday, since I didn't want us to get too deep into criticism for something that I would eventually confess amounts to the way I go about things. Interestingly, Gabe exhibits many, though not all, of the traditionally female traits.

I'm not sure what this says about us. It could explain why we get along, or it could explain why we don't understand each other at times. I do think that if I were married to someone like me, there might not be enough sentiment in the house, or there might be too many sports channels. On the other hand, I guess I can just put all my sentiment here, and not have to say it, and pretend to be the soft one for a change.

Dear Gabe:

I know that I cannot give you the two things that you want for your birthday this year. I can't guarantee that my cancer is gone for good, and I can't magically sell our house. So instead I gave you a wrench (you asked for tools), a bike helmet, some dvds, push-up equipment (for me, I guess--someone has to join me as I work out all the time) and chocolate (you're the only guy I know who's addicted to chocolate). I gave you a trite card from the store. We went out to eat, saw a ballgame. You gazed at me all adoringly on the el like you always do and I rolled my eyes. You tried to kiss me too many times at the game and I got embarrassed. You carried my girly bag the whole time without batting an eye.

That day, your birthday, seemed so normal in a way for us. I think about what we've gone through, and I have to acknowledge that the tough times didn't start with cancer, and won't end there either. We are very different, you and I, and yet there are these ways that we work well together. I don't say that with some romantic vision of fate or things that are "meant to be," but rather with the same pragmatism that has captured our relationship for more than eight years.

It was at that time, when we were 27, that we met on a blind date, back when online dating was so different than it is today, less dramatic and intense. I had just broken up with someone and I didn't want to date anymore. I had seen your profile before and ignored it. You can't blame me for that. You mentioned your cats (I'm allergic to them), didn't say where you lived (I wouldn't have known where Country Club Hills was anyway) and were a little too deep for me, so it seemed. Plus, you were dressed in drag in the picture. Though it might seem natural to some that a straight guy would put a picture of himself on a dating site wearing pleather pants and a boa, it seemed a bit odd to me.

But then I got an interesting one-line email: "So what is it like to work in a think tank?" I knew I would answer it, and that maybe I would meet you (as long as you came to me, to meet in my neighborhood, which you did). So many other men commented on my red hair, my love of football or kung fu movies, or other things that guys would typically favor. Not you--you asked me about my job, about my brain.

That nerdiness ran through our first date, when you had that crazy floopy hair and you bartered with me so you'd get a second date, and you seemed so harmless when you said that you had taped a Buffy episode for me since I missed it the day before, and because it was raining you offered to drive me the block to my car and give me the tape, and then you kind of attacked me, which I really wasn't expecting.

We spent those first few months doing the things people do as they start a relationship, though things were dramatic for me for a variety of reasons. I kept that to myself, and it didn't affect us too much, thankfully. I liked that you weren't afraid to go on vacation with me so soon after we met. I wanted to go on a road trip, not get married, but that's not what most guys would've thought. And though you tell me now that you knew you would ask to marry me on that vacation two months after we met, I didn't foresee that at the time. I did, however, feel comfortable with you, and I could just somehow see it.

See what? Well, this, or something like this. The two of us living a boring life (oh how I've always wanted one of those!) together in a residential neighborhood, with a family, and all of that. It wasn't fireworks, it was just...there.

Ten months after we met we were engaged (after getting in a big fight since you were so nervous you acted like a jackass all weekend, and you proposed by taking the pearl ring our of your pajama pocket, asking if I wanted to "marry you anyway" while I was sitting there glaring at you, wearing my flannel nightgown and glasses, reading a book), and we got married eight months after that. We bought this house right before our marriage. Soon we had Lenny. Everything was perfect, right?

No, of course not. We went through a lot of hard times together. So many things have happened, but at the end of the day I guess I just had to trump all of them, and pull this cancer card out of my pocket. And what a trump, right? You once had a young, healthy wife with long red hair, who nursed your son and ran circles around everyone because she was too busy to sit down. And then, you had a bald wife, who was potentially dying, who was so weak at points that she had to hold one hand with the other in order to stop the shaking while she was feeding that same son his baby food from a spoon. You had a wife who was in menopause, who could no longer have any children, who had a burned-up chest, a tattoo where her perky cleavage used to be, short brownish-red hair, and all the rest. Where you had always been the crier, suddenly I was sobbing all the time; I was just beside myself when I had always had it so together.

You thought you would be raising these kids alone. I know you feel bad that I know you thought that, but it's not as if I didn't think that myself. Most of the time, we had this little cocoon built around ourselves and we protected each other the best we could, but it wasn't always easy. I wondered if we would make it through this if I made it through this, if that makes sense.

And we did--so far at least we have. I am healthy again, busy again, and let's hope to God you never again have to shave my head or stand in the bathroom consoling me while I vomit after we make love. Let's hope the times when you need to leave the room to cry lessen, as Lenny stops asking us if she will get cancer, stops saying she's glad mommy's cancer is gone because she knows I so easily could have died. I still could, I suppose. I can't make you any promises outside of the ones I made you almost seven years ago, and even those I feel like I might have broken:

"I will love you when we are together and when we are apart, when life is peaceful and when it is in disorder, when I am proud of you and when I am disappointed for you. I promise to try to make your life easier, rather than harder. I will honor your goals and dreams and help you to fulfill them."

I'm sorry for the disorder, and for the hard parts. I like to think I helped with the part about your dreams. You seem to be one of those men who want nothing more than a family life. I'm glad I found you, or rather that you found me, and I let you come around. You speak German, and I like this obscure German poet, so why wouldn't we include this poem in our wedding? (And what a wedding that was! On what should have been a beautiful October day, it was 37 degrees and raining. We got married at a community development corporation on the west side of Chicago, and the bakers refused to deliver the cake to that location until my mom raised hell. My brother almost didn't make it in from Budapest, which would have been a problem, since he was the MC of the whole thing; we didn't even have a wedding party. It was his job to announce to the reception crowd about the three cars that were hit by the wayward car in the parking lot. We didn't want gifts, but people brought them anyway, and we had to fit them all in the Jetta and drive them home to the south side. You asked what I thought about the whole day, if I got the wedding that I wanted. I told you the truth. I said it was perfect.)

“Secretly at Night” by Else Lasker Schuler

I have chosen you
Among all stars.

And am awake--a listening flower
In the hum of the leaves.

Our lips are eager to prepare their honey;
Our shimmering nights have blossomed forth.

On the blessed splendor of your body
My heart ignites its heavens.

All of my dreams hang from your gold;
I have chosen you among all stars.

It was much harder for me to write a blog for you, Gabe, than it was for me to write letters to the kids. I really didn't know what to say, and none of this seems particularly interesting or important as I read it back to myself. I am not good at romance or sentiment, at least not when it involves other adults; I am not even good at giving you compliments. But I am still here, and will be here as long as, well, as long as I am able to be here. Shortly after I was diagnosed you told me that you hoped we would grow old together, but if not, you hoped I would at least grow old, whether it was with you or without you. As you think about what it feels like to be 36, realize how young that really is. I guess I will make it there too in a few months, and perhaps we will both indeed grow old someday. If we do, why not do it together? You've already seen what it will be like when I'm old, you already know how to take care of someone with a terrible illness, and you're still hanging out with me. So let's give it a shot. Happy Birthday, Gabe, one day late. I love you.


(These pictures uploaded in a strange order. There's one of our wedding photos, photos we took of each other on the beach in Maine on my 28th birthday, photos we took of each other this spring, a kiss in Michigan on our six-year anniversary right before I finished chemo, and one of the very first photos ever taken of us together, back in early summer, 2003).

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