My husband always teases me because he says I dropped the "L" bomb first. It has never really been my way in relationships. To wear my heart on my sleeve, or reveal my hidden romantic, or drop "L" bombs first. I play my cards close to my chest. But I did tell him that I loved him first. It was a warm autumn day, and we were dating only a few months. We lounged in my apartment with that rolling, easy conversation about nothing in particular but details not yet learned: "Have you ever jumped out of an airplane? Have you ever gone surfing?"
He asked me something about whether I would tell him if he had food stuck in his teeth, and my immediate, non-thinking answer was, "Of course. I love you. I wouldn't let you make an ass out of yourself."
SCREECH. The brakes came on. The air sucked out the room. I believe I spoke very quickly and said something like, "Uh, I'm sorry, uh, you don't have to...uh, I have to pee." And I fled the room, and soaked my head in cold water, and came back abruptly demanding that we drink some more wine.
The next evening I sat at Jolly's Dueling Piano Bar with my friend Paul the Suit, as he is known, explaining the situation over some bourbon.
"I dropped the 'L' bomb accidentally last night."
"How long have you been dating?"
"A few months. I didn't mean to do it. It slipped out, but I do, actually, love him. I just wasn't ready to say it yet. I think I freaked him out. What do I do?"
Paul took a long sip of his Manhattan and leaned back in his chair, like some rockabilly Buddha. He lit a cigarette and then leaned forward. "Okay, I need to explain this in terms that you might understand--football. You are off-sides. You need to take a fifteen yard penalty. It is his first down."
Paul proceeded to tell me that he didn't think it meant the game was over for us, just that my being offsides could be interpreted as CRAZY, and I should consider, perhaps, not speaking again until spoken to. Or, perhaps, he said something like, "Do not say another word that starts with the letter L until he says one first." I got it. But I also was decidedly against the whole pretending that I didn't love him approach, which was another suggestion by Paul, to feign that I even spoke the words. "I didn't say I love you. What I actually said I'd LOOFAH your teeth if I had to, because spinach in molars disgusts me." As the bourbon flowed more freely, ridiculous ways to cover my ass became the highlighted conversation topic of the entire bar. Every person that knew Paul and approached the table was given the scenario and asked their opinion. I was told to just dump Sam, because it was the only way to save face. Men told me I committed the quintessential relationship splitter and my only hope was to now begin dating women, and could they watch. As the prognosis became more dramatic and dire, I became more resolute that what had happened did not happen accidentally. That I was meant to tell him first, to lay my heart out there and not play games with this man I loved. It was precisely because I trusted him, that the love came out. Vulnerability will be my strength, I vowed silently. Being honest will be my shield. I'd rather sink this relationship, in the immortal words of the Butthole Surfers, regretting something I had done instead of regretting something I hadn't done.
Still, I backed off. I didn't tell Sam again that I loved him. I didn't mention the faux pas at all in fact. It was out there. The love cloud hung over me, and I liked it. He knew where I stood. Saying it or not saying it was the same thing--I loved him, regardless of his feelings towards me.
The truth that I never shared with Paul, or the drunken sociopaths who advised me that night, is that it wasn't the first time I told Sam I loved him. One night as he slept soundlessly on my bed, his almost deaf ear faced me. I whispered into it. I said, "Can you hear me?" And he didn't move. And I said, "I think you are so amazing and beautiful." And I sat up and looked over and his steady rhythm of breathing continued, and then I grew brave and strong with a few glasses of wine and infatuation behind me, and whispered, "I love you. More than the stars." And he didn't move. And so I would wait until he fell into a deep sleep and tell him that I loved him.
It slipped out the night of the questions because I was used to saying. I said it in my head all the time. I whispered it to him while he slept. Four days after my bourbon with Paul, while Sam and I ate Mexican food in New Hope, he said, apropos of nothing, "Hey, Ang, by the way, I love you too." And he stood up and kissed me. From that moment, Sam was my family. About four months later, he proposed to me as we got ready for a dinner out, a towel wrapped around my head. It was the only time in my life, I shook like a leaf because I was so happy.
It disturbs and warms me when my three year old daughter declares suddenly, as though it just happened by dint of a little brother coming into our lives, that we are now a family. And I want to explain all of this. That Sam and I were a family first, way back when we lived in a shitty apartment in the city drinking wine and staring into each others' eyes dreaming of our little family. And then we had her and we were a three-person family, then a four-person, then a four-person/one dog family, and now we are a five-person/one dog family, even though one of those persons is dead, and the other four-legged, we still are a family. Still. Not just. And yet, just hearing her say that we are a family makes me happy and cry all in the same moment.
I read Tash's last post at GLOW with a huge knot in my stomach and a tear in my eye. Not because it seems impossible, but because I totally get it. I have written about my marriage a few times. We get each other. We are best friends. We just grieve separately. We are two introverts raising children together while mired in grief. And as a week moved into a month and then a year, we find ourselves growing desperately apart in this grief. I just couldn't much talk about my grief anymore. Talking about grief out loud became so redundant.
"Lucy this. Lucy that."
"Wasn't she beautiful?"
"Don't you miss her?"
"Isn't this hard?"
"Isn't life so fucking hard?"
I fucking bored myself as he nodded along saying, "I know, honey, I know." And then I just stopped really talking about it. He knows. I know. It was like we were in 100 degree weather constantly repeating that it was hot.
Having a kid gives us the ease to talk about nothing. Engaging in Beezus makes it seem like we are holding a real conversation, but the truth is we spend many many days on end only talking about what is for dinner, what Bea did during the day and stuff for the house. We don't, you know, talk about our sadness or our anger, our dreams or our future. Sam stopped reading my blogs, or peeking at my artwork in the studio. He doesn't ask about my writing--he just understands and gives me space to do it.
In November, my mother-in-law visited and declared that we were to have a date night and she was watching Beezus, Sam said, "Nah. We would rather spend time with you. Plus, we like going on dates with Beezus."
My big, sad, grief-stricken self mourned that part of our marriage, the one that my husband wants to keep sacred and unfettered by children. I felt slighted and angry, even though what he said was true too. We crave keeping our family close together, even if it means we are uncomfortable. The truth is we became so obsessed with Bea's aliveness, we didn't want to spend a night away from her. We just wanted to stare at her until she answered our unspoken questions, "How did you survive? How are you alive? Can you teach your brother before he dies in your mother's belly too?" And part of the thing we do not speak of is that Bea looks like Lucy. She is like Lucy. Perhaps it is strange to think that an older sister can remind a mother of her younger sister, but sometimes it is heartbreaking to look at Bea through the Lucy Lens. Bea is passing milestones Lucy won't pass. She likes princesses and unicorns just the same as I imagine Lucy would have liked. And every precocious statement she makes we don't want to fall in an empty forest. So, in lieu of date nights, we watch our girl grow up,even if we accidentally watch ourselves grow apart.
The week after Lucy died we sat in our brand new grief therapist's office. She prescribed us weekly date nights.
"Are you fucking serious? My kid just died, and your advice is to go on a fucking date?"
And we didn't, you know, go on dates often. We, in fact, so rarely go on dates, we don't even know how to use a babysitter. The other day, my husband took Beez to the playground, and the local town paper interviewed him about date nights. "Where do you and your wife like to go on date nights?" And Sam gave the name of a restaurant we once went to, because I said the martini was good and the jazz was nice. He blushed when he told me, and said that he knows we don't go on dates but he didn't know what else to say. I asked him if the place was even still open, did he know?
Now, a year and so many months later, I sort of see grief like I see those drug movies from the 80s where good rich college kids try coke, and ten minutes later they have crashed their sports car, lost their apartment, their girlfriend has overdosed and they are on the precipice contemplating suicide. I believed that before I tried drugs. I believed I would smoke pot and my whole life would fall apart. Then I went to college, smoked a joint and my life didn't fall apart. It was fun, and it didn't turn immediately into Reefer Madness. I didn't become an addict or a crazy person. But when I met long term drug users, people who recreationally used drugs for decades, I realized that it was much more depressing and pathetic than any movie could portray. People on drugs woke up at age 45 still just barely making their rent every month having not really done anything they wanted to in life, like a perpetual pause button was pushed. And everyone thought they were kind of an asshole.
We thought the same thing about grief. We read that grief splits marriages apart. We thought that when we got home from the hospital, if we didn't go to couples therapy immediately, we would immediately divorce. We thought the death of our daughter meant we would freak out, scream at each other, turn to booze and loose women, we didn't realize it was much more sinister and pathetic than that.
We went to therapy immediately, but that early part of the journey was fairly straight forward for us. We were raw, angry and screaming already. All those feelings were new and new effects of grief and of Lucy's death occurred to us daily. But we weren't prone to take it out on each other. We clung together. My husband in those early months seemed like the only person in the world who knew what I was going through. He saw my baby come out of me dead. We held her together. We kissed her cold skin together. We could talk about it all, and we did.
But when life became slightly easier, and we weren't breaking down in the market anymore, we felt like therapy wasn't necessary. We thought we were on a slow trajectory upward. We thought we knew how to talk grief. We thought we had this marriage part in the bag. But when it became easier to exist, it also became easier to not look directly at our grief. Always in the peripheral vision of our life, yes, but we didn't have to face it, name it, constantly point it out. I felt bored with my own voice and my constant refrain of "Lucy is dead." But the truth is without naming the obvious, we just sort of stopped talking about our grief and the profound repercussions of it in our daily lives, even though we needed to keep talking about it.
Grief snuck up on us like drugs sneak up on other people. We knew our chances of splitting up doubled or something suddenly with the death of our daughter and yet somehow, a year later, we let it get away from us and in between us. We are now trying to figure out how to restart this conversation, how to find that feeling of first dropped L bombs and date nights. We aren't done, or even damaged beyond repair, we are just sad and hurt and desperate for each other again with no idea of how to talk about it. So we are back to the stupid therapist's very very good advice. Back to whispering L-bombs in the dead of nights and remembering. We are back to trying on flirting for a good fit. And dealing with the aftermath of the gigantic Grief-Bomb dropped in the middle of our marriage.