I´d rather get a toothache than perspective
2017 was the year I went around wishing I would die. My eleven year marriage to the man I had loved since I was 18 had fallen apart, and I did not have horses or men to put it back together again. What remained after the dust had settled was a series of curt, cautious, painful conversations that chased the same subject round, and around. It´s the kind of Merry Go Round you only encounter in nightmares, except I couldn´t wake up. My kind, generous, loving husband, the father to my two children, my best friend, had disappeared. In his place was an angry, hurtful, spiteful man whom I did not know anymore.
He had become severely depressed the previous year, had gone undiagnosed for the better part of it, and had successfully used his amazing intellect to destroy our relationship. I stayed, I think, mostly because I was in denial. This was simply not happening, not to me.
We met in law school, and what we felt checked all of the boxes for “love”. We admired each other´s mind, had fun together, believed in the same things. And we couldn´t keep our hands off of each other. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of belonging. I was not alone, there was a partner out there for me, despite whatever my father thought about my not-so-charming personality. Not being particularly maternal, I wanted to make some children with him. And only him.
Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances which have been conveniently stowed away to the furthest regions of my mind, I got married. To another guy. We could blame it on youth, but the mere truth is that is was pure stupidity. When I finally got a divorce after seven years of trying to prove everybody that I was fine when it was perfectly clear that I wasn´t, I sought Mario out. Of course, he was my best friend, he had to know. And, wonder of wonder he was still single. It was as if it were meant to be. About two years after that, we got married, making my parents very happy. They died on our first year of marriage within six months of each other. My mom had had a brain haemorrhage right in front of my dad and I, and was slowly getting better, when my dad caught a pneumonia. He barely made it to the wedding, my mom followed him soon after, and I was left without a family. I am an only child, with little or no relationship to my extended relatives. But it was fine, because I had him. Two kids, several ups and downs in the money scale, and ten years later, I was still in love. “Love”, love. The kind you see in the movies, read about, listen to in songs. Exactly what you expect when you meet the person you decide is going to be with you for the rest of your life.
That´s what got completely wiped out, and it took so little time, it seemed as if a curse had been cast. I asked him if he still loved me, he said he didn´t. It seemed so simple to destroy something it had taken us more than two decades to build. My heart broke. I spent all of 2017 with actual, physical pain on my chest. I had to go to therapy.
You read accounts from people who are depressed, where they tell how they feel like they are in a hole, like they are lost, like they are dead. You don´t encounter much on the side of the people around them. It was like trying to teach a blind person about colors. He didn´t hear me, and couldn´t see anything good around him. I was completely at a loss. Why wasn´t loving him enough? We separated that year, because I just couldn´t take feeling unloved by him anymore. Our kids understood as far as kids can, and they didn´t cause much trouble.
After six months, we got back together, because we had never really considered splitting up. I had simply needed a break. He gave me one.
Between 2017 and 2018, I lost everything I had built my life around. My partnerhood was a cornerstone of my personhood, and I felt I had vanished. In therapy, I constantly said that I didn´t feel connected to him anymore. That I didn´t know him. That I felt alone. My therapist guided me through my mourning, explaining that this was part of life. That marriages change.
We think we are different. That we are inmune to disease, impervious to disappointment, protected from failure. After all, we are better prepared than all those other people that have trouble in their marriages. We are IN LOVE, what else do we need?
The day he told me he didn´t love me, we were standing in our dining-room, the day was bright, he eyes looked cold, and I wanted to die. Two years later, the memory still gripped my heart and squeezed. I still felt alone.
Last week, we were sitting across from each other, a hospital bed between us. Our eight year old daughter had almost died from what is called a “diabetes debut”, and had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. She was sedated, with tubes and hoses coming out of almost every orifice in her tiny body. Nothing, nothing can prepare you for a situation like this. Your imagination doesn´t hold the capacity to put yourself in that place. You shy away from thinking anything like that can actually happen to you. “Did you hear about so-and-so´s kid? He is sick, in the hospital, he has XX and they need to treat them.” The voice inside tells you that Thank God it´s not you. You recall that your kids have never been in a hospital, rarely get sick, feel badly for the kid and the parents and keep talking about the series you watched last night. Because that is not going to happen to you.
I thought that being in love was insurance enough against anything. We were THE couple, nothing could ever bring us apart. Depression comes in, says “hold my anxiety”, and suddenly you are just two people living together. I thought that my kids were immune to disease, because we were doing everything right: no junk food, exercise, sleep, almost no TV. I stopped working to be with them, to breastfeed them, to nurture them. How could anything bad happen to either? I was there, that was enough to protect them.
Yet. This little girl had almost gone out of our lives, and I had failed. I should have been able to stop this with my love, with my care, with my motherhood. Just like I should have been able to prevent my marriage from turning into something I did not recognize.
Nothing is ever enough, you can´t control everything. It´s not like using bug-spray, this guarding our lives against hardships, pain, loss. You can only do what you can do. The rest, which is almost everything, is up to whatever you believe in.
I looked into my husband´s eyes, knowing that our girl was going to pull through, but that her life and ours was not going to be the same. And I saw love. Love, love. The kind you see when two old people walk by hand in hand. The kind you seldom read about, because it´s not flashy, or overwhelming. But it was real, it was kind, he was there, and we were together. I had a partner, I was not alone. Everything that happened in those horrible years, had just that, happened. It wasn´t that they vanished. The things we said and did are part of who we are now, and have shaped our relationship into what it was at exactly that moment when we recognized each other again. We loved each other. All the pain, the remorse, the sadness over what I thought I had lost, stopped being that important.
Fátima is out of the hospital after staying there for a week. We are adapting to a new routine in our lives, which is going to stay with us for the foreseeable future. I have barely slept for more than two hours for the last two weeks and feel as in a fog. But I see my husband, a kind, supportive, sensitive, loving man, and can make it through this day. That is quite enough right now.
Yes, I do not have the kind of marriage I thought I was going to. And that´s fine, because I have the kind I need. Perspective does a magic trick that transforms the horrible past into an interesting canvas you are observing from some more challenging place. Getting there hurts, and I would have rather not gotten any wisdom like this. But I did. And now, I am planning on enjoying the view. Most certainly, my journey is far from over, and I´ll get another chance at getting some more of that wonderful/horrible spell. At least, right now, I am not alone.
– Luisa Fernanda Toledo