I can do this, I repeated to myself. Trying to make myself believe that I could. I can do this. As it turned out of course, I could do it. I could do the bathing and the shampooing, the shaving and the buttoning, the cooking and cutting up of food and I could do all the driving. I could also get the car and the air conditioner fixed and manage all the things that I had at one time relied on my husband to manage. Doing all the practical stuff wasn’t the hard part. It was actually all the emotional stuff I hadn’t counted on that was the hard part.
Two or three years after we’d settled into a routine, I brought my husband’s dinner to him in the family room and checked to make sure the TV remote was next to his chair and that his water glass was full. Thank you, he said, reaching out for his plate with trembling hands. Later, as I walked back to the kitchen, an uncomfortable feeling come over me. That night in bed I kept seeing those awful, trembling hands reaching out to me. Turns out they were asking me a question.
A few days later, I was combing his long hair when I glanced into the mirror and saw a vision of myself standing in front of various mirrors through the years. I’ve done this kind of hair combing before — for my children. In that moment I knew that no matter how much I tried to deny it, sexual intimacy with my husband would feel like I was acting out some sort of a taboo — of behaving erotically towards somebody I shouldn’t. Like stepping over a line. Pushing the knowledge down didn’t work. The awareness had changed everything for me. I grieved anew over having lost my man — and then on top of that grieved over having lost the sexual person I had known myself to be.
I really struggled. I even talked to my husband about it. I went to therapy and wrote to my support group and hoped that I could learn to live with my new self and my new marriage. ‘It happens,’ was the overall consensus. ‘It happens.’
My husband and I would manage to find our way to a kind of brother/sister bond that made room for my nurturing-self as well as for his physically debilitated self but I would never recover the passion that had once fuelled my responses to him. We had lost the physical bond and particular kind of intimacy that sets a marriage apart from other relationships and couldn’t recapture it. Finally, we recognized that we each wanted that aspect of love in our lives again and that it was too late for us to have it with each other.
One morning, in the midst of packing, I noticed the cactus on the porch was sending out shoots again. I recalled the hummingbird nest that had been there that day when my husband had gotten his diagnosis. As I’d thought, the nest didn’t survive. Maybe the mother hummingbird just didn’t know. Maybe, like me, her one thought had been – I can do this. I can do this. Maybe she didn’t think of anything else, she just clung to the hope that everything would work out. But in the end. She couldn’t do it. And in the end, neither could I.
Carmelene started writing at age 73. She writes stories and vignettes about life and how life
gives us the lessons, hopes and directions we need to keep our feet on higher ground.