Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Cross Training

If you are married and at all attached to your spouse, perhaps you share my reaction to Joan Didion’s bestselling “The Year of Magical Thinking.” It goes something like, “I’m screwed.”

Didion’s account of the year following the death of her husband is unbearably heartbreaking—and sobering. “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends,” she writes of the sudden heart attack that changed her life. Whether you’re a newlywed or about to celebrate four decades together, you realize at some point this will be you. The widow. The widower. The one left behind.

I wrap my arms around Dave and say, “Don’t die.” I am staggered by the shared experiences we have accumulated in the years since our first date, and the way they supersede everything that came before. I am astounded by the number of times each day he says something that makes me laugh or smile. I am amazed by the breadth of catch phrases and in-jokes we have developed, and the unique language they form. I am overwhelmed by how foolish I have been to allow myself to become so utterly dependent on one lone individual for happiness, support, comfort, security, companionship. So intertwined.

I fought this at first. Wouldn’t let him drive me places. Wouldn’t merge our finances. Wouldn’t let him wheel our grocery-laden cart home from the supermarket.

Wouldn’t rely on him.

The relenting was imperceptibly gradual. But now is complete.

Barring an unforeseen illness or sudden accident, we are still young enough, there is still time enough, to prepare for that instant when nothing is ever again the same. I propose a strict cross-training regimen that will leave us, in the other’s absence, if not armored against grief, then at least capable of basic functionality.

I will start to take out the garbage. I will go to Blockbuster and rent a video. I will open jars. I will wash the car, have the tires rotated and the oil changed. I will attempt to affix something to the wall, which means I’ll have to learn how to operate the power drill, the stud finder and the level, and probably figure out the difference between an anchor and a nail. I will mop the kitchen floor. I will watch “Meet the Press.”

He will pick out curtains for the living room and a paint color for the spare bedroom. Stay abreast of celebrity gossip. Choose ripe avocados and melons. Make the bed. Pay the bills. Prepare our taxes. Send the Christmas cards. He will attempt to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies, which means he’ll have to learn how to operate the stand mixer, and figure out the difference between the dough hook, whisk and paddle attachments. He will organize the photo albums. He will read The New Yorker.

“You are no longer of use to me,” I laughingly say whenever I accomplish a task that falls under his area of expertise, like reaching something down from a really high shelf.

But I know this isn’t true.

I’m screwed.


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