In Sickness and In Health

Inspired by “Old Faithful Testing the limits of love” By David Sedaris

Old marriage
Image by 👀 Mabel Amber, who will one day from Pixabay

The last five years have been a test of the marriage vow we took in 1987; you know, the one about loving each other forever, in sickness and health. I sure did test my partner with those words. My body called for not one but two artificial knees during that time. The left knee in 2018 and the right in 2021, smack damn in the middle of the pandemic. Trust me when I say you never want to do even one if you don’t need it. And I mean last resort.

I’ve had other medical issues over the years of our marriage (if you don’t count the drugs and alcohol). There was the Hepatitis C scare. I’m cured, but the news came five months after I stopped drinking and taking drugs. The doctor told us that if I had continued, it would have been catastrophic for me, like throwing alcohol on fire. I missed that bullet.

My lower back pains, sciatica shooting down my right leg, high blood pressure, some crazy chronic cough that we think is acid reflux, and my general yo-yo weight fight. Other than those issues, I’m probably a diabetic, anxiously waiting for whatever else comes with high blood pressure. And she still stays with me. I mean, she’s had some issues over the years but compared to me, she is strictly an amateur. No, I got her beat.

Old marriage
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

We both have worked from home for the last nearly three years of the pandemic. School classes have begun to open up, so I attend more in person each semester. But I still stay home for homework and some Zoom meetings as much as possible. My partner does almost all of her sessions on Zoom. As a result, no matter how much space we give each other in our house (thank goodness for the size of the house), we still need to interact more often than when we were both working full-time at our respective jobs in Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Here’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from living and working at home during the pandemic: give each other space. Otherwise, you are inviting trouble. Of course, that was hard to do when you needed help during one of my medical issues, like when I was not that agile with a busted knee. The trip to the bathroom was like an adventure in mountain climbing, as in climbing out of bed, holding on to the metal bars of the walker, lowering oneself, and raising myself on and off the toilet. The shower had its own set of challenges. Considering how dependent I was in those first few weeks of my knee surgeries, I got to give my partner credit for hanging in as long as she did. Let’s say she’s a little queasy about looking at blood and scars and those yellow pus marks on top of bandages.

I think about other couples I’ve known over the years who have had their marriage tested by far more significant medical challenges than my lousy knees etc. Cancer, terrible life-threatening accidents, dementia- I feel stupid talking about my issues. However, there is no escaping the fact that a marriage can be tested by other conditions that we seldom want to discuss. For example, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and other mental health crises. All these and more spur the couple to confront the limits of what they are willing to endure and what they are eager to do to resolve them so their marriage remains intact.

Old marriage
Photo by Sumire Gant

It’s easy to say, well, you made a vow and that you should live by that code. Yeah, that’s easier said than done. I’ve learned over three marriages and two live-in relationships that all the tests of the relationship cannot be passed if both parties aren’t willing to endure it and pass through it together. If the foundation of love or whatever you want to call it isn’t there, then forget it. I mean, sometimes, the tests call out the best in people, and couples who may have been on the edge of disarray end up discovering something deep down inside of themselves and then use it to move through the crisis together, and they all live happily ever after or at least until the next crisis.

I am lucky that my partner has a deep reservoir of humanity in her and that I’ve discovered that I have one that I didn’t know existed. The past five years, especially the last three, challenged us both to take our vows seriously and to live each day contemplating what we meant when we said those words, “…until death do us part.” So far, we’ve come out on this end together and still rocking that love thing.

A Love Letter

The following is the final version of essay #1, submitted to my English 404 Creative Nonfiction class as part of my three-essay series.

Those Lips
Photo courtesy of Sumire Gant

Once upon a time, in the cavernous lobby of a Baltimore hotel, I sat nervously scanning the Washington Post headlines for my name, fighting off the guilt about my recklessness back home in Sodom and Gomorrah, also known as Washington, D.C., the coming crash careening at me like a runaway train.

Then, there you were. You seem to come out of nowhere with those dark red lips, cocoa brown skin, high cheekbones, short wavy black ‘fro, an apparition, beautiful, peaceful, glowing. You were like a lighthouse radiating a beacon, your smile assuring me that I was safe and everything would be all right. You extended those long arms, and I held your soft, thin brown fingers, afraid I would break them. Instead, I felt your chill, cool, and wise strength. 

I was ready for you, and I didn’t even know it.

I was frozen in the fast lane of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. My body was in that hotel lobby, but my mind and soul were in a prison of my own making, panicking at the prospect that I would never be released.

And then it all seemed to disappear. There you were at that moment, telling me softly, Hi, my name is Sumi. You gave me the power to admit that I ached, no better word, wished upon a star for a tiny moment of peace as a salve for my pain.

I babbled something incoherently (it was probably the hangover), lost to time because I never expected a smile as vast as the universe and a beaming light showering me with Zen.

Our wedding day in Kauai, Hawaii, September 3, 1987 (Photograph by the late Marcus Ortega)

You are my California star.

You burst bright at that moment into my life out of nowhere. I could swear I saw a vision around you… a California sandy beach and the blue water hugging it, caressing it, kissing it with a tall palm tree spreading its fronds over it, providing shade from the Sun’s warming heat one might find in L.A. where the beautiful people spread their wings and make love to the California Dream full of movie stars and rock stars and everyone who wants to be a star in the La La Land of their imagination. 

Then you were gone. I was left standing there, the newspaper hanging from my left hand, the other twitching at my right side, wondering if you had really been there a second before. I finally lowered my head, humbled that you had paused a moment with me on your way to the next moment where you would share the beaming light of your soul with someone else.

Don’t even think about it. That’s what I said.

Forget it, I mumbled out loud.

I’m out of your league. You are too cool, chill, and wise.

Unlike me, a bull in a China closet ripping up the fabric of the universe kind of guy chomping up the scenery while I stomp through the lives of others with muddy from stepping in shit boots, and I don’t care who cleans up the mess, so long as it’s not me.

I couldn’t believe I would see you again

in a hundred thousand million trillion years

of wishing and dreaming

and then you were there again.

35 years

I looked for any excuse not to call you (you told me you did the same) because, well, you were you, and I was me, and never the beast shall meet the beauty because I didn’t think I was cool, chill, or wise enough. Maybe, I was scared that sooner or later you would discover the truth from my friends, witnesses to my recklessness,

Grrrl, he’s crazy.

Instead, you told me You have a good heart,

and I believed you.

Once upon a time, there was a beginning to this love story that continues into today, where we’ve learned to embrace each other in our best and worst moments and to touch each other’s lives.

In those first few minutes,

those first few days, thirty-nine years ago,

we learned that something we can’t see or hear passes between us and binds us even more today. We speak without speaking. We hug and feel our two hearts together. We stare into each other, and we see our souls.

35 years
Our wedding day in Kauai, Hawaii, September 3, 1987 (Photograph by the late Marcus Ortega)

And I think, damn, no, fucking damn,

I am the luckiest person in the world,

cool and chill, together with you

in our own La La Land.

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