I love Modern Love. The David Bowie song, yes, but also the weekly column in the NYTimes. This weekend, I read what is possibly/probably/likely my favorite one ever, in the nearly ten year run of the column. It's by Mary Elizabeth Williams, a writer for Salon who is also dealing with a diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma. I met her years ago when she was a guest speaker in one of my classes in graduate school. But anyway. I cried (in public) at several points in her beautiful essay about connecting with her husband again after a separation, and doing the whole cancer bullshit thing together shortly after. This is my favorite part:
"Nobody writes songs about sitting on the edge of the tub while a man applies topical antibiotics to your oozing skin graft. There are no poetic odes to women with gaping scars, no sonnets to men who may be wearing the same shirt for the third day in a row."
And she reminded me, the way being in Rome (just before the fall) did, of what I am so lucky to have in my life. That despite the imperfections in our relationship -- the blots and stains that mean we are real, I realize -- it is exactly right. The intense wall of solid emotion I feel when I acknowledge that he is a man who shows the fuck up. Seemingly nothing, maybe, to those who don't know the disappearing act that is so common in the world, but it is everything. It is everything that I never once worried as I undressed in the exam room, baring my sad stitched up shrivel of a body, that he'd cut and run. Never as he paled and got sweaty for me while they plugged away trying to find a vein for my chemo, never when taking him along, plumbing the depths of my dark little mind, did I worry he'd go. He is steady.
That is not to say that there are no fears or frustrations, or failings on both our parts. But it feels okay when I know the marrow of us good, clean, pure.
I know that after these nearly two years of intense closeness, there is bound to be a pulling away for a while. Time for us both to nurture things on our own. It hasn't happened yet, but when it does I hope that I will know what it is, and that we will draw together again. It may mean I read his mind with less ease, and he has less patience for my never ending projects. There will be fights about work schedules and glitter embedded in the rug. Stories, and life, are made of a series of connections and disconnections.
Every so often, I think about the darkest place I've ever seen. It was when Matt was just home from the hospital to remove the walnut-sized lymphoma from his throat. He'd had to have a tracheostomy to be able to breathe after the surgery, and was in the hospital with it for several days. When it was removed, he came home, and I was in charge of caring for the wound. I guess I expected to see a gory stitched up slash when I changed the bandage. I was surprised at what was there -- a black hole. Looking in, I felt I was on the edge of something very high, with far to fall. I swallowed reflexively, and covered the bloodless wound with an extra large gauze pad. The inside of the human body is the darkest place on earth.
Some might think it sad that I experienced my last first kiss when I met him at the ripe old age of 19. I think of another girl, the other me whose presence I do often feel, who's had a different life and run around getting all sorts of firsts with all sorts of people. She has lots of fun. But I say I have one up on her -- and that is, I know who will follow me into the dark.