Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Heart

My wife lay dying in the hospital bed and I could not leave her side. We’d been so careful. We knew her heart was bad. We knew. We didn’t try to get pregnant. We tried hard not to. Birth control, condoms, rhythm—all of that. Everything but abstinence. That wasn’t possible. We were so in love that keeping away from each other was almost painful. Through the years when our work schedules didn’t co-inside and we had to schedule “dates” and the years we spent apart and spent only a week together every three months—we were so in love, beyond the depths of anything I’d ever dreamed possible. She was part of my soul. My very being would crumble without her. She was all I had and all I wanted. Now, she was about to leave me but not for want of staying.

She needed a new heart. If it were up to me, I’d rip my own chest open and take the beating muscle from within me and give it all up to her. Just to keep her breathing. Just to keep her alive to love me. But I couldn’t. No matter how much I wanted to. My heart couldn’t be give to her. We had to wait for someone to die so that she could live. Days and weeks passed after the baby died. His tiny body couldn’t develop and her ailing body couldn’t hold on to him long enough to give him the chance to live. I’d lost my son, just a few months before we were expecting to welcome him. Now, I faced loosing my wife. It was all slipping away.
The hospital around us didn’t exist. We were still each the only thing the other saw. When we were together, nothing else existed. It had been that way since we started dating. We were just kids then, in college, waiting to take on the world. We’d been through all those same struggles that all young couples go through. Post graduate separation, when she moved to Kansas and I went home to California—the long distance between us seemed easier at the time. Now, when I was facing a lifetime ahead without her, I didn’t want to get started. We used to drive each other to the airport after a short week of exquisite bliss and say that the sooner we got on that plane, the sooner we’d get started on the inevitable time apart. I knew I’d see her in Heaven, on the other side of this life, but I didn’t want to get started on that time apart. I wanted this short visit to last for 1000 more years.

I sat in the chair beside her bed, listening to the beeping of machines that kept her lungs breathing and her heart, however fragile, still beating. She wasn’t ready to give up. She wasn’t ready to loose hope. Having her fight so hard kept me optimistic. If she was willing to go on waiting, then so was I. The thought of taking her off life support never crossed either of our minds in those days. She was a fighter and, I was going to fight right along side her.
One dreary October morning, things changed. There were no donors. None. Nothing that could reach into the darkness and save her. We prayed and prayed, but nothing was coming. Still, my beautiful wife hung on, clinging to my fingers as if they were feeding her life. As though she knew something was about to happen, she turned to me and said,

“Baby, I need you now. I need you to fight for me. Don’t let me go.” I just looked at her, not understanding what she might have meant. When her machines stopped their steady rhythm of beeps and went into one long beep, I panicked. I let go of her had and screamed for a doctor. They were with her in seconds and managed to bring back the familiar beeping, but she didn’t wake back up. Her eyes closed and her hands limp, my angel looked peaceful.

“What was it?” I asked. “A heart attack?”

“Listen, Jack, you’ve got to prepare yourself. She won’t take much more of that.” The doctor had told me, just minutes after she’d stabilized…sort of.

“What are you saying?” I demanded.

He sighed, stripping off his gloves. “Jack, your wife is going to die. She’s going to. You need to get ready for that. You might have to make a tough decision in a few days. Those machines will keep her alive, but it won’t be much of a life to live.” He put his hand on my shoulder, but I just stared at him, my eyes narrow, my lower lip quivering. I wanted to punch him. I wanted to strangle him…but his heart would be no good for her, so I didn’t. This man, this doctor was telling me that soon, I’d have to make the decision to let my wife die.

But wasn’t that what I’d promised God I wouldn’t do? When we said our wedding vows, we promised to love each other in sickness and health. She was sick and I still loved her. Nothing he said would change that. Shouldn’t I do whatever I could to keep her alive? Hadn’t she just asked me to fight for her? She couldn’t fight anymore. She was tired. She needed me to take over and keep the fight going. She needed me to wage that battle and fight for her. Fight as long as I could. There was nothing wrong with me. I had all the energy in the world left to fight. But what could I do?

I went back into her room and sat with her, holding her hand and brushing her hair. I finally let the tears fall. They came washing over me like a gentle waterfall, washing me clean and emptying the sadness, even for just a moment. I needed to cry with my wife. I needed to hold her for just a little while. As I looked at her, I willed her to open her eyes and look at me. Just look at me. Just let me see those grey eyes that I get lost in day after day.

“I can keep going if you can.” I said to her. But she didn’t open her eyes. She didn’t look at me. But those beeps kept on beeping and I knew she was in there somewhere. She’d told me to fight for her. She’d told me not to let her go. I’d wait for her. She waited four years for me to come around and finally tell her how I felt about her. I could give her just as much time if not more.

We’d met in college, living in the same building. We flirted shamelessly but I never had the nerve to ask her out. Once in a while, I’d “run into her” in the cafeteria and we’d have breakfast together. I think she “ran into me” once in a while too. We would talk for hours about nothing, just looking for an excuse to knock on the other’s door. For a year, I tried working up the nerve, but I just never got there. The next year, she moved to another building and I rarely saw her. Once in a while, somewhere on campus, but it was just a casual, ‘hey, how’s it going?’ and that was it. College was almost over when we wound up in Introduction to Earthquakes our senior year. Of all the electives in all the world, she walked into mine. Cliche, I know, but that's what I remember saying to myself. We had study session after study session in the campus coffee house and talked about everything except earthquakes. When the class was over, I promised myself that I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. God had brought us back together and I wasn’t going to let her walk away from me again. I kept calling her and we kept our “study dates” even though now we were studying different things. Then one day I just kissed her. It felt like coming home after a long walk, falling into bed after an eighteen-hour day, a hot bath on a cold January afternoon. It was the beginning for us…again. We had six months before jobs separated us, and even though I was sure it would end somewhere in the middle of Kansas, she kept us going. She put out so much effort, writing me letters and sending me big bags of M&M’s—they were my favorite. I’d told her once how I wanted to buy a bag of each kind and separate them by color. She said I was silly, but for my birthday I got five canisters of M&M’s—one of each color. I don’t want to know how long it took her to sort them. But she listened to my silly ideas and the ones that were possible, she helped to make happen. She made my dreams come true. I couldn’t let her leave me. I just couldn’t.
She hung on in that hospital room for months, peacefully sleeping, her breathing in rhythm with that same beeping. Both of our parents told me that it was over. I should let her go. She wasn’t really alive any more. She wasn’t really in there. She was gone and had been gone for a while. It was gentle at first, but then they got angry. Demanding that I put an end to her suffering. The doctors even said that she might be experiencing some pain. But I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. She asked me to fight for her. She told me not to let her go. I still felt her. I could still sense her love behind the closed lids of her eyes. Her heart was still beating and I knew what she wanted. I knew she wanted to keep going. She just needed a little rest so she could continue the fight when she got just a little stronger.

I was adamant in keeping her. I didn’t want to let her go anymore than I thought she wanted to leave.

And that’s all I have! I’m stuck. No idea what happens next. If anyone has a suggestion, I’m willing to explore it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yes, My Boyfriend is Bisexual

The walls in my room had begun to close in on me. I’d been sitting there, staring at those walls a lot in the past few weeks. I had to get out. I didn’t really enjoy driving, but the thought of a long stretch of highway ahead of me made me long for it. It was a change of scene and it was far away from my problems. I could think much clearer if I got out of that room.
I’d done so much thinking lately that it was making me sick. I’ve known for months that my boyfriend was bisexual and it was never a problem until now. For a while I didn’t know that what was the problem and now that I do know, I wish that it were anything else.
We had built such a strong relationship. God knows we had tough times. But those rough spots didn’t have anything to do with how we felt about each other. He lost three jobs since we’d been together—all for the wrong reasons. He always came to me. Together we fought for them. Together we held each other up. Always together through everything. He told me everything. The one thing that he thought would drive me away—telling me who he was—seemed only to make us realize that it was each other that we cared so deeply for and labels and names didn’t mean anything as long as we could truthfully say “I love you.”
What happened to that? What happened to calling me ten times a day for no reason at all? What happened to singing to me on my answering machine? What happened to the long, deep kisses we had shared just enough times to make me miss them so much? So quickly it all vanished.
I’d cried enough for a lifetime. The idea of loosing him hurt so much, I could hardly stand it. But what could I do? I drove faster down the highway, scared, angry and hurt. Maybe if I ran fast enough it would get tired and let me go.
A couple of weeks ago we’d had a nice, long conversation about ‘taking some time apart’ he’d called it. He couldn’t explain what it was that he wanted to be different, but things were just too serious and he was just not ready for any kind of commitment. Apparently he thought I was. We talked for a while and I cried a lot. In the end, he just said to forget we’d even had the conversation. He was too confused and didn’t know what he wanted. I went home feeling so unsure of what had just happened that I could barely sleep, let alone stop crying. “Everything’s fine,” he’d said, but I knew it wasn’t.
The next morning he had called me and said that he loved me just before hanging up. I saw him that afternoon and he put his arm around me, which he never did on any kind of basis. This was all so confusing to me, especially when we were having another ‘talk’ about a week later.
This was when it all came out. Of course he still cared about me, but right now he just had an overwhelming desire to be with a man. He would never cheat on me. He didn’t want to be with another woman. He still wanted to be with me. He’d hidden this part of him for so long and he was curious. What’s it like to kiss a man? How dies it feel to have a boyfriend? These were things he wanted to find answers to through his own experience.
I understand this. I truly do. I don’t want him to hide that part of him anymore. It’s not his fault how he feels and it’s not fair to ask him to suppress it.
Ok. So he wants to date a man. Fine, go ahead and do that. We didn’t break up and he seemed relieved with our decision. I knew that his desire for a man had nothing to do with me. I could never compete with a man, but it’s not because I’m lacking in anyway. This part of “us” has to run its course. I knew all of this, but that didn’t make it hurt any less. And it did hurt so very much.
Saying that I love him isn’t saying anything. It’s beyond love. He’s my best friend. He’s the one person I most want to talk to, even in spite of all of this. Nothing will ever make me not love him. He’s the most beautiful person I know, inside and out. He makes me laugh when all I want to do is cry. He’s tried to protect me from all of this because the last thing he wants to do is hurt me. He can’t change the way he is. It’s not his fault. I don’t blame him for my pain. He’s confused too. He’s struggling with recognizing that this is part of him and it’s ok. No matter what anyone says, no matter what his mother thinks, no matter what his church has taught him, he’s fine. There is nothing wrong with him. He doesn’t need a cure and he’s not going to Hell for being bisexual.
Yes, my boyfriend is bisexual. I know how hard it is for me to say that. As hard as it is for me, it’s harder for him. He has to live this. I don’t even have to stay and watch. But it still hurts.
The driving doesn’t really help. I always think it will because it’s what I feel like doing. It never really helps. I was driving way above the speed limit, but who cares? What could be worse than the aching emptiness that consumed every part of me? If I could just go to sleep and wake up when I’m so beautiful, not even he could want anything else. It was wishful thinking of course, but no sooner had I thought those thoughts when a brand-new, gorgeous black Mustang came barreling into the side of my car.
I wasn’t technically sleeping after that, but it wasn’t much different. I was dreaming of the beautiful days when we were happy—those first days when everything was new and perfect. I couldn’t get enough of him—of those beautiful brown eyes smiling at me. I dreamt of our first kiss—how it had caught me completely off guard and nearly knocked me over. It was so soft and gentle, over almost before it started. Those were the happiest days of my life. How had I lost them?
The driver of the Mustang was drunk, not hurt, and in jail, while I was lying in the hospital bed with a concussion and several broken bones. I wasn’t out for very long. I woke up with my parents by my side, praying long prayers of thanks as I opened my eyes. Everyone was talking to me at once. Someone asked how I felt. Someone asked what had happened. Someone said they’d called my boyfriend and he was on his way. That got my attention. But then, why should it surprise me? None of them knew what was going on with us.
Doctors and nurses ushered everyone out insisting that I needed my rest. Everything hurt. Now I had physical pain to go along with the emotional. More pain led to more tears.
There was a knock on the door. Hadn’t they told everyone to leave? I just wanted to wallow privately in despair.
“Come in,” I croaked out between sobs.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.”
“How are you feeling?”
“Worse than I look.”
“I came as soon as I heard. Your mom called me.” He was so beautiful. Why did I have to love him so much?”
“You look dressed up.”
“Yeah, I was out.”
“Oh a date?” He didn’t say anything. “It’s ok.”
“Yeah. He’s outside.”
“You brought him with you?!” I couldn’t even have his complete attention if I were dead. He’d probably bring a date to my funeral.
“Well, I needed a ride. Would you rather I’d gotten here later?”
“Never mind. Just forget it. I don’t want to fight with you.”
“I’m sorry.”
“No, you shouldn’t be. I’m glad you’re here.”
“How did this happen?”
“Oh, I was just out driving and some guy hit me.”
“Out driving?” He knew I only “just drove” when something was upsetting me. “What’s wrong?”
“I was just thinking. That’s all.”
“About what?” I paused. Did I really want him to know? Was this really the time? He had someone waiting for him. Maybe I should just let him go. But then where would I be? Still here, alone, wanting him and only him, wishing I’d said what I had to say. How many opportunities would I have?
“I was just trying to figure out when you stopped loving me.” He put his head down and walked over to the bed.
“I never have. I wish you could understand that. It’s isn’t you. It’s me.”
“Thanks. I feel much better.”
“I love you more than you know.”
“Then why is there another man out there waiting for you? How can you love me and not be satisfied with me?”
“I don’t know. Please don’t think that I’ve ever stopped loving you. There’s no way I could feel about anyone else the way I feel about you. You’ve stayed with me through this. You want to share it with me. You’ve put my happiness ahead of yours, even when it hurts.”
“Well, where is all of that getting me? All I want is you and you’re the one thing I can’t have.” His face held a sad expression, like he wished I wasn’t in so much pain.
“I don’t want to hurt you. I’m not trying to hurt you.”
“I know that. I really do understand why you want to be with a man. I just don’t like it.” How could I possibly be expected to like it? I went along with it because it was what he wanted. I thought it would make him happy and making him happy was important to me. He still wanted me and I still wanted him. It made sense to stay together. This one condition was just a little hard to swallow.
“I just don’t want to loose you. You’re the most important person in my life—my best friend. I don’t want to be without you.”
“I don’t want to be without you either. Do you want me to tell him to leave?” I looked at him. I knew he’d do it. I knew he’d let that man walk away so I’d feel better.
“Of course I want you to. But don’t. If you do, this will all be for nothing. You have to do this. We need to figure this out. Everything is up in the air right now. If you told him to leave, you’d only prolong everything an I know you don’t want him to leave.” He didn’t say anything. “If he left, I’d be happy, but you wouldn’t.” I was glad I said what I’d said. It always felt good to tell him the truth.
“So, what now?” he asked.
“Now, you walk out that door and finish your date. Then when it’s over, you call me and tell me how it went.” He smiled. I tried to smile, but it only turned to tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Don’t be. You haven’t done anything wrong.” He turned to walk out the door.
“Hey,” I said. He turned back and looked at me. “Don’t forget about me, ok?”
“Never.” I think he might have been crying. Maybe just a little.
When I was a little girl, I used to catch ladybugs and butterflies and keep them as pets. They were so pretty and I just wanted to look at them. They never lived very long and I didn’t know how to take care of them. My mother used to tell me to let them go. If they came back to me, they’d be mine forever. If they didn’t come back, they were never mine to begin with. Remembering that made me let him walk out the door when all I wanted to do was hold onto him. I knew if I held him back, whatever was left of us would die before too long. I’ll wait until I can’t wait anymore. Whether he comes back or not, I’ll know it’s forever. If he comes back, this will all be worth it. If he doesn’t, then I’ll never again have to say, yes, my boyfriend is bisexual.