Saturday, February 27, 2016

Collecting the missing pieces (part II)

I have two and a half hours left before I have to be back at Mr. PNU’s side as caregiver. Temperatures are warming, and the thawing world has me distracted. I had the afternoon planned before I left home, and now those plans feel too restrictive. I want so badly to just be out, enjoying the day. I want to be unburdened by the stress of overseeing the future that continues to tug at my eyelid.

As part of the necessary act of remembering, I want to tell you about my husband on the last day before his stroke. 

We lay side-by-side in bed last night listening to a recording of his last lecture on Buddhist ethics, made and sent to us by the mother of one of his students. This good lady came to assist her disabled daughter record classes, and after what would be his final lecture  she chatted with my husband while the device continued recording. The anniversary of my husband’s stroke and this encounter is seven weeks away. While we listened to his beautiful pre-stroke voice, it occurred to me that in my management of holding the world together, in the uncanny presence of mind that took over my every action for weeks to follow, I didn’t even think to say goodbye. The ghostly sound of my husband’s lilting voice and the ease of his conversation filled our room, and I ached for the lost parts of him—grey matter and glial cells that have dissolved into the dark resonance that is revealed by MRIs and CT scans.

I love Mr. PNU, the stroke survivor. I love what he is becoming. Some days, I even love the adventure of discovery that stroke has posed for us. But the man I am married to now is a very different person from the man in the recording. So let me tell you about this professor who was so crazy in love with me, so flipped out in his head-over-heels newlywed bliss, that as he shared the story of how we met with this student and her mother after his last lecture that you can hear the giddy smile on his face as he speaks.

“What’s your goal with your career?” the student’s mother asks. “You going to be a full-blown professor, or you haven’t made up your mind yet?”

“That’s what I’d like to do, but I’ve failed at doing that repeatedly,” he says.

“Well, take the Buddhist approach. You just keep going. Eventually you’ll have another karmic opportunity.”

“Eventually I’d like to get a full-time position,” he tells her. “Mostly, not even because of prestige or anything, but I’d get benefits like healthcare.”

“But you do enjoy teaching?”

“I love teaching,” he says with joy.

“It seems to me that’s what you like doing.”

“I love coming to this job. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, and if I’m poor doing it, fine, I don’t even care. I’m surviving, I mean. I’m alive.”

“Now your wife was coming to this class for a while. Is she teaching as well?” she asks.

“No, she’s actually an undergraduate. I met her because she took this class,” he says somewhat sheepishly. 

“Wow! Really? Cool. Very cool.”

There is much giggling from both student and mother.

“So, yeah, so that happened. We didn’t, like—nothing inappropriate happened.”

“Oh come now, I think it did,” she teases him.

“No, I’m serious,” he says, because if there was anything Mr. PNU worried about during our courtship and after it was that people would assume he’d been unethical in pursuing our relationship.

“No, I believe you,” she reassures him. “I totally believe you. People always want to go there.”

“No, serious. Really,” he explains. “She took my class and she was a very good student, so the next year I asked her to be my TA. And then, at the end of that—we didn’t see each other romantically at all during all of that—and at the end of that she gave me her phone number and said call me, and I did.”

“Well, good for you. How long have you been married?”

“About six months.

“Oh my goodness. That’s awesome."

“Yes, we’d dated for about six months before we got married. So she’s actually TAed for this class.”

“So you’re newlywed?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Second marriage, but I can tell you already, it’s going much better.”

And for me, I sheepishly admit, a fourth marriage. In the grand karmic scheme, I suppose I just kept going. By the time that stroke anniversary rolls around in April, my marriage to Mr. PNU will have lasted longer than either my second or third. But I can tell you, even in light of our traumatic first year, our losses and heartaches, the bizarre and miraculous hellos and the bittersweet goodbyes, he’s still right. Strange as it may seem, as my experience with marriage goes, this one is much better than anything before it. Which is probably why, in grief and love for my philosopher boy, I keep going now.


  1. I love reading what you wrote. You are gifted with words.

  2. This is utterly authentic and real. Thank you. I've always wanted a back story to you two. You guys and your children have made several movie cameo-like appearances throughout the last couple years of our family's life.