We'd discussed how important it was that he not get up in the morning and walk out of the room. He'd done it a number of times so as to not disturb my light sleep. But the act triggered memories of my third marriage; the emotional disconnect there, the physical and sexual abuse, the gaslighting, and constant ghosting. We'd discussed my need for some sign of his continued affection.
And so as Mr. PNU sat up at the edge of the bed I reached for him.
The arterial wall split sometime in the night; the defective thinning of that tissue likely congenital. There were no preventative measures he might have taken. It was all a matter of time. The stress of his self-imposed expectations, his shoddy diet and lack of personal physical care may have increased his blood pressure to some degree. But the tear would have happened eventually, and for us sooner than later. The body's natural self-healing response sent platelets to the site by the hundreds, accumulating like clouds across the night sky until the stars are no longer visible.
Memories of the day before continue to haunt me. The last time he walked through our bedroom door late morning after volunteering at Wasatch House with the mentally ill. I reached for his body, pulled him down on top of me, and we frantically made love as equal partners. Our lunch together at Burgers Supreme. Every meeting and parting on campus. The dinner with his colleagues that night in Springville, and his all around disease and expressed frustration on the way home at feeling he had little to contribute to the evening's dialogue. He was ever self-critical, ever doubting his goodness, ever bumbling through the perfection of our marriage with his dissatisfaction. First and foremost in his mind: his arrival. The point at which he would know he'd filled the measure of his whole self. I didn't argue with him about it that night. His exhaustion was heavy, and instead I let him doze next to me while I worked the final edits on a poem about a shrine in Nagasaki that was split in two, half of it demolished upon detonation of Fat Man on Aug. 9, 1945. In my headphones: Gorecki's Symphony 3 Op. 36. And then I turned out the lights to sleep.
I reached for him because he wasn't going to remember my needs. I extended and hand and pulled him back down beside me, where we cuddled and talked until the alarm clock indicated we were right to be awake at all. The signs had begun manifesting. The dull numbness in his hand. He recited poetry and shook out his hand again.
I said, "That's a symptom of stroke."
And he dismissed me. Too often I think my husband has dismissed me, my knowledge, my experience, my presence. All the while he's given me a pedestal much like the onlookers over the last two years. Dismissal and pedestals are how we avert our eyes from the depth and range of wisdom of other human beings. It's easier than accepting our lack of solo competence. I know, because I catch myself doing the same all the time. We all think we know better than everyone else.
Ten minutes later, when he reached for me the last time, his left arm hung limp at his side, his face drooped and his eyes rolled back into his head. I laid him on our bed, and still dripping, naked from my shower, called 9-1-1. Two years ago. Two years ago right now at 6 a.m.
I reached for him to come lay beside me, to connect, to share our dreams, to touch, to love. One last time, I reached out for what I needed. One last time, he responded. And then the marriage, the man, that blissful life—it split in two.