We were busy, you see. A blended family. Even though we had dated for almost two years, dating while turning 40 was mostly made up of running through life, loading laundry, driving kids to sports, being team mom and coach. Our dates involved hot dogs and corn nuts in the bleachers. A fancy date included peanut butter cups for dessert. Our arguments (pre-email) consisted of faxes at midnight.
When Mike became my husband it amped up the distance between us, weirdly, since we now lived together, had a mortgage and added a new baby. Yes, seven kids. It was hard to have each other’s backs through that, which we managed to do. But we didn’t have much face time. Time to talk. The marriage was function-based. It could have been more. But he never knew.
The things I wish I had told Mike are not the sloppy and sentimental Hallmark hindsight sighs. I wish I had told him more about me. About the real me. I wish I had told him, for instance, that I dreamed of reading out loud to each other once in a while. I loved books and wanted to share my favorite passages and then actually see what he thought of them. Especially passages that I wrote. Somehow he never read any of my nine books. He never knew.
Or, I wish I had let him know that it was very, very important to me to decorate the Christmas tree and wrap presents together. We learned quickly that he valued getting the tree, I valued trimming the tree. So decade after decade I spent holiday nights putting on lovely ornaments by myself in tears while he was out in the garage with the boys, fulfilled once the tree had plopped into the stand and didn’t topple over. But I didn’t want to be seen as needy. In the same way, I bought gifts carefully and thoughtfully and sequestered them away all year. He saw them but never offered to help wrap. So when the tree was surrounded with gifts wrapped and ready, he would run out on Christmas Eve and buy his gifts for everyone. I hated that. He never knew.
I hardly ever talked about my failures so he put me on a pedestal. I didn’t really want him to know that I’d flipped off a car that cut me off, hung up on telemarketers with snarky comments, or gossiped about the too-sexy woman at work. I was the godly one, you see, with appearances to keep up. So I hid my real self from my husband so many times. He never knew.
As a result, in 18 years we never had that cycle of confession, repentance, forgiveness that could have made our relationship so much deeper, so much more authentic. I never was fully convinced that he loved ME. I was afraid to be my ugly, real self. Kind of like we do with God so many times. As if he doesn’t know.
And now I see that it all could have been much richer, much freer. We could have become completely and truly one if I had dropped my defenses just a little more. Instead, a sudden brain disease created a relationship where my functionality became a matter of life and death. He had the mental capacity of a pre-teen and vulnerability would kill him. And by then I was even more afraid of him dying than I had been of him living to know the real me.
After he died, though, I found a journal. In the sprawling print of a child, he recorded his thoughts when I was going through pneumonia. One entry said:
“When I get up I am going to ask God to make tomorrow a great day for Fran. She was coughing all afternoon and getting well is taking her a long time. Today was a good day because, most important, I took care of Fran. It made me feel loved. That may not seem normal but it is with me. God is with us. Tears are coming down in joy. Good night and bless you all! – Mike.”
All that time, it turned out taking care of me would have made him feel loved.
I never knew.