I was in the shower, but not under the spray, howling like a crazed, feral animal caught in a trap. Big, gasping moans, guttural screams, panicked sobs. I was fresh from an agonizing and mutilating surgery and was paralyzed in pain. My husband, Sean, stood holding my towel, unable to help. My body, overwhelmed with hurt, was shutting down.
We should have been in Paris. We planned to arrive in time to imbibe champagne for my birthday, and then to walk along the Seine in summer, eating buttery food by day and watching the city twinkle around us at night.
Instead we went to Ohio, "medical tourism" we're calling it, to see a specialist who carved me up, and left me looking like a Walking Dead victim. In bleak moments I wonder where those hunks of flesh have gone. Burned up, I suppose. Meanwhile, I am a half-eaten burn victim, screaming with every step, trying hard not to let anything touch any of my exposed parts, trying to stop the angry blood vessels from spilling, trying to soothe the regenerating nerves, trying not to catch glimpses of myself in the mirror. Instead of the Eiffel tower, I have my own bloodied sheets and not much else.
Except. Except I have discovered this new side to my husband. Sean has always been a very sweet and patient man, but the truth is, when it comes to love, we don't speak the same language. Sean is a man of few words and no emotion. Strike that. Seemingly no emotion, we'll say, because I know if he were here, he'd protest that he does feel. I just don't see it. It seems that he is not moved by anything, not particularly passionate. He never cries, but he's also never overcome by joy. I am his opposite in every way. So though I never doubt that he loves me, we sometimes struggle to really express it to each other in ways that the other will recognize. Sean loves me by filling my car with gas and giving me the good parking spot and emptying the dishwasher. I love him by planning elaborate, romantic trips. And when I spring them on him, practically panting with excitement, he can often muster an "Oh, neat" but it always falls short of what I'm expecting. Which is just my way of saying: I do the things that I'd want, and he does the things that he'd want. It has taken time, but we are learning each other's language. We're becoming bilingual. He's not much for sentiment. He's a doer, but those things that he does are translatable: I love you, Jay.
Now I have been reduced to being his dependent, and his patient, and a terrible patient at that. Sean has become my nurse, one more gentle and delicate than I ever would have guessed. We could easily have a nurse visit the house to take care of my wounds. The bandaging is a never-ending battle, but Sean insists on doing it all himself. He winces when I wince. He soothes me when I'm hyperventilating. He waits me out when I can't take anymore. He never flinches. The sight unnerves me, makes me horrified and sick, but he looks in my eyes and tells me I am beautiful. The smell, he assures me, is the bandages, not me. I worry that I haven't shaved, or plucked my eyebrows, and he tells me that I am natural and lovely. And I believe he believes it. He hasn't lost his temper with me, not when I've lashed out, taken the pain out on him. He calls me brave and strong.
He's gone back to work - a lawyer you don't hear about in jokes, the kind that does true and honourable work - and he worries over me constantly. It is I who must reassure him. I am managing with the apples and the drinks and the pills that he has left. I lie very still, pray for sleep, and count the hours til he is home. I assume that work is a reprieve for him, a small breath of fresh air, but he's still coming home, happy as ever to see me, to spend time with me, even if it means browsing Netflix again, and watching as I fall asleep halfway through a 22 minute episode of god knows what. He brings me gifts, big and small, so I know that he has been thinking of me. Recently I unwrapped a piece of costume jewelry from a store he knows I love. It is a pendant that I already own. I laugh. Maybe someone else would be annoyed that their husband hasn't noticed this piece hanging on her wall (if not her neck), but I know the truth: he saw it and knew instinctively that it was me. Perhaps subliminally he remembered it, but at the very least, he knew I would like it, and clearly I have. Twice.
We have this thing, he and I, a mutual distaste for schmaltz. We can never be too mushy. If he says I love you (which is rare unless post-orgasm), I typically respond with "You better." Now I hear myself saying "You must."
So it's not France. But it turns out to be kind of romantic, if you look at it a little cock-eyed. We have discovered new ways to love and be loved. And there will always be Paris.