Why do we so often measure the quality of people by what they do for us? David’s birthday was yesterday, and when I was thinking of what to write in his card, so many of the adjectives that came to mind were ones that described …
With two trips to Connecticut and a weekend out in Indiana for this past weekend’s Notre Dame-USC game (IRISH!), David had been away for the better part of two weeks. It’s good to have him home, even if it means there’s a couple extra pairs …
David and I went out the other night on what many of us crotchety, weather-beaten, tired, thirty-something-with-kids types like to call “date night.” I refuse to call it a date night, because no matter how I look in this avocado-smeared t-shirt, I’m cool, man. And even though David and I only go out with each other alone, at night, without children, maybe once every four months, the old-fart couple label is not us, man. We’ll never be like that.
(Give me a sec. I gotta go run this diaper bag out to my minivan…)
Flash back to a Friday night, 7:15 p.m., in the precious few moments after bedtime and before Cian figured out that we were still home and woke from his tentative slumber to holler for somebody to love him, already. I was in the bathroom, using the curling iron and mumbling about how no wonder I never do this anymore because it takes so much damn time. David was ironing his clothes in the bedroom next to me, and as we talked through the open door, I couldn’t help wondering if I could even remember what it was like to get ready without him hearing me brush my teeth, or giving advice on what shirt he should wear. And then I started making mental note of everything we discussed in those rushed ten minutes. Because, well, this is us:
- My nursing bra. More specifically, the nude-colored triple-hook bra with a busted snap that I was wearing that night.
- Children’s books.
- Quinn’s possible UTI, and a suggestion to call the doctor.
- The Hilton Chicago.
- David’s dress shoes.
- Clean-sheet day.
- A comparison of that dark blue, striped, button-front shirt to the other dark blue, striped, button-front shirt.
- The temperature outside.
- Chicken stock.
- Our new ironing board cover.
I shook my head. Ten years of marriage, three children, and we’ve come to this. I dug out my awesomest high-heeled sandals and strapped those puppies on. We went to a really nice restaurant that used to be an old row home, one of those cool little places that made us remember that we didn’t always have to drive into the city from the suburbs. We ordered cocktails and oysters and entrees that involved things like pistachio gremoulade and honeyed figs. When offered a first course of pasta made with squid ink, calamari, and octopus, I insisted we order it, mostly out of spite, because dammit, I was still under the idea that we are NOT those people–we are not lame and old and set in our tiny little ways–and by golly (hip people can say “by golly,” okay?), we’re gonna eat some squid ink-flavored pasta to prove it once and for all. Because nothing says “I still got it” like a pile of spaghetti covered with slimy black goo.
We had a really good time that night. We talked about the kids, of course, and about David’s upcoming trip to Chicago for work. We talked about his new position, and my writing, and the kind of house we want to buy next. We talked about how hard it is to stay on top of it all, what we’ve done well, what we need to change–in life, in parenthood, in marriage, because you know, there’s always something–and what we want to do next. We discovered that squid ink really tastes how you think it might taste, and that black pasta sauce stains when it splatters onto a dark blue, striped, button-front shirt. David decided that Manhattans aren’t as good as a nice craft beer on draft, and I discovered that I’m at a point in my life where half of a dirty vodka martini makes me chatty with servers. We weren’t pretending to be people we aren’t, we all know that. It felt like old times, just a bit more special (minus the scary pasta). We have a family, and busy days, and feel lucky to duck out by ourselves when we can.
Who needs squid ink anyway? We have each other, even if most Friday nights are spent not tucked into a cozy two-top, but watching a movie in the basement until some pint-sized child comes down to ask for another sip of water. I’m not taking any of that for granted, ever.
Besides, at least my shoes still looked good.
Almost ten years ago, I fell down the stairs at our wedding. Well, not the wedding itself, but afterward. We held our reception in Baltimore at Westminster Hall, a vacant Presbyterian Church some wise people thought would look good spiffied up and turned into an …
We went to the memorial service for Christina yesterday. I don’t really know what to say, except…I don’t know. A friend of mine told me that her greatest fear is dying while her children are young. She said that she just can’t even let her mind go there, can’t bear to think about it. Sitting at that service yesterday? Well, the mind went there. It had to. This is a family’s reality. I can’t even.
Shawn, Christina’s husband, said that, a year ago, when Christina started radiation and had to stop nursing their son cold turkey, the 1-year-old gave up his naps. He started waking at 7:30 p.m, if I remember correctly, and doesn’t fall asleep until 9. And all I could think was, was he soaking up time with his mom? Is this how he adjusted to the difficulty in their family, even though he couldn’t understand it? Their son didn’t leave his dad’s arms the entire morning. Shawn said he’s been like that for the last couple of days. Tina died last Sunday.
You know how there are marriages in the world that seem to come so easily to the couple? Yeah, I don’t know many like that, either (har har). Most couples seem to always be stagger-stopping, at least early on, trying to find their comfort zone, working around this issue or that one, trying to appreciate the other before the inevitable pressures of life and frustrations and the downside of knowing someone too, too well get in the way of that united front everyone’s supposed to be achieving. Blame financial hardship, or different backgrounds, or the stresses of raising children or finding new jobs or taking care of ill parents, but for most of us it’s hard, hard, to be that little cohesive unit all the time, in the face of everything, despite and because of it all.
And then there was Shawn and Christina. I have no idea what their marriage was like, so I will not even wager a guess. But I looked at Shawn yesterday, and I thought about what I know–of all the time he took off from work to care for his wife, each and every doctor’s appointment and chemo and radiation treatment to which he accompanied her, most times, if I’m right, taking their son, too. I think of the co-workers who donated their leave time so he could be with her. He shaved the hair off of his head when they took hers, too. I see a man Christina raved about, worried about, loved absolutely, and I see a father who’s so obviously a rock to their son while dealing with unimaginable pain. Christina’s sister-in-law told those of us gathered yesterday that Shawn embodied his sacred vows in the way he cared for her and loved her in such a horrible test of their devotion. And I saw him sitting there, in the front corner of the pew always reserved for the closest family member, holding their son, and I just. I don’t know. I’m not going to go tell you to go hug your spouse, or look at her with new eyes, or anything like that, because, really. David and I got into a silly spat about cell phones in the car on the way home, not an hour after we’d left the luncheon, because that’s how it rolls sometimes. I’m not in any place to spread platitudes. But. Shawn goes home tonight, and wakes tomorrow, and the day after that, because he has to. He will be determined that his son know about his mom. He will want to talk about her, he will need to remember her, he will have to live without her. The mind goes there, because it has to, whether it wants to or not.
Some of you have asked me how you can help. A fund has been set up for Christina and Shawn’s son through their local credit union. If you’d like to contribute, you may send a donation in the name of Shawn Edward Heinlein, Jr. to 239 Kensington Parkway, Abingdon, MD 21009. Please send me an email at onevignette(at)gmail(dot)com if you want more specific info.
You, my dear friends who read this, are wonderful people. Most of you know that already (no? You should), but you seriously are wonderful, and if Shawn or his or Christina’s family is reading this, I hope they know how many, many people they don’t know have them in their prayers right now, have been in tears talking about them with their own families, have been going to bed at night thinking about them. It’s a lot. Christina has done by 34 what most of us wish we can accomplish in our lives: she’s led by example. And Shawn, I think you’re a part of that.
Marriage made me a hypocrite. Motherhood has made me such an even bigger one, I’ve turned into a hippo-crite (get it?! Because hippos are huuuge?). I’ve always been of the I-am-woman-hear-me-roar variety. I used to be quite proud of myself when I could shovel six …