Pillow Talk That Sticks

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It’s funny how one mundane memory can reappear, and make you laugh and cry, all over again.

A week or two before my husband left we had a quiet moment alone at bedtime. The room was dark, and I didn’t expect it, but as he moved very near me I just started crying thinking about his departure – really crying. It was the kind of semi-quiet crying where you bury your face in your own hands. It was the kind of quiet crying where your throat constricts so tightly that it practically cramps. It was the kind of involuntary chest-heaving sobs where the air rushes out in bursts as the crying comes out, and you think you might not be able to breathe. It feels so sad to cry that way.

Nobody needed to ask why I was upset and my husband was not asking for an explanation. But he looked at me as if to wonder about the specific thing making me cry. I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t explain it myself. He just drew me in closer.

Eventually I managed to offer the only explanation that seemed to sum things up succinctly. "I’m tired. I’m tired of being strong," I replied - to the question that had not been asked. And I looked up at him.

Last April when I turned 39, I had a crisis birthday weekend where I decided to take control of my life. I was really ready to stop letting life just happen to me, and I was resolved to take things head on in order to master what I wanted out of life. I was going to start writing more, practice law less, focus on the kids more, and do everything that was really important and beautiful and satisfying. And in rapid-fire succession over the next five weeks my uncle died, a sweet angel lost his battle with Leukemia, my mother was diagnosed with a rare cancer, and we received word that my husband was being mobilized for fifteen months. It was dizzying.

So naturally, when I said, “I’m tired of being strong,” I really meant it, and my husband knew exactly what I was saying. He knew he was the stalwart that kept me grounded and sane and justified. He knew that I counted on him tremendously, and that his absence was complicating things, and that there was nothing either of us could do about it. I would still need to be strong. In fact, I would need to be stronger.

In a millisecond, he responded. He is wise in ways even I will admit I do not fully understand. And he understands parts of me better than I understand myself. I remember it as if it were slow motion, now (that’s how I remember things when I look back on them). The more I think about it, the more I can fill in the details. 

There was the taste of salt, the sting of the air, the smell of our sheets, and the feel of his skin as I moved my hands away from my face. He released me and looked directly into my eyes. He wiped away a tear and he delivered his words with compassion, and heartfelt concern … “Strong smelling?”

I stopped breathing. Then, I laughed pretty hard. I’m sure snot came out, followed by some drool. And we laughed together, and he laughed because I thought it was funny, and we laughed sweetly some more.

And tonight, I laughed again. What a luxury to laugh at a joke twice. Really laugh.

I was coming home from playing soccer and seeing a movie with friends, and the car radio was off. It was very quiet, and very dark, and the kids were not with me, and I was missing him. I thought to myself, “I’m just so tired already, and it’s only been a few weeks. I’m tired of being strong.” Just then, I caught a whiff of myself. I had just played soccer, and I was pretty strong smelling, and there it was, a-la Obi Wan Kenobi: “Strong smelling?”

I’m sure my fellow drivers thought I was texting and driving, as I weaved and heaved with laughter, wiping the tears away.

So, here’s to my husband, and here’s to his brand of humor. Because he was right about that response. What am I going to do? Quit? I’m walking this road, and no matter how I walk it, the destination there at the end will be the same. I might as well have some fun along the way whenever I can.

Yay for strong-smelling memories and a great sense of humor. 

What memories do you carry with you that help you positively handle things that are out of your control?

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