By: Ann Brown
Robin and I are sleeping apart.
It’s not the first time in thirty years of marriage that he has retreated to the downstairs couch and it probably won’t be the last. We’ve been here before. There was the time he spent three hundred dollars on a wood chipper when we had a specific agreement that neither one of us can spend more than two hundred dollars without discussing it with the other one first. And then there was the time he refused to apologize to me for siding with the nurse when she said I was not dilated during labor with our second kid, and I TOTALLY WAS FULLY DILATED. That particular fight occurred seventeen years after the baby was born, when I was retelling the story at a dinner party, but still. In fact, just talking about it now kinda pisses me off at Robin. And the baby will be twenty-five next autumn.
Once, I even bolted the downstairs door shut so he couldn’t get upstairs if he wanted to. I was really mad that time although right now I cannot remember why. And anyway, I unbolted the door after, like, ten minutes because I am a hand wringer by nature and the worry about a fire or other disaster ultimately trumped my anger. I will never make a good torturer. I’d be, all, I am totally gonna waterboard you now, and then I’d think to myself, oy gevalt. A person could drown that way. Or get very scared and develop a psychological issue. And then I’d put away the bucket and we’d talk about feelings for a while. Maybe have a nice piece of cake or something.
Still, this time Robin has really moved out. He took his stuff downstairs – pillows, blankets, toiletries – and settled in downstairs. I snuck down and took all the good towels and sheets, leaving him with the old schmattes we inherited from my parents and the funky crap the kids brought back from college with them. I also gathered my favorite books and CD’s from downstairs and squirreled them away up in our (my) bedroom. He is not going to even touch my stuff.
We are going to live this way for two weeks.
Robin has begun radioactive treatment for cancer, and he is quarantined until he can no longer contaminate the rest of us. In the old days, a person went to the hospital to remain in isolation for the duration of this kind of treatment, but I guess now the doctors figure that he has less chance of catching, I don’t know, diphtheria or polio if he stays at home. I hear that some people go to hotels for a week or so. That idea, frankly, appeals to me in a huge way, but leaving his radioactivity for some unsuspecting hotel maid would bring some really bad karma on us. And between Robin’s ethics and my nervous Jewish stomach, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.
And so it begins.
We are three days into this sixteen-day adventure. I prepared for this event for days; I covered all the remote controls and his computer keypad with plastic wrap, I sealed off shelves in the bathroom armoire, I took all the clean laundry that usually languishes on the couch and dumped it upstairs on the guest bed. I used up all my adrenaline by yesterday afternoon. Then I spent the rest of the day eating vanilla pudding and drawing pictures of Spiderman and making copies of those fallout shelter signs and pasting them all over our front door. And then I took them down because what if we need the paramedics and they won’t come in because Robin is radioactive?
And then I put them back up because, you know, karma. And being forthcoming. And all that crap.
God, it is exhausting being an ethical person.
Robin was diagnosed with cancer on our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Really. Thirty years earlier, we stood under the chuppah and Robin’s dad – a Universal Life Church minister ordained by mail –blessed our union while the golf course next door blasted their announcements through a P.A. system that, I swear, was intended to bring in ships from the deep sea.
“Stevenson, your golf cart is ready. STEVENSON!” Those were the words we heard as Robin and I kissed for the first time as husband and wife. Even now, sometimes when we kiss, I like to break away and yell, “STEVENSON!” Oh, and we laugh merrily. And then Robin says, “Can you stop doing that, really? After thirty years, it’s still not funny.” And then I get all huffy and say to him, “Really? Uh, which one of us is the comedy writer and which one of us works in solar technology?”
And then he rolls his eyes and says, “I don’t want to fight. I just wanted to kiss you.”
But I can’t let it go.
And then he says, “If you don’t want to have sex, just say so.”
I love how he gets me.
So. It’s almost nine o’clock on the morning of Day Three. I am waiting to hear him ring his bell, to let me know he’s up and ready for breakfast. I’ve already eaten two breakfasts -you know, to keep up my strength for the days ahead. I have been power eating and carb loading since, it seems, the diagnosis. For my strength, of course. I have gotten so strong already that my underpants are tight. If I get any stronger I’m gonna have to dig out my twenty-four-year-old maternity underpants. Which will piss me off at Robin all over again because he didn’t believe me when I said I was dilated.
But then I will remember that he has cancer. And I am heartbroken over it.
This is not how we thought we’d celebrate our thirtieth year together. But in a weird way, this is exactly the kind of thing that reassures us we are a strong, enduring couple. We’ve got each other’s backs in life’s crapstorms. He lives with my varicose veins and my drooly bite guard, and the little quirk I have about forbidding him to cook or eat any stinky food when I’ve just washed my hair. I live with his ear whiskers and the fact that he still thinks it is hilarious to pull my pants down when he is following me up the stairs. We could both have done worse.
Thirteen more days of isolation. Thirty-nine more meals from the No-Iodine diet that prepares his body for the radioactive medicine. We’ve finally figured out a system for getting food to him: He opens the door at the foot of the stairs and reaches up as far as he can. I stand on the landing and lean over the banister and stretch and reach and lunge until I spill hot soup on his arm and he screams in pain. I am also doing my part by eating all the bread in the house that contains iodine. Which is, all bread. I know, I’m an awesome wife.
When this is all over, when Robin is pronounced healthy we are going to celebrate our anniversary. Even if it’s a year late. We’ve been talking about having a big party or going to Mexico or maybe just staying in bed and eating sushi and watching “Cash Cab”. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we have at least another thirty years together.
So Robin can realize that I was really, truly, fully dilated and he totally owes me an apology.
[Photo Credit: cseeman]