I'm sitting cross-legged on my therapist's couch 4 months after my husband's announcement that he wants a divorce when my therapist informs me that he thinks I should start dating again.
I had told myself and others that I was going to take time off to concentrate on myself for once. Between a husband and three boys, I didn't know who I was anymore. I just wanted to hang out with my girlfriends, drink martinis like a fish, and let the hair grow long on my legs if I wanted. I had even gone so far as to announce to my friends that I was going to take a full year off from any kind of relationship.
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One year ago yesterday, my STB ex moved out of our house. Last year, as soon as my ex was gone, I called my friends who immediately mobilized. Within minutes, they showed up at my house bearing food, wine, and a DVD about the female orgasm.
It has been an interesting year, but I am better for it. And I still have that healthy glow, if you know what I mean.
But October looks to be another month of unfortunate anniversaries.
Yesterday was also my aunt’s birthday, but it was not a very celebratory occasion. I am back in Eastern Washington, helping her care for my uncle who is dying of prostate cancer. He is in hospice now, and we’ve had some long, rough days.
When I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1991, my uncle convinced me to buy my first pair of hiking boots. He sent me over to REI with instructions on what to look for and how to test out the boots for fit and comfort. He swore by Vasque. That was what he wore, and he felt I should get the same. Thus began our treks up and down the Cascades together.
At that time, my uncle hiked every Sunday and I was welcome to hike with him whenever I wanted. We broke in my new Vasque by heading up Tiger Mountain, Mount Si, or sometimes we’d venture out as far as Granite Falls or Mount Rainier. He would walk ahead, and I would trail behind. Sometimes, we would hike for hours in silence and sometimes, we would talk none stop about our lives and share both what was currently going on and our pasts. I would tell him about my life and about the kids, and I learned all about his life in Africa and how he met my aunt in Cameroon. He had been a mechanic, and she kept having trouble with her VW bug until he agreed to take her out on a date. (She’s persistently passive-aggressive like that.)
My uncle and I even got lost once in the snow during Easter weekend of 1992. It was like that circle made by Pooh, Piglet, and Tigger. We were hiking along, and I thought I started to see things we had already seen, a foothold here. a rock there. Finally, I said, “Have we been by this spot before?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
We hiked a little farther, and suddenly came upon a rock slide we had passed only moments before. There was no mistaking it then. Like Pooh and his posse, we were hiking in circles. We had lost the trail in the snow. By splitting up, but staying within sight of each other, somehow, we managed to find our way back to the trail. Once we were back on the trail, we quickly decided to call it quits for the day and head back home.
We never told my aunt about it. She didn’t need to know; it would just worry her.
Today, my uncle and I went for another hike. He wants to go home in the worst way. He does not want to die in the hospice house. Yesterday, the doctor told him that if he wants to go home, he needs to try to exercise and he needs to try to eat.
My uncle wanted his sweatpants, and he wanted me to go for a hike with him. Just as we have for so many years, we are hiking and talking, and he’s sharing things that he won’t tell my aunt. Our trail is a navy, indoor/outdoor carpet, and instead of weaving our way past downed branches and rocks, I provide a buffer so that he doesn’t catch the wheels of his walker on parked wheelchairs and rocking chairs. Just as we used to greet other hikers along Mount Si trail, he stops everytime he sees a nurse to make sure that they see how active he is and how well he’s doing.
He tells the nurse, “This is my niece. We used to hike together, and she’d share her life with me.”
I have to try to hold it together, because he hates it if I start to cry.
He pushes himself until his pain breaks through the medications and he has to crawl back into bed, exhausted. He has compression fractures in nine of his vertebrea and the cancer has invaded his pelvis and ribs. He won’t go quietly though. The doctor said exercise and he wants to go home. Pushing himself is the way he’s always done things.
Our hikes are the highlight of his day. Once back in bed, when nobody else is around, he grabs my hand and tells me how glad he is that I’m there. He tells me that he wishes it could all be over. Cancer is a shitty, shitty way to go. He says he wants it to be over as quickly now as possible. There are times, during the day, when he’s sleeping when he stops breathing for a second, and I watch patiently to see if he takes another breath. For his sake, I too wish he could have his wish.
But until then, we will be hiking up and down the hallway every afternoon.