To Love Somebody
by C Hostetler
The feeling in Tori’s chest was tangible. She wished it came from a more pleasant cause. Instead, it came from the knowledge of her placing blame, and the responsibility for correction; all on her own shoulders; all unnecessarily. She felt a shiver go through her body. It ended in the pit of her stomach, and left her nauseas. She wasn’t perfect, and may have pushed a little too hard sometimes through the years. But, if she had realized the truth sooner, she could have made a difference in both of their lives.
The one thought that was constant, and wouldn’t give her rest, was how stupid she felt. Did other people see what she hadn’t for so many years? Did they not say anything because they thought she already knew? Or was it because they chose to stay innocent of the acknowledgement that something was off all these years? An even more disheartening question was: Did his family know about his condition? Now, after all these years, it didn’t make sense to ask. Moreover, too much time had passed and nothing could be done now. Every time the actuality of memories bumped into present day, it made her feel lost and alone. She was trapped and could only move forward in the reality where she stood now.
Just then, she heard a noise and ran inside from the patio. Her husband had tripped while getting out of bed and was down on his hands and knees trying to get up. His oxygen tubing became caught between his toes, and threw him off balance.
“What in the world!” Tori exclaimed with concern. “Are you okay?” She got down to his level so he could hear her. “Don’t stand up until I loosen up the tubing. Then maybe try and roll over to one side, and just sit on the floor a few minutes. I need to be sure you haven’t broken or strained anything.”
“I’m okay.” He answered with a firm tone. “I just want to get up.” Her husband started to struggle and maneuver into a position that would allow him to stand.
Tori knew it was useless to argue with him, unless she wanted another verbal battle to start. She untangled the tubing and reattached the nasal cannula to his nose. Then she positioned herself so he could grab on to her and leverage himself enough to stand. Once up, she had him walk slowly to a nearby armchair to sit and recover.
“Okay. Just sit there and breathe in some good oxygen for a few minutes and let me check your levels. Just tell me if you hurt anywhere specific, or if you feel pain in general.”
She checked him all over and he seemed to be okay. He insisted on getting up to use the restroom. Tori thought it best to allow the morning to progress within normal routine parameters, while keeping a close eye on him. She sat down for a few minutes to gather her composure and to focus on his whereabouts and movements in the bathroom. In their small apartment, it was easy to hear everything. His hearing loss caused the volume attached to his normal activities to be at an invasive level at times. Tori didn’t mind the changes to her husband that were happening naturally due to his age. The years between them were never an issue to her. She knew way back when she decided to say yes to his proposal, there would be hurdles to overcome. Hurdles that might not happen if she had married someone her own age. But she hadn’t anticipated the effect of some of his unhealthy choices, like his persistence in smoking, that led him to his current condition.
But mostly, Tori hadn’t expected to deal with a clinical concern that was never even within her radar. Her own lack of maturity, and low level of expectations on what should be reciprocated back to her from her husband, became his enabler for years. Her failure of detection early on in their marriage affected their relationship and their children very negatively. She interpreted his delay in response as him taking time to think things over. Unfortunately, she overlooked the fact that, at any given time, she was the one who brought up a need for conversation relating to existing matters. He followed; but only after she had shared the details of her concerns and her ideas for resolution. She never noticed her reflection in his words, as few as they were.
Then it happened. The tough times in life. His parents dying, then hers. Tough times that would normally cause empathy and care for one another. She held him when he cried over the death of his father. She shared lovely memories with him about his mom when it was her time to move on to eternity. However, when she dealt with the loss of her father and mother, he had nothing to offer emotionally. In actual fact, he made no attempt to comfort. Instead, he was angered at her distraction with the customary arrangements that required her time. She learned during that time he was well versed in quite a selection of curse words. Words they absolutely never spoke in each other’s presence prior. After watching the life drain out of her mother just hours before, five minutes of verbal abuse and nonsensical accusations caused Tori to be emotionally exhausted. The real twist came fifteen minutes later, when he had no recollection of the confrontations that left her without frame; in a puddle of confusion. The feeling in her chest started back then. She equated it to him breaking her heart. Nonetheless, she always worked hard to forgive him. She didn’t want to be the cause of his discontent, and prayed for the knowledge to be a better wife and mother.
It took a book, a Nicholas Sparks novel, for her to recognize her husband in the words of a fictional story line. Not an exact match, but enough for Tori’s breathing to stop when she connected with the words on the page. She couldn’t escape the information that was chipping away at her present truth. Tori dug through forums and information online to learn as much as she could. Memories came swirling back at her; feeling like a hard slap in the face. For a couple of days, she felt knocked off balance. They had journeyed through quite a few years by that time, and more than a few of them were rocky. Tori had never expected unending bliss, but the harder times they experienced seemed to always revolve around her husband. As the kids grew older, he pulled back from them once they became capable of having interesting and inquisitive conversations. He shut down and quit responding to them. Both of the kids became resentful of his disinterested behavior. His lack of effort to relate to them made it seem he was extremely selfish, and made them feel they were no longer a blessing, but instead a bother. Enjoyment of their company had been replaced with striking out verbally about the smallest things. Unfortunately, Tori found out in later years there had even been some physical responses by him to normal teenage developments. His responses were so childlike and emotionally immature to the degree it caused her and the kids’ utter confusion. Her heart was broken. The kid’s hearts were crushed. How did she miss that her children were having to maneuver in an unwelcome atmosphere when no one else was around but him? She had trusted him with them totally.
She had loved him deeply, and had been so devoted to his every need. Tori realized she had undermined her own ability to see through the real cause of his seemingly calm and quiet demeanor. She thought he was wise and felt things deeply. He didn’t. He couldn’t. It wasn’t an ability that was within his grasp. When pushed to participate in a family discussion to settle disputes or address circumstances that involved uncertainty, he shut down; mentally and emotionally. Now, looking back, she could see it was clearly a developmental disorder. But then, she was young and her background wasn’t such that it allowed her to be perceptive enough to recognize something was off. The spread of years between them closed, as she grew older emotionally and physically, and he only aged physically. Then there was the time she saw the look of confusion on a counselor’s face that seemed to say to her, ‘You mean you don’t know?’.
Time had brought them here. Tori had determined not to desert him. She was definitely not a martyr, but it wasn’t in her to walk away. Her decision hadn’t really made things easier, by far. Her husband’s age and health issues just compounded his restricted behavior patterns that had never been addressed. She made the choice to accept their life together, as is. It didn’t make his inability to choose actions that showed consideration of her dedication to him any easier to deal with; frustrations abounded. Tori had to catch site of the lighter things between them whenever possible, and magnify them for both of their sakes. Her expectation of his capacity to show her love in return, in the way she had loved him, needed a reprieve.
She had locked in her fate and was okay with the choice. Her day to day struggles would find their way into her poetry and stories. Creativity would help her vent to God, and also to anyone who ventured into read her writings. Words that could magically weave the physical pain in her chest, and the brokenness of her heart, into their composition. Every now and then she was given a gift as she glanced up, and he would look at her with what seemed like an understanding smile. There it was. It didn’t happen every day; just often enough for Tori to smile softly in return and be glad for her decision. She had come to believe fulfillment didn’t always come by way of easy, or hard times. Instead, it came to her by way of her choice to stand by her husband. Reciprocation didn’t make her list for true love when she started out in their relationship. For Tori, that would have been an assumed condition of love. However, it didn’t happen that way for her, but she grabbed hold of the power to love unconditionally. To her that is what it meant to love somebody, and to her last breath, she would never regret her decision.
The door opened, and she watched as her husband shuffled over to the counter to take his medications. And so, another day to make it through; another day full of the potential to connect; to understand; or perhaps, just to be with each other. All the history, along with all the unanswered love was bearable, if Tori could hold on to that simple truth.