Joshua was on his lunch break. He’d decided to pick up a quick sandwich at the drive-through and stop by the store to get an anniversary card for his wife, Marian. This way he could go straight home to be with her as soon as he got off work. As he walked in to the store, he tried to consider what Marian would want for this anniversary, since it was so tragically unlike any other they’d had before. He approached the greeting card aisle and perused their selection, trying to pick out a card that could express his sentiments. He thought of Marian and knew, without a doubt, that she wouldn’t be doing anything for him this year. He wasn’t bothered by this, though. He thought of her, likely still in bed at home, watching yet another episode of The Office. She hadn’t ventured out of bed much in the past week. Thankfully her job had been very understanding, and she’d been able to take sick leave instead of having to return to work right away. Joshua’s job hadn’t been as lenient, but that was okay with him. He’d wanted to support his wife, of course, but he wasn’t sure how he could when all she seemed to do was cry, and watch tv that made her cry. So, with him working until six p.m. each night, all he had to do when he got home was cook her dinner and hold her, tell her he loved her, and tell her everything was going to be okay. Those were all things he could do, and felt comfortable doing.
He reached out and plucked a card from the shelf that read “Happy Anniversary, to the best wife a man could ask for.” He placed it back, imagining Marian cringe, not just at the genericness of it, but because he knew she didn’t feel like the “best wife” right now. To tell her otherwise would surely start a fight he didn’t want to have. The next few cards he looked at had lovely artwork and scrolling letters, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that they were inappropriate in some way.
This situation was one he’d never been in before, but he felt that with his wife’s fragility, any wrong move could somehow change everything. He wanted desperately to feel in control, to know what to do and how to fix what had happened, but he knew there was no way he could. All he could do, he thought, was keep trying- show her the effort he was putting in. He picked up another card that said, “Happy Anniversary, baby!” and recoiled, placing it back on the shelf as fast as he could. He sighed, feeling defeated and a little overwhelmed. If he was his wife, he thought, he’d be crying in the isle by now with frustration. She felt so comfortable crying openly, without a second thought about people that might see her or what they might think. It was bizarre to him, something he couldn’t even fathom, but he loved her more for it. Her gentleness. In this moment, he wished he could allow himself to expel his distress in the form of salty tears, in the middle of the grocery. He couldn’t though. It just wasn’t him. He could barely allow himself to break down in front of his wife of eight years- in the middle of a store full of strangers was absolutely out of the question.
He scanned the rest of the long aisle of greeting cards with his eyes, feeling overwhelmingly like he wanted to leave. He knew he had to get her something, though. Then, right as he was about to turn around and grab a bar of her favorite chocolate on his way out, his eyes landed on “sympathy.” Maybe I could at least take a look, he thought. He did feel sympathy for her, and perhaps it would be better to express that openly, rather than pretend this was just a “normal” anniversary. He walked towards the section at the end of the isle, thinking he could at least look. The first card his eyes found was white, with bold colorful lettering on the front. “WOW, THIS SERIOUSLY SUCKS.” It said candidly. He almost laughed, it seemed so true. What they were going through did suck. He picked up the first card that had actually spoken to him and opened it. Inside it said, “I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. You aren’t alone- I’m here for you.” It felt so poignant, even though its contents were fairly basic. It was exactly how he felt, although he hadn’t been able to communicate it just yet. He hadn’t considered that he could be so blunt. He’d been trying so hard to “fix” things, trying to cheer her up, it hadn’t even occurred to him that he could just tell her things sucked. Maybe that’s why she’d grown so distant from him since it happened- because he’d been trying to be strong, and act like things were okay when they clearly weren’t. He hoped this forthrightness was what Marian needed. He picked up the card’s accompanying envelope and headed to self-checkout.
• • •
Marian was laying cocooned in the queen sized bed, surrounded completely by pillows and the occasional stuffed animal. The Office season six had just started, after Netflix asked accusatorially, “are you still watching?” Marian could still feel the fresh tears drying on her cheeks as she’d hit “yes” on the remote, the shame of losing herself in five seasons of television simply adding to her lugubrious mood. She’d just watched Jim and Pam find out they were expecting their first baby. One they hadn’t tried for, hadn’t gone to countless doctors appointments, or spent unthinkable amounts of money, trying to conceive. For Jim and Pam, as well as so many other people in Marian’s life, it had happened so easily it hurt. Her heart ached with desire for what they had.
While shifting to get more comfortable before the episode began and she zoned out completely, Marian froze as she felt a familiar wetness underneath where she lay. Fresh tears sprung to her eyes, another layer of anguish settling upon her. She sat up and angrily threw the covers off of herself and wiggled towards the edge of the bed. She glanced behind her and saw the loathsome red spot that now stained her favorite flannel sheets. Marian trekked to the adjoining bathroom to change her pad, doing her absolute best to avoid looking at the bit of chunky material that lay on its surface. At this point she was mostly on auto-pilot anyway, numb to the horror of what had been escaping her body for the past few days. She replaced the soiled pad with a fresh one, cleaned herself up, and headed back into the bedroom. First, however, she grabbed a fluffy black towel that hung on the back of the door. It was mostly dry- she figured Joshua had probably used it the night before. She quickly covered the soiled spot on her bed and stuffed the edges of the towel down underneath her blankets before climbing on top of it. She could not possibly be bothered to change the sheets right now.
Marian crawled back into her bed, feeling thankful that the towel was at least soft underneath her. She spent a moment getting comfortable before she adjusted her gaze back to the television. After a few minutes that passed like seconds, Marian heard the front door open and knew Joshua had returned home from work. She continued to lay, nearly comatose, until he softly opened the bedroom door and poked his head in.
“Hi, honey,” Joshua said gently. She shifted her gaze from the TV to her husband’s face and mumbled a barely coherent return greeting. Joshua opened the door and stepped in. He looked from her to the TV and then asked, “Mind if I turn it off for a bit?” Marian very much minded, she wanted nothing to do with her reality right now, but Joshua had already crossed the room and grabbed the remote before she could protest. She lay still, certain that she wasn’t going to want to hear any more of what he had to say. Joshua had been so full of pleasantries, it’ll-be-okay’s, and desperate attempts at cheering her up, that she was quite literally sick of it. If I hear him say one more time that we’ll make it through, I’ll vomit all over him, she thought.
Joshua perched on the edge of the bed near her feet, clearly not picking up on the displeasure she knew was radiating from her body. “How was your day today?” He asked. She knew he was trying to be pleasant, but her face must have shown her absolute disgust at the question. She did not answer. “Right. Shit. I bet it was fucking terrible, wasn’t it.” He looked pained, like he realized what a stupid question he’d asked and was embarrassed by it. Marian felt surprised by both his empathy and candor, and simply nodded in response. “Did you watch The Office all day?” he asked, looking from her to the TV. She nodded again, tears filling her eyes and slipping down her cheeks as the image of Jim and Pam, hugging with delight at the knowledge of their newly created life, materialized inside her mind. “Hey, honey, it’s okay. Maybe we could do something different tonight, though? If you’re up for it?” Joshua leaned down, kissed her forehead, and held his face close to hers, looking deeply into her eyes. Marian felt frustrated that she was put in this position- she desperately wanted to say no, to tell him this was literally all she was capable of doing, until he smiled slightly and said, “I promise I won’t try to cheer you up.” Perhaps this was all Marian needed to hear, because with this promise she felt suddenly capable of doing, even if not much, at least something different. She nodded again at her husband. He smiled and kissed her forehead again. “Okay, good. Good.” He got up and moved into the bathroom. She continued to lay and watched him as he pulled back the curtains and began to run a bath. He added her favorite bubbles, which had sat unused for over a month under the sink. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d taken a bubble bath. For so long she’d avoided doing many things for fear of the off chance that they might disrupt the miracle that had finally occurred. And yet, here she was anyway. A fresh wave of tears pricked at Marian’s eyes as she watched Joshua light candles and turn off the overhead light. After this he tied up the bag in the bathroom trash can, which was piled high and probably smelled revolting. He set the bag outside of the bathroom door and approached Marian. “I think it’s time you take a hot bath. What do you think, sweetheart?” Marian nodded again weakly and scooted herself to the edge of the bed before sitting up. She stepped down onto the soft carpet and padded her way to the bathroom. Before she closed the door behind her she turned around to her husband and said, numbly, “Thank you.”
She stripped out of her clothes and settled into the steamy, frothy water. It smelled pleasantly of lavender. Joshua must have added some essential oil, she thought, which was a very nice touch. The first thing she did was carefully wash her body and her hair, twice. She felt clean for the first time in almost a week, and she had to admit that it felt almost… good. After a thorough scrubbing, Marian soaked in the tub, without regard to the time, until her fingers and toes were nice and pruny and the water was lukewarm and, she noticed, turning a pale pink. She lay until the water drained completely, and then summoned the strength to get out of the bath and towel off. She blew out the candles Joshua had lit and grabbed a pad from under the sink before opening the door.
Marian entered the bedroom and saw that Joshua changed the sheets on the bed, and put out a different comforter. Even though this one was her least favorite (it wasn’t nearly as comfortable) she was grateful for the effort he’d put in. The room also smelled nice- he must have sprayed some air freshener around. On top of the bed she saw that he’d laid out clean clothes for her- his coziest flannel pajama bottoms and one of her old Relay-for-Life T-shirts. She was pleased that he hadn’t tried to get her to put on anything besides jammies. As she put on the first clean outfit she’d put on in days, she noticed the hum of the washing machine, and she was pretty sure, the dishwasher. She hung her towel up and took her bundle of dirty clothes with her as she moved into hallway. She dropped her clothes in the hamper as she passed the washroom and continued on to the kitchen. She must have been in the bath for hours, by the look of things. Joshua had tidied up, cooked dinner, and lit even more candles, spread across the kitchen and living room. Marian started to cry yet again. He must have heard her soft sobs, because he turned around immediately and rushed to her. He held her in his arms and rubbed his hand across her back, whispering softly, “hey, hey, hey.” He pulled back and looked her into her eyes. “Hey, you. Happy anniversary.”
Marian had completely forgotten about their anniversary- for the first time ever. She could vaguely remember thinking about the fact that it was coming up, weeks ago, and being excited that they would have so much to celebrate. Now, however, she had zero desire to celebrate at all. She went rigid and felt anger rise in her, for a reason she couldn’t put her finger on. “I got you a card,” he said, reaching behind him and taking an envelope off of the table. He put it in her stiff hands. She felt the strong urge to throw the card across the room and, to her shock, push him to the ground. She didn’t, of course. Instead, she robotically opened the card.
“WOW, THIS SERIOUSLY SUCKS.” It read. In Joshua’s handwriting was the word “fucking,” carroted in. She stared at it for a few moments before opening the card. Printed inside was, “I’m so sorry you’re having to deal with this. You aren’t alone- I’m here for you.” Then, underneath, Joshua had scrawled, “I’m hurting too. Let’s hurt together from now on. I love you, forever.” Marian looked up and saw her husband’s face, looking both hopeful and deeply, deeply sad. She considered the way she’d been mourning alone, holding his attempts to make her feel better against him. She’d told herself that it meant he didn’t understand, didn’t share her grief. She felt her anger turn to raw, unavoidable sorrow. She started to cry, heavy sobs racking through her, and immediately Joshua wrapped his arms around her. He held her, as he’d done so many times before, but this time she could feel the soft shudder of his own body as he cried with her. “I love you so much, Marian, I can’t lose you, too,” he rasped. She held onto him with all the strength she had and whispered, “I love you, too.”
They cried together until neither of them had any tears left, and then they unclenched their arms from around each other and parted with a kiss which held in it all the things that had been left unsaid. Joshua wiped at his eyes and said, “I was thinking we could cuddle up on the couch, eat dinner and watch a movie? Maybe we could start a puzzle?” Marian was touched, she knew Joshua hated puzzles as much as she loved them. She nodded, allowing a shadow of a smile to present itself. “I’d like that,” she said quietly. Joshua looked relieved and took her hand, squeezed it three times, then moved to the kitchen and began serving up dinner. Marian watched him and felt a swell of gratitude for her husband that she had been numb to for too long. As much as she hated the thought, she knew in this moment that they were going to make it through this. They were going to be okay.