This is a story about how J somehow instinctively deals with my anxiety in the best ways for me. He never makes me feel shamed or ‘less than’ or silly or stupid for feeling anxious, and he always seems to make me feel reassured and loved. He listens to me, even when I can’t articulate what I want to say.
In the early spring of 2016, I was sick with laryngitis; the most ill I’d been in a long time…years. I felt like garbage, I was on the way to totally losing my voice, and was napping under my blanket on the couch with our dog. I trudged out the front door to meet The Boy outside from the afternoon school bus, like I do every afternoon, but this time, on the last step, I turned my right ankle, then my left one, which snapped. The first thought through my head wasn’t ‘Ouch!’ or, ‘Oh no, I think I broke my leg.’ It was, ‘Now, I’ve ruined J and The Boy’s vacation for Spring Break!’ We were supposed to go to Florida. I couldn’t get back up the stairs alone, because the left leg wasn’t weight bearing. I thought of crawling up the stairs, but The Boy went to get the phone to call Daddy. So I called J at work.
J: What’s wrong?! (Yes. He answered the phone like this, because I never call. I text. I hate the phone.)
me: I think I broke my ankle. (He can hear that I’m in extreme distress. He assumes it’s physical pain, which he doesn’t handle lightly when it’s mine. But really it’s almost entirely because I know I messed up his hard-earned, much needed vacation.)
J: Where are you?!
me: Outside on the bottom step. The Boy brought me the phone. He’s a really good boy. <sniff>
J: Shit. Are you dressed warm enough to be outside right now? (He knows I’ve been feeling sick and in PJs all day, and he knows I’m crying now.)
J: I’m leaving right now.
Did I mention this was four days before our wedding anniversary? One of the 10-15 days a year we get a date and time to be alone together? No? Well, there it is. On the alone-time drive to the ER, I probably said ‘I’m sorry’ 8000 times. (I do that. I apologize. About everything. All the time.) J said, ‘What for?’ once.
Some background here…when I was 5, I tripped on an untied shoelace while out shopping with my mother. I’ve never liked going to see doctors, and my mom knew this. I cried a lot because I’d fallen down and my arm really hurt badly. She said, ‘Does it hurt bad enough to go to the hospital?’ mostly to try and shut me up. She was aggravated with me for having an untied shoelace, for falling, for crying, and for ruining her shopping trip. She wanted and expected me to say ‘no’ and clam up, because that’s what I usually did when she threatened me with seeing a doctor when I complained about pain. But my arm hurt *badly.* So I said yes. I’d broken my arm. My mom never really comforted me or showed any form of remorse for treating my injury like a purposeful inconvenience. I felt guilty for breaking my arm when I was 5. And that was my only experience with a broken bone. So to answer J’s ‘What for?’ after my multitude of ‘I’m sorry’s,’ I said…
me: For being stupid and breaking my leg and ruining our anniversary date and your vacation and The Boy’s spring break, and making you leave work, and everything’s terrible and you hate me. <cries a lot>
J: <moves his right hand onto my left knee> I don’t hate you. <looks at me momentarily like that was a sad and surprising thing for me to say, then returned his eyes to the road> Everything’s not terrible. You didn’t ruin anything. We’ll still have a date for our anniversary. Plan just has to change a little for this leg. We’ll see about Florida. I’m not mad at you. <looks at me again briefly to convey that he can’t believe I’d think he was upset at me for being hurt>
me: I can’t believe I did this. <still crying…I don’t know how many times I repeated this sentence before he replied to me, but I’m going with *many.*>
J: Shit happens. I assume you didn’t break your leg on purpose. 😉
J is the only person who can make me smile when I’m crying. When I don’t want to smile. Or sometimes flat out refuse to. He always seems determined to make me smile when I’m down. I was pretty down then. I felt like I messed everything up. I knew medical intervention was coming up, which is never something that exactly relaxes me. But I smiled.
The next day at the ortho, I had *no voice.* I’ve written a lot about my anxiety issues, and I don’t like being touched by anyone but J or our son, so I didn’t want surgery. It meant lots of hands-on medical…stuff…plus recovery that would take J’s time off work away and be something else to fret about. Plus I was obviously, actively SICK, and while I’m no doctor, the break didn’t hurt or look that bad to me on an x-ray.
(Not my actual x-ray. This one doesn’t even show a break.)
But the guy wanted to cut me open in 3 days. I knew I wouldn’t be better. I probably would still be unable to talk properly. J knew all that. J asked a lot of questions about what we had to gain from surgery…if there were benefits to surgery versus just casting it. The doctor was pretty persistent for surgery, although the answer to J’s, ‘What are the benefits?’ question was basically ‘none.’ The recovery time would be similar if not exactly the same, there weren’t any fewer risks of future damage with operating, and there were a lot fewer worries without surgery. No wound care, no risk of infection, much lower risk of blood clots, no anesthesia…fewer strangers touching me. But the doctor pressured J and me enough that J began the huge insurance administrative hassle of approvals and stepping and fetching anyway. J took me to a general care provider for the laryngitis, which, unlike what they told me on the first visit several days prior, was not ‘clearing up on its own,’ to get real medicine in addition to preliminary approval for surgery. There, at that doctor’s office, watching him make phone call after phone call and argue his way through red tape, he looked up at me, exasperated. I know it wasn’t with me; it was with needless hoops to jump through. But I just looked back at him with that pained face I know I get when I feel like I’m making his life harder.
‘You don’t wanna have surgery, do you?’
I shook my head, tears welling up in my eyes.
‘I don’t want you to either. What the hell are we doing then?’
So J called the ortho back and said, ‘We’re coming back today. Just cast it.’ I know it was only because I literally couldn’t speak, but I liked how he spoke for me then. How he backed up what I wanted. How he told that doctor what I would have been afraid to say if I could have spoken for myself. That was J taking care of me and making sure I got what was best for me. That was J easing my mind and fulfilling my needs and standing up for me to someone who I honestly felt was pushing me around. (Doctors do routinely dismiss women’s medical needs and wishes. Particularly women of color, but all women. So J backing me up was…awesome.)
Once the cast was on, J got me a knee scooter to get around as an anniversary present, and he got it for me within hours of the cast being on, because he wanted me to get around the house without him as easily as possible. He still took me out to a nice dinner and we still had our anniversary date. He took over all the household duties I couldn’t do for eight weeks, kept all of his regular domestic responsibilities while continuing to work full time, and never complained. Watching J carry all the laundry up and down the stairs pained me exponentially more than the fracture did.
My hopes for getting the cast off after six weeks to move to a walking boot were overly optimistic. He soothed me back to calmness from my extreme state of disappointment about the cast staying for two more weeks. He made sure I ate. And maybe this is too much information, but he also said, ‘Come on to the bedroom.’ He reassured me that I was still desired and attractive in his eyes…that he didn’t see me as broken, even though that’s how I saw myself.
My leg was completely healed by late summer, and I’m back to our normal life, unfettered by fragile, immobilized bones. I know this isn’t ‘5 dozen roses’ or ‘poetry by candlelight’ kind of romance. But this is the kind of romance I need. It’s the kind I like. It’s the kind I’m grateful to have in my life, so it’s the kind I write about. When someone asks me why I’m happy with J, I tell them this story. Sure, J is direct and short when he speaks, and he doesn’t speak much. I don’t get poetry or flowery, romantic prose from him. And there’s nothing ‘grand gesture’ about the things J does for me. But THIS is J’s everyday love for me encapsulated. He protects and takes care of me. He makes sure I have everything I need. He lends me his strength when I’m weak and his calm when I’m anxious. In my book? THAT’S true love.