I found out today that Kim has been suffering from a lot of physical pain recently -- neck, shoulders, head -- and hasn't been saying anything about it to me.
Normally, it is something I'd pick up on just by being observant, but so many things vie for my attention these days, so much has happened, that I missed it. This hasn't exactly been a calm, windless sea we've sailed, but Kim is a huge blessing who came into my life at just this moment. She's been an amazing rock for me these last few weeks, just the best partner I could have ever imagined, and I've expressed my gratitude in all the ways I could muster. The best way I could have expressed it, however, is by noticing.
It isn't that she has said anything to me about my lack of focus on her, no guilt trips, pleas for appreciation/attention, or anything like that. No. All she did was ask if I could get her something for pain today. Then she mentioned that she'd tried using a heating pad on her neck to no avail.
"What's wrong with your neck?" I asked. I honestly didn't know.
"It's just stress," she said.
Her job can be stressful, though not as much as it used to be when she worked twelve-hour shifts in the ER, though something in her voice told me it wasn't work-related. Something in her face confirmed it. Was it the tiny worry lines? I'm not sure, but suddenly I realized -- really got it -- that everything I'd been through lately had taken a huge toll on her, as well. And it was all piled on top of other stressors (for example, an elderly father who is sick). I was incapable of being a good partner the last couple of weeks, incapable of any balance, but she loved me anyway.
She quickly assured me that she loved me and that she didn't want all the apologies and solicitations she knew were coming (because when I've been present, I've apologized all over the place). She said that she knew there was nothing that could be helped about the way things had been lately, that she just wished she could fix it all for me. Trust me, if she could have fixed it, I would have let her. If she could have fixed it, she would have made me accept the help.
Lest you think this is about some kind of false praise or coercion (because let's face it -- if you were around during my last relationship, you know that was always a probability), let me assure you that Kim doesn't have to guilt me into praising her. She doesn't have to point out how she saved my life. It's obvious who has been right there by my side through this very dark period. When I've cried, when I've raged, when I've fallen into a depressed silence, she's been there. She has put food in front of me. She has checked on me. She has loved me, in spite of me being at my worst. She deserves all the love and praise I could give her.
My need to fix people was (is?) all about codependency. For Kim, it is a critical part of who she is, woven into her fiber. Kim is accustomed to saving lives and then fading into the background. Being in emergency medicine, she sits at the cusp between life and death, straddling the fine line between them, sometimes able to yank a person back from the precipice and other times having to acknowledge that forces beyond her have prevailed. It is her job and her nature to try to fix what most of us could never hope to fix -- damaged, broken bodes. Just the other night, she kept a baby alive at the urgent care center while the ambulance was on its way. I imagine the gratitude those parents feel when I think of it. As a mom who has lost, I know how grateful I would have been if anyone had been able to save Stephanie.
What Kim wanted to fix with me, though, was more of a broken soul. During the inevitable slew of apologies that spilled out of me, I actually said, "Well, it's not as though I were going to die..."
She put up one finger and said, "Yes, what you went through was life-threatening..."
She's right, of course, which made me want to apologize more. She and the boys had to witness my breakdown, and as bad as it felt from the inside, there is no way for me to know what it looked like or felt like to those outside my head. Instead of being able to resuscitate me and keep me alive, though, she had to talk me into life.
I hung my head. "This is why I tried to leave," I said. "This is why I tried to push you away, to save you from having to deal with it all."
Again, she said, "But I love you."
So this wonderful, kind, beautiful woman has been dealing with stress at work and stress at home, and then stress from me on top of it all. Whereas I wanted to make her life easier, I've sometimes made it more difficult. But has she complained? No. She just asked for a little help today.
Now it seems like the worst has passed. The seas are calm and sleep is trying to return. I'm so grateful that she is the one who is there when I fall asleep and there when I wake up. I'm grateful for the little sweethearts who call out, "I love you, hot dog!" or "I love you, Dora-mom!" I never want to cause any of them a moment's pain or sadness.
It's time to live. It is so time to live.
Peace - D