Originally uploaded by .never have i ever.
Last night I was watching the film "A Beautiful Mind." I'm sure you are all familiar with the story. Russell Crowe plays an gifted mathematician who suffers from schizophrenia. The film illustrates how a person's life can be so tragically altered by this mental illness. It also shows how equally difficult it is to be the spouse of the afflicted as well.
The film does a great job in the telling of the story, allowing us at first to only see what Russell's character can see. Only later in the film are we given the opportunity to step back, and to see what the world, and people, around this character do not see. It also walks us through a marriage, one with a loving partnership, that becomes tattered and torn by this illness.
The story had me in it's grip from the beginning. Although we are all aware of such debilitating illnesses, and their symptomatology, none of us go about life expecting them to land on our front door. The person we love may begin acting in a new way that can easily be attributed to fatigue, depression, apathy, or selfishness. They may begin to verbalize complaints that don't merit any significant concern, and our frustration level with the person might be building, not knowing, of course, that 'something evil this way comes.'
When Michael began suffering from his brain tumor we had no clue. There were no significant symptoms. He was not passing out, or having any seizures where he fell to the ground, or losing control of his nervous system. It began with him not waking up easily in the morning. It was the beginning of the summer, and who wants to get out of bed to go to work on such nice days. He began to complain about headaches when I would encourage him to get out of bed and start preparing for work. He would respond with complaints of having no energy, or feeling sickly, when I said that he can't stay in bed all day. It would be months before these mounting symptoms would lead the doctors to conclude that he had a brain tumor. It almost became a daily joke, that kind that intensified in time, that he might have something serious, like a brain tumor. He wasn't experiencing anything too strong, or painful, so our humor is what got us through these frustrating mornings.
I often thought that life was too cruel to Michael in choosing this particular affliction. He was a very bright individual, he had an MBA, and worked as a budget analyst. The majority of his self-esteem was tied up with his intellect. It would be another year and a half until the serious symptoms would take control of his mind and body. When I had to start reminding him of how to do things, or gently break it to him that he wasn't remembering what had just happened less than an hour prior, is when he began to feel the devastating fall out. I remember sitting in bed after a evening of his having to struggle to feed himself, that he started talking about not wanting to live like this. He shared with me that death didn't scare him as much as losing his mind did. He prided himself on all things cerebral. As a way to keep his brain stimulated he spent hours doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku.
As his spouse, it broke my heart. I knew that I had to be there every step of the way, and in time, every minute of the day. I could see the humiliation in his eyes. I would explain everything that we needed to accomplish, and always told him we could do it together. All of this of course was meant to soften the daily blow to his ego, but deep down I knew it was of little success. In the end he was so confused at times, sometimes child like, other times clearly himself. It was the most cruel way I could imagine for Michael to have to be taken from this life.
What was most difficult to watch in "A Beautiful Mind," was how the husband and wife worked side by side so that he could continue to feel, and be, successful. Toward the end of the film they are both quite old, yet they are still quite the same. At the end you have this couple standing side by side, and one of them reaches out to the other in a very familiar, and soothing way. They then walk away, hand in hand, to continue their journey together.
This is when I felt a familiar stab in the heart. I find any reference to growing old together to be cruel, and I feel it quite personal. I hear it on so many television shows, in so many films, and in so many books. It is what we expect, and it is the sign of a life well lived, and a life well loved. I feel so denied this natural process. This is where I get stuck the most. I get angry. I feel hatred. I am filled with jealousy. It is also something I hear all around me. It's one of those phrases you don't really give much thought to when you are in a loving relationship. It is something you take for granted. Of course "we will probably grow old together." And everyone around is doing just that. They don't have to be old by anybodies standards. The process of Michael and I growing old together stopped on September 13, 2009. For everyone else I see, they have had the luxury of growing 8 months older together already. It doesn't matter how many years they had before September 13, 2009. I count every one's good fortune from that day forward.
I feel like my life was derailed. To be honest, it was derailed two years prior to September 13, 2009. We were told that Michael would die from this. We were told what the odds were for one year survival, for two year's survival, and so forth. We knew that for Michael to reach two years survival, he would have to be in the 5% that found themselves to be so fortunate. So I knew. Michael knew. We knew that we didn't have the time to grow old together. Our plans for the future fell to the floor on October 17th 2007. When they fell, there was a loud sounding crash. Splinters from it's prior solid pieces were quickly fragmented, and several pierce my heart.
Sometime I tell myself, "what did you expect?" "You choose to keep growing in your love in spite of knowing that it would quickly end." It's my own damn fault for loving him so much, that it hurts so much today. Why should I be angry at anyone else? Why should I begrudge anyone the expectation of a future, when it was what I expected as well. How do we put that expectation aside? Being told my partner at the time was going to die didn't derail my love for him. Exchanging the vow of matrimony one year later didn't take away my expectations for a future. I knew we didn't have a far off future, but I did expect some kind of a future, and certainly one that was longer than only eleven months after marriage.
I pray each night that I won't grow to become a bitter old man. Yet in some ways that is what I have become. I feel old beyond my years. When we think about the day we might lose our spouse, we most certainly picture ourselves as quite old. So in this way, I have arrived. And, bitter, yes I am. I can either pretend that I am not bitter, or just feel comfortable with my bitterness. It has found a solid place in my heart, and outside of a bitter-ectomy, I will have to wait until it works itself out.