HEAD ABOVE WATER
★ ★ ★ ★
A BETTER HALF
By Tim Clark
How do you describe the feeling of terror when you understand a person has you completely captivated? How do you tell people that a smile, a laugh, the light in a pair of big brown eyes, the enchanting loveliness of a spirit so much brighter than your own is the very thing you have been running from and looking for? How do you say that to people, how do you say that to yourself?
I have been trying to answer that question for 27 years and the closest I can come is a line from Bob Dylan, “It frightens me the awful truth of how sweet life can be.” Those twelve words say it all, in painful, pleasing clarity.
Since we got married she has had two job interviews and got both jobs. An unbelievable accomplishment. At least I can’t believe it. I don’t know if she ever had an interview and didn’t get the job. Her charm is almost unbearable.
Both times I cautioned her. “Don’t worry when you don’t get the job. I’ve been on dozens of interviews. Sometimes they wouldn’t even validate my parking. Sooner or later you will find something.”
“I got the job,” she would say, with an innocent, unrestrained glee, calling me at work.
“Did you get that job just to prove a point?” She swore she didn’t.
In so many ways it is her habit to make people feel comfortable. She can talk to anybody, and she can listen to everybody. She can overpower people with friendship and kindness. I have seen her turn a cranky, growling register person at a grocery store into a friendly, smiling face. They will be laughing together by the time the credit card is swiped, and the groceries bagged. And they will remember her.
This was completely new to me. I approached most situations with suspicion, certain there was going to be a problem. Of course, normally there wasn’t, and I could walk away feeling relief, I had escaped. In small doses I have tried to mimic the affable way she approaches each exchange. And you know it works, most times. I can’t match her natural enthusiasm, but, people seem to respond to small acts of kindness. Who knew?
In so many ways her ability to turn tense situations into something pleasant comes from her inner strength, her indomitable spirit, her stubbornness. But, sometimes things don’t go as planned, and it can hurt her in ways she doesn’t understand, but I do. Because I always expect things to go wrong. She knows I can be her rock, I can dry her tears. She knows I will always be there. She knows when her battery goes dead, she only has to call, and I will drop everything. She knows deep inside she can trust things to go right, because if they don’t I’m here.
And sometimes things hurt me in ways I don’t understand, but she does.
When my mother was sick, and dying, my sister called my wife. The next morning as we were getting ready to go to work my wife said “We should go back.”
I said, “We should wait.” Watching my mother pass away was more than I thought I could handle. Death is a place I don’t even like to think about and losing my mother was too painful to contemplate let alone watch. Ignoring the truth, no matter how awful, doesn’t help, but I hoped it wouldn’t hurt, either. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I couldn’t have been more terribly wrong.
“OK. I’m going to check on the price of a plane ticket, and a rental car. Your sisters shouldn’t have to face this alone,” she said, tying her shoes, not looking at me. I heard the steel in her voice. She had made up her mind. Maybe in the middle of the night, maybe as soon as she heard the news, but at some point she had decided.
She knew I would never let her make that long drive alone. And she knew I should be there, for my sisters, for my mom, and for myself. So we went.
My mother was slipping away, quickly. She would never regain consciousness. And I can never be sure this is not a trick of my memory, but when I whispered “Hey, Mom, it’s me,” I swear she smiled. And if it is an illusion of my own device so be it. Harsh, unforgiving facts should never interfere with a loving mother’s last smile.
We all sat in her room, at the center, laughing and reminiscing, and it was strangely beautiful. It was kind of a tribute to mom, she was the center of attention. And it was almost peaceful.
Having the chance to say goodbye to the woman who raised me was more important than I could have ever imagined. But, somehow my wife knew. When I asked how, she just said, “I know you.”
We have made it this far together. Sometimes hand in hand, sometimes at arm’s length, sometimes holding each other so tightly it almost hurts, but we are together. We were never perfect, we were probably never perfect for each other. But, we learned the things that made us so different made us fit perfectly together. We have learned to love the weaknesses in each other. And sometimes I am not sure where I end and she begins. And I love that too.
Tim Clark is a writer, blogger, novice political activist, husband and father, from Columbus, Ohio. He has proudly written for Street Speech, a local homeless advocacy newspaper and Lefty Pop.