88: For Better or Worse

88: For Better or Worse

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

For Better or Worse

No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise.

~Richard Bach

“I’m sorry” was what I wanted to say. Too bad I lacked the nerve to say it. Two little words, that’s all they were, but if I’d the courage to say them, they’d only open the door to more words — many more. An inevitable conversation would result if my thoughts were given a voice, and to be honest, talking about it was something I’d been trying to avoid.

And so we sat out on our deck in silence and watched the intermittent bursts of lightning in the distant nighttime skies. The muffled rumbles of thunder that followed gave fair warning of the coming storm — the symbolism suggested by its approach wasn’t lost on me as I thought about all we’d been through lately — especially the infertility. I wondered if she thought about it as much as I did, and if so, what was she thinking? A part of me wanted to know, but fearing what she might say, or worse yet, how she might react, I was curious enough to wonder, but cautious enough not to ask.

In truth, my silence sustained my sense of security, but it was merely postponing the inevitable. I knew that sooner or later she was going to want to talk about it, and when she did, my fragile defenses would most certainly crumble — especially if she became emotional. Should that happen we were going to have another problem — perhaps a bigger one — I wasn’t going to be able to comfort or console her. No reassuring words from me would be forthcoming.

Infertility was the sole obstacle to the idyllic life that we’d planned. After marriage, we saved money and bought a house. Renovations followed and so did a new puppy. When the work was done and our house had become our home, it was time to begin filling the freshly painted bedrooms with babies, but it didn’t turn out that way. We did come close to achieving our goals though, but without children, living that 1950s sitcom life that I’d envisioned while growing up watching shows such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best just wasn’t happening. In the end, even our puppy wasn’t enough to provide me with the sense of family that TV dad Ozzie Nelson must have felt when he came home at the end of the day to Harriett, David and Ricky.

As the storm approached, I knew we should talk, but my fears demanded otherwise. They did, however, provoke an unexpected memory. I was at camp, a young scout, standing on the edge of the dock, waiting for the signal to enter the cold, dark and frightening waters for my swimmer’s test. Not being very good at camp aquatics, I knew that I’d have to push aside my fears, take a deep breath and jump in. So many years had passed since then, but once again I found myself standing on the edge, knowing what I had to do, knowing that it was almost time to jump back into the frightening waters.

A brilliant flash crossed the sky and was immediately followed by the sounds of rolling thunder, and then silence. The air became still — the calm before the storm — another fitting metaphor. I closed my eyes, gathered my thoughts, and then, finally, allowed them a voice. Choking back my fears, I took a deep breath and jumped in.

I began by saying how frustrated I’d become with everything having to do with infertility. I’d grown weary of living by the dictates of the calendar, thermometers and early morning temperature taking, of charts and graphs that predetermined the optimum time and date to make a baby — and then our failures to do so. I was sick of doctor visits and waiting rooms. I just wanted to be like any other dad playing catch with his son, or the proud pop walking his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

I’d had my fill of friends asking when we were going to start having kids, and family members wondering if a new niece or nephew, cousin or grandchild would be making an appearance anytime soon. I was tired of wanting children, waiting for it to happen, and knowing it might never. I mentioned medical alternatives, questioned God’s wisdom, and then I went for broke: I asked her to tell me how she really felt about all this, without holding back, without sparing my feelings, without the sugarcoating. And then, I was done. I exhaled and shut up.

She didn’t say a word. I prayed for a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder — anything to break the silence. I blew it and I knew it. I never should’ve said all that I had, and now I waited to suffer the consequences for being a horrible spouse. And then I remembered — the one thing that I’d wanted to say, but had forgotten to mention. This time it didn’t require taking a deep breath or any courage to say the two little words that I’d been carrying around in my heart for far too long. “I’m sorry.” And then, I added something that we both already knew, “It’s all my fault.”

And of course, it was. Whereas she was physically ready and able to become a participant in the adventures of parenting, apparently I wasn’t, and therein was my dilemma. If our failures to conceive a child caused her sadness, how could I be the supportive husband, the comforting partner that she might need and certainly ought to have when after all, I was the cause of her unhappiness. I was the reason that she has never received a card on Mother’s Day.

Her expression was disarming, comforting, reassuring. Her smile immediately told me what she was thinking, but I knew that she was going to tell me anyway. “Sometimes you can be so stupid,” was what she said. “The problem,” she added, “isn’t ‘yours,’ and it isn’t ‘mine,’ it’s ‘ours,’ and no matter what happens, it happens to ‘us,’ for better or worse.” I knew she meant it too. For better or worse, part of our wedding vows. Suddenly they took on a whole new meaning, providing the comfort that I’d worried I couldn’t give, but now, I needed far more to receive. And that was it. I’d jumped into the frightening waters and survived — rescued by the person I most loved in the world, and nothing else, as it turned out, mattered more than that.

The storm that had been slow in arriving suddenly dissipated — becoming little more than a gentle summer night’s rain. It was impossible to foresee the future; no way of knowing if we’d ever conceive a child. And yet, I felt a comforting reassurance in knowing that no matter what life held in store for us, we would face it together, as partners, as friends, and as husband and wife, for better or worse.

 

~Stephen Rusiniak

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