I know for a fact that my father would pull down the very walls of Heaven if it was the only way to barricade his wife against a mortal danger. I know for a fact that my mother would similarly let nothing prevent her from saving her husband’s life.
Are these such difficult emotions to fathom in relationships? The married couple who are my parents, those married couples out there who are together because togetherness is the definition and identification of their lives don’t show the slightest tendencies towards equivocation or dissemblance here. Any sign of threat to their significant other is met with a ferocity that sometimes is indistinguishable from Fact.
On Facebook and the thousand other quiz-sources that abound you’ll see the mother instinct snarling its claws in broad cartoonish swipes at the first sign of a sign of a sign of predation against their cubs, sometimes as an almost feckless version of that overused political bon mot “for the children!”
Great, terrific. Moms are great and that’s well-established and I take nothing away because I couldn’t possibly detract from the mother-child bond. And that’s my point. People get that. People understand it so well that any attempt to debunk or even debase it causes casualties.
Extend this to fathers and generalize it to parents and the center still holds: parents are protective of their children and rightly so. It’s their job. It’s built into phenotypes as instinct. Thank genetics. Thank evolution. It’s why we’re all still there.
People are heroically protective of others who are not blood-related. Nothing would surprise me of the extent to which my father would go to save his wife nor vice versa. He would end himself if that’s what it took to perpetuate her. She would surrender her last breath just as readily for him.
How do I know this? How does any of us know this about anyone else? I can’t tell you how I know, but I do. And I know the same about other couples who are of the same generation as my parents and are of other, younger generations, and I know there’s nothing heroic in it. There’s nothing at all, as the Buddhists might call it, Special, about such self-abnegation or contra-prioritizing, it’s just a natural thing.
Just. Merely. Simply. As if I require some superior position, some elevation from which to proclaim these things by invoking such diminutions.
Recently, as suggested in the post about visiting Lisa Capaldini’s office, I had a rather nasty health scare. Severe shortness of breath from very minimal exertion. It ended up being a very high amount of anxiety. Odd, given that’s I’d just closed some doors completely, finally, on some very bad spaces.
I’m feeling better now. Simple pharmacological treatment and breathing exercises (no, not Lamaze) and the symptoms are addressed. I did have a few days of near-complete insomnia: three out of four nights I slept not at all except for one or two hours late morning and then finally managed to get back onto a healthy and solid schedule.
My first night of solid sleep I had a bad dream; a bad Allen dream.
Now, there are a couple of things to note here. Adults usually don’t tell another adult, “I had a bad dream!” That’s more like how a pre-adolescent might tell his mommy. And a “bad Allen dream”? That was a first. A First first. Like, ever.
That was the initial description of it to my very first Best Friend as an adult, Lisa Yalen.
In the dream, there were bombs going off and Allen and I were running, trying to find a place to hide from it all (all of the imagery from this anamorphic amorphous blob of anxiety takes the form of bombardment or with water images, usually waves that overtake and undertow).
We jumped to the ground or fell to it and I out of my caregiver habit to Allen I threw my left arm around him his upper back to cover it as best I could, and thought I had maneuvered my body to cover his as well as a fat 5’6” corpus could manage to do so on a 6’3” bone-thin, AIDS-wracked one. My hand was on his head and my head was buried in the crook of his neck. My forehead was pressed against his head right behind his ear.
Have you ever stroked the head and hair of someone who was very very VERY thin? It’s not soft, no matter how much hair is there, because there’s never a lot of hair there because the body is starving quite literally and so the hair doesn’t grow very well or very fast.
Have you ever smelled someone behind the ear and on his neck? You know that’s where all the familiarity, all the identity, all the intimacy comes from. You know without sight or touch or voice or without any context whatsoever who that man is when you’ve smelled him there. If he’s your husband or your partner or The One or all of the above, or he’s your world or he’s what your imagination requires for it to complete your own picture of you as a reified creature or however you’ve cobbled or assembled or accumulated your nest and sat him in it as a necessary piece, that smell is the smell that, when missing, turns the whole thing into a banner that announces to you what’s missing: Him.
And in my dream I could smell him, sweaty because his head would sweat every night (he put a towel down on his pillow) from one med or another and a little like Neutrogena Tar Shampoo (every other day we’d get his rangy, hingy limbs folded into the tub for a bath), and a little like shaving cream (when he’d let me shave his face) and of course, a lot like Allen. Just him.
Only there was something not quite right in the retelling of the dream. There was the bombardment and the danger and the noise. There was the falling to the ground and the continued bodily threat and the real chance we could both die.
But it wasn’t my body covering his, not my arm crossing his shoulders, not my hand atop his head. In this “bad” dream where I was so fortunate to have him there with all that immediacy and intimacy, it was Allen who was protecting my life, shielding me with his body, his arm, his face in my neck perhaps gaining that same strength and oneness?
Since before Allen died not once has there been a moment where I’ve been wrapped up by a lover-protector. Not once where I’ve gone into a situation knowing I had a boyfriend unconditionally on my side and no matter what.
Oh, there’s been generosity and fun and excitement and entertainment and passion. There’s been family, too. Senses of all those, but not once was there ever a sense from anyone.
Most togetherness has been either sexual or companionable, nothing ever put to any kind of test. Tests were things to be avoided if at all possible. But not everything is avoidable, and that’s where true devotion, true commitment, true, in the human sense of it all, comes to bear on the world.
Three years ago, I was eight days in a hospital room after an accident on my Vespa. I had a boyfriend at the time although in keeping to myself my expectations for his behavior were very low.
My eight days were spent in hospital with a boyfriend who didn’t give me a single reassurance that I’d be alright, who didn’t make sure I always had company in my hospital room, who didn’t keep me updated on how the cat was and if things were ok at home. I went through those same eight days with long periods of not even being able to get him to answer his phone.
I’d had already extensive experience of living with no safety net below me for the simple reason that no man I’d been with had ever seemed to care to install one there, but it’s quite another thing to expect nothing and have to cover to friends about why you’re getting no comfort from a boyfriend, and keep it all inside so that you don’t go mad yourself, all while trying to convalesce the shit out of yourself so that you can get out of the damned hospital bed and at least get back to being at home where you could live with a boyfriend-non-protector where at least you didn’t have to explain it all away to your friends.
So being without a single boyfriend-lover-partner-husband-protector all these years is quite entirely the single largest contributor to some of the more, let’s say, storied paths my life has taken since I was that quite centered, quietly strong, strongly-loved-and-protected-by-him 31-year-old man who was just as gifted walking amongst as he was walking away-from the things he knew were a bad fit for himself.
There was a man who once knew the special warmth of knowing that someone who loved you “had your back” because he had all of you, because you gave him all of you and he gave all of him right back to you. And none of it was about quantities or frequencies, scorecards or periodicities. It was about Showing Up. Just “Showing Up” when he needed you—without asking, because you’d already anticipated the need. Showing up when you needed him because where else would he be but there for you? Showing Up because all those blustering fools who start with constructs about “individuals” and “roles” and “boundaries” are the ones so afraid of the magic they first attempt to destroy it and then reconstruct these worlds as paper models before they lecture you on “healthy” relationships.
Showing up because you were already There for him and he was already There for you and so often not even a change of Venue was required.
I was helping to bathe Allen one day—we have a large spa tub on a platform so it was easy to get him into it, not so easy to get him back out. He was rinsing his hair and his face with the bath water right after I got done shaving him.
“We’re not done yet,” I said. “I know,” he said, still splashing around some. I grabbed the washcloth from him.
“Gimme that. I’ll get your back.”
“You always do,” he muttered.
There were usually too many little things to do in a given day-hour-minute for me to have time to get emotional, but he said it so cavalierly that I was startled by it. I started to cry and he swung his long bony arm around me and I leaned into his wet armpit. He was comforting me.
Untangle the love in that one; identify the protector.