Today, like all days, I was running late for work. Usually, I have to add on a few minutes to change around my shirt, which I realize is inside out as I catch a closer glimpse of myself in the hallway mirror on the way down the stairs. A perk of getting dressed in the dark at 5 a.m.
Or sometimes, I realize I have two different shoes on, which warrants a trip back upstairs, always ending up with a few extra snuggles of my sweet, fluffy pooch who is stretched out taking up my whole side of the bed. All of these things I take for granted as just part of my day.
This time I had left my running clothes on the corner of my nightstand. As I ran back in to grab them, I saw my husband, who normally is still snoring away at the disrespectful hour that I leave, sitting up, clutching his chest, a pained look flashing across his face.
I asked him if he was okay and his response was unexpected, “I don’t know.”
That answer is atypical of this man I have known and loved for over 30 years. A man whose pragmatism and logic runs at the polar opposite extreme to the way I operate, all heart and soul. A man who literally chopped off a piece of his thumb while cutting basil and contemplated for a bit whether he needed to go to the emergency room to get stitches. Same guy who thought he could wait out a kidney stone before finally submitting to the pain hours later and drove himself in to be seen.
All this to say that my husband is not an alarmist. So when his “I don’t know” is unwavering and swift, that translates to me as a big deal.
My own anxiety and family history of heart disease have landed me in the ER on more than a few occasions. My motto is better safe than something else.
It’s a daunting feeling being the one making the important health decisions for someone other than yourself. If I wait a minute too long, will it be too late? Do I call 911? Or drive the five minutes and hope he’s okay? What do I do if he’s not? What if? What if? What if?
As I rustled my kids awake trying to piece together words to tell them their dad was on the way to the emergency room without scaring and scarring them for the day—or worse, longer—the overwhelming feeling of doing it wrong circled like a vulture around my heart.
I could see the panic in the eyes of my 16-year-old as I carefully chose my phrasing to try and keep his anxiety at bay before heading to a day of high school and a conference track meet. And I tried hard to share this important information with my 14-year-old, who is impossible to wake up, half processing my words and not at all registering the magnitude of them at that moment. Telling these vulnerable little humans something so big and then sending them off on their day seemed like the wrong, but necessary thing to do before what seemed to be the longest 10-minute drive of my life.
I have faced really sudden and traumatic loss at early ages. My heart swells with the grief of losing my best friend, my first son, my grandparents, former and current students. I’ve gained perspective on the meaning of time and what’s really important. And I am always amazed by how quickly I can fall back to taking things for granted and that perspective.
Nothing really prepared me for the feeling of facing down what it might be like to lose Dave. This person who has inhabited my heart and soul since I saw him at a college party, sitting on a picnic table strumming a guitar so many years ago. We’ve grown up together. Grown older together. And in my dreams, we are going to grow really old together too.
I don’t know why I try to pretend he is invincible. We are middle-aged. Family histories of all the things we all worry about. Cholesterol and blood pressure medications line both sides of our bathroom counter even though we do all the things in our power to not need them.
Still, I wake up every day, taking for granted that he will sleepily greet me with a “Good morning, sunshine. Keep a smile on that beautiful face,” as I hurriedly rush out the door. I just expect that I will come home to a big hug and a quick conversation to plan out who is going to cheer for which sport and what we are going to throw together for dinner, and all the other millions of little details that make up our big life together.
I know how incredibly lucky we are. I know that life changes on a dime. I have friends who have lost spouses. Students who have lost parents. Seen families broken down by grief and built up by resilience day after day, navigating a life so far from what they envisioned.
I worried all day about my kids—texting and emailing them every hour to check in, knowing their hearts and minds were fully inhabited by feelings and fears they probably couldn’t even identify.
Sitting beside the man I love watching him sneak in naps before getting poked and prodded again by all the amazing nurses and doctors who step forward day after day into this world of being present for millions of people and millions of moments like the one we were in. And wondering all the while, “What if? What if? What if?”
After a battery of tests, some scary results that thankfully turned back to normal, a hospital roommate who came out of the bathroom naked with the divider curtain and hospital room door wide open (a story for another time), and a newly appointed cardiologist, I got to take him home.
Today, like all days so far, I got lucky. I got lucky to end the day by his side. In our own bed. Waiting for our kids to get back from their nights, and hugging them a little tighter than usual.
And this morning, I woke up at a disrespectful hour, trying not to make too much noise, getting dressed in the dark. When I came back up to grab the running clothes I forgot, still sitting on the nightstand from the day before, my husband was still sleeping soundly, snoring away, as I hope he will for years to come.
And I reminded myself that this moment matters. This moment isn’t guaranteed. This moment is not mine to assume forever. And I gave him an extra kiss as I headed out to work with my shirt on inside out.