The Devil You Don’t Know

There was a point – before Will was diagnosed – when I spent a lot of time and energy trying to hide what was going on in our marriage from everyone. My family. My co-workers. The neighbors. For over a year, I was on red alert and damage control where he was concerned. It would shock you to know some of the details. I look back now and realize I should have left and not worried about where the chips would fall because the thing about chips is that they can be picked up, put away again, or simply swept out with the trash. The chips are just details.

My biggest fears were ridiculous in retrospect, but I know that focusing on them helped me deal, indirectly, with the larger truth which was that Will was really sick and there would be no fixing him. I was buying myself time.

And I wished him dead. I don’t know how many times I just asked the powers that be to simply let me wake up to a phone call or a knock on the front door announcing he had killed himself or been in a fatal accident. It was, ironically, a more innocent time for me when I could believe that his death would actually make me feel better. Nonsense too in retrospect. It would have solved the more pressing issues but would have been worse in the longer run in more ways than not.

I am thrown back there today by a phone call from my dearest best girlfriend who helped me so much through Will’s illness and was my staunchest support after his death. Not to go into too many details, but her marriage is dicey. Things are going on, and have the potential to go on, that make me afraid for her and her kids.

As I listened to her talk, I could hear myself way back when, rationalizing and trying to control a situation that was  beyond me instead of doing what needed to be done. And I can understand and empathize completely because I have been right there where she is, a place I would not wish on anyone.

It took two stays in the psych ward for Will for me to mobilize and do what needed to be done. And a lot of tragic things could have happened while I dithered. One did in that we didn’t find out what was wrong until it was too late to do anything about it.

My friend and her husband got married a few months before Will and I did. They are celebrating their tenth soon. It’s something that has been on my mind too. Ten years. It’s a long time. Between my marriages I don’t have ten years as a wife.

One thing I have learned is that it is too easy to talk yourself off the right path because some of the initial decisions require heavy lifting and letting go – of ideas, people, dreams, or just the stuff you’ve accumulated over time that seems more important and necessary than it really is. 

There is a long soliloquy in Hamlet where he contemplates and then rejects the idea of suicide. He reasons that it is better to stay with the known troubles of his life than to foolishly rush off into the “undiscovered country” of the after life which could as easily be worse than what he is facing. In his case he talked himself back onto the right path but still let inertia and fear keep him from the actions he knew he had to take and so ended up losing everything anyway. I hope my friend has not waited too long.

13 responses to “The Devil You Don’t Know

  1. This is my first visit to your blog and I just want to say I was immediately struck by you genuine open honesty….. it is so refreshing!
    “One thing I have learned is that it is too easy to talk yourself off the right path because some of the initial decisions require heavy lifting and letting go – of ideas, people, dreams, or just the stuff you’ve accumulated over time that seems more important and necessary than it really is.”
    Boy can I relate! I do this back and forth thing with ‘the voice’ that is telling me whatever I am trying is pointless or that I am some sort of fraud. It is definitely a process!

  2. I have a friend whose husband died of brain cancer and who has a similar story to yours. Her guilt is amazing. She did leave her husband, had a boyfriend at the time he was diagnosed too late to save him. She and their daughter (7 at the time) spent his last few months at his bedside holding his hand. She stayed with the boyfriend, has since had another baby, but I can sense the guilt in her, something she cannot expunge. Something which haunts her. I wish I could tell her a way to set it free.

    All I can only assume is that these various tests that are thrown at us, allow us to grow, allow us to be better than what we were, allow us to live.

    • She is the only one who can free herself and she will when she feels she has made up for whatever she feels she should or shouldn’t have done, or when she comes to realize that she did the best she could based on the information, circumstances, responsibilities and needs of all involved, including herself. Forgiving ourselves for being human is the hardest thing of all.

  3. Sometimes it’s so hard to walk away. I didn’t walk away from my marriage until there was someone else in his life. I feel for your friend, especially if there is physical abuse going on. I hope she gets out if there is.

    It’s hard for some people to realize that sick people aren’t necessarily saints. They are not “long-suffering,” and they are not sweetness and light. They have the same problems and personally traits they had in the first place, often exacerbated. The reason they make “movies of the week” about the sweet people is that they are so rare.

    • No, being ill will not usually transform a sow’s ear, but even the best caretaker has moments – or even whole days – of being tired and fed up and longs to be free.

      Personally, I think sweet people are a make believe.

  4. this was painful to read… somehow hadn’t grasped that you were considering walking away when Will was diagnosed. complex and difficult beyond my imagination… hoping your friend can find the right path.

    • I know I have written about this in the past. Perhaps not as bluntly? At that time all the “experts” (doctors and counselors) and his own family were telling me that there was nothing organically wrong with him. He was, in their opinion, choosing to be “crazy”. And I didn’t know where else to turn or what else I could do. I was relieved and resentful at once when I was finally vindicated and he did indeed have a real physical illness. I had always hoped that he would have something we could fix. It never occurred to me that the changes in him would be permanent and worsen with time as the disease ate away at him.

      I had moments of wanting to walk while he was sick too. I am no saint. It took a long while to reconcile what my role in Will’s life was always meant to be and I wasn’t happy about it. I used to say that no one would ever make a Lifetime Heroine of the Week movie about me. I am not that kind of woman.

      I believe that there are better things waiting in life for my friend (she is the one who firmly believed I would marry again and very accurately prophesized the kind of man he would be) and I hope that she will get on the path to them without incident because she deserves happiness with someone who knows and actively appreciates how special she is, but I am afraid for her and I worry.

  5. I once heard a quote, something to the effect of “I continue to live on the streets of hell because I know all the names.”

    Perhaps we all do to a certain extent. That’s why, big or small, we grapple with decisions. I remember doing so in my first marriage; the one even before Andy that I try not to dwell on, because I did make a decision that was necessary, but painful.

    Even if your friend doesn’t act, letting the chips fall is a decision in itself. I hope she has the strength to make the best decision for her situation and can go forward with few regrets. (I do still have some regrets in my case, but I know I made the right decision.)

  6. Powerful introspections, Annie. These sorts of things have occurred to me lately, too, though I’ve branded them differently, and they touch different areas. And I hope I’ve not been paralyzed by them too long.

    This is a nice reminder to do what’s necessary whether we like it or not.

    Thanks.

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