sunflower at peak bloom in a field of withered sunflowers

I was disabled, and she became my legs; over the years, as I grew sicker, I became more and more dependent on her care-giving and support.

She always ran ahead of our lives to see whether I could handle the terrain—and I believed that she didn’t mind. I thought she was in it for me, and I was in it for her, and we were in it for our family.

But after she broke us, she told me that living with a cripple had been like living a quarter life.

“Not even a half life?” I said, blubbering.

“A quarter life,” she repeated.

She had breast cancer, in situ; lumpectomy and radiation recommended. She opted for chemo, and the less-generous-me wondered if it was so other people would see her suffer.

After she healed, she held her illness over me like a sword.

“I’m having trouble swallowing,” she said when wouldn’t eat her dinner and didn’t want me to know that she’d already had dinner with her lover.

There was something hinky in how I loved her after her cancer, how besottedly I cared. I took the car in, dealt with laundry, made dental appointments, hemmed her pants, cleaned the windows, bought the paint, changed the sheets, scrubbed the fridge, ferried the kids, ground the coffee, bought the birthday gifts, sent the thank you notes, booked the ferries, hotels and air, picked up the bulbs, arranged delivery of the compost, paid the bills, renewed the mortgage, and she pretty much worked, came home, and did the heavy lifting I was too ill to manage. She looked at me often, sometimes with derision, and said, “Oh my god, you are just so kind.”

But I was absolutely terrified to lose her. My favorite thing was being with her. Doing anything.

Every year, or every two years, she’d decide she didn’t need her meds anymore, giving us a two-day slide into the bad old behavior.

And I’d ask myself: Which of her is real? Happy or harridan? I wanted to believe in the former, because she glowed with health and satisfaction, but a niggling part of me believed that, actually, it was the latter.

If both were, she was deeply bifurcated.

When off her pills, she’d pick fights. She’d pick pick pick pick at my Achilles’ heels. Bland, I’d remind myself, be bland bland bland, but about day four or five, I’d say something a teeny bit snarky back.

Then I became the reason she was mad. Me being a fuckhead became her explanation for everything.

Read more in Full Grown People.

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