My favorite things about my husband were his kind heart and his openness about being a flawed individual. He often told people he had no filter, but he meant well. I may have hated that he took his shoes off in public and sat like a cross-legged Yogi in formal settings, but more than anyone in the world, he taught me not to hide behind society’s conventions.
I lived with a Jekyl and Hyde personality. If you have lived with a person with mental illness – such as bi-polar, schizophrenia, personality disorder, ADHD, PTSD, and others – and in particular with any substance abuse accompanying it, you know how these 2 entities can coexist. How you can love the person and not their disease and the appalling choices they make.
Many find that incomprehensible. They advocate throwing the baby out with the bath water. Living for yourself and letting the other person go. (And this may become necessary, but that’s a topic for later.) They might want you to pretend that there is no disease. They may claim you are tarnishing a memory by voicing the Mr. Hyde side. They may want him to be only Dr. Jekyl in retrospect. What they don’t understand is that it isn’t bad all the time.
As I write this, I am thinking of the person I loved most in the world. The one who cried as hard as our infant daughter when he accidentally scratched her cheek with his fingernail. The one who was so pleased with himself to buy me a huge bouquet of flowers, only to be deflated when I remarked that they were silk. (He couldn’t tell the difference.) The one who listened patiently to my desire for a chicken coop, screened-in sunroom, weaving loom…and then went out and built them for me, when he had never done any of those things. There are a thousand times I wish I could turn and share that secret look over our children’s heads in some private joke that only co-parents understand.
I imagine him looking over my shoulder here, aware that I may be telling things that others find uncomfortable, unseemly. He would have felt sorry that they couldn’t move beyond whatever private issues they had to see the heart of another. He would have told them he couldn’t change the past, but that was no reason someone else shouldn’t learn from it.
I can see him pointing out things I should mention. He’d want me to tell about the time he locked himself in the chicken coop when it didn’t have a lock (yeah, I never figured that one out either), or mowed an already-cut lawn at 11pm with the headlights on, or donned hip waders to sit in the water garden after dark like it was a giant hot tub – all when he was too trashed to behave rationally. The two of us would have rolled our eyes at those scenes and agreed he was a moron. We’d shoot for a better tomorrow and talk about no experience being wasted.
I miss our frank conversations. Our ability to be blunt with each other. To know that our love for each other went without saying. It hurts when people question that. He used to tell me that people didn’t like my direct way of talking because I spoke to them as a person instead of a woman. I’m not subservient enough. He believed his wife to be mentally equal to any man. (And now I’m not fit for anything else.) It’s why he thought I was the only one who could talk him down out of his tree, and I did that a lot. We traveled a long road together, I just could not walk the last mile with him.
I’m proud of our 20 years of tenacious dedication to each other. I hate that we will never have a 30- or 40- or 50-year anniversary. It’s not likely I have time to have those with anyone.
My daughter just shared something I didn’t know. Not long before he left, he told her how good it was that she had her art. He said, “You have to find a way to help yourself. Because someday there will be no one around to help you.” He was an advocate for sharing your story if it would help someone else. The author is the first person who gets helped. The rest is a gift. He spent most of his good days practicing this.
These memories rest side by side, the good and the bad, the precious and the ridiculous. But life is light and shade. For you, maybe not to the extreme that my experience has been, but to be dishonest or lie by omission would be to discredit our time together and the things we learned.
We did not end our time together in a happily ever after. But neither, my friends, will you. I know the truth hurts, but it is a truth you already know. There will be an illness. An accident. A betrayal. Old age. It is coming for us all. That is why it makes you angry, or ashamed, or eager to blame, or just look away.
But rather than live in fear or bury our heads in the sand, we have an opportunity to wake up. Pay attention to the life we are living. Celebrate the good in people. Learn from the bad. Let go of guilt and pride and regret. And know that somewhere the Jekyl and Hyde personalities we have loved are coming together to form the whole person we knew was there all along.