After having Oldest, I realized pregnancy and labor & delivery had changed my body in many ways, but one change I neither counted on nor initially realized was that I developed post-partum depression (PPD). I was 32, happily married, the mother of a beautiful baby boy, and miserable. But I did what I often think I do best…I buffaloed my way through the dark days and survived. And for the most part things were moderately good and then got better.
Then I had a miscarriage. And the darkness that I attributed to losing that baby came and just never left. When Middlest arrived 13 months later, I had gained not only more stretch marks and grey hairs, but the ability to recognize just how dark my emotional place was. Within two weeks of her birth I was on Zoloft and I started to inch my way towards a brighter place.
After Littlest and the myriad of antidepressants it took to bring me out of that round of post-partum depression I have even more scars, both on my skin and in my psyche. Living with the effects of post-partum depression is part and parcel of my many peccadillos. My family history, both paternal and maternal, is dotted with sufferers of a whole host of mental health issues and destructive behavior. So the fact that I developed post-partum depression on top of PTSD and a few other nifty diagnoses is no real surprise. Nor is it a surprise that “normal” hormonal shifts are a bit more pronounced for me, especially as my mind, body, and hormones are preparing for the next stage of life.
In other words, living with me is a tad exciting.
Ask Mister Soandso what living with me is like and I’m guessing he would plead the fifth and rightly so. After all, he loves me. But I’m sure there are parts of living with me he doesn’t love nearly as much. Because, you know, I have these peccadilloes that I’m sure seemed way more attractive 22 years ago, before all these bouts of PPD changed me more profoundly than the white lines etched across my lower belly.
All of us have our little excentricities. Those little bits about us that make us interesting, or possibly irritating. I simply may have a few more than normal.
For example, I abhor professionally sanctioned grammatical errors. Now, keep your peaches in a basket and let me explain. I’m not talking about using LOL in a tweet or such things. Heck, I love “tho” just as much as the next person. I’m talking about the grammatical errors found in documents that have been professionally produced and at a level much higher than the cakes in grocery store bakeries. For example, there is a restaurant near me that has a freeway sign proclaiming they have “The best pie’s in the country!” You might not be surprised to find out I refuse to eat there. After all, if they don’t know the difference between possessive and plural, how am I to trust they know how to actually make a good pie?
The same is true with a bistro that opened near us a few years ago. I had really enjoyed it an owner ago and so I had been quite sad when it closed. When it reopened, I had high hopes. Until I saw the name. “Charlies Bistro” the sign proclaimed. I shuddered. Still, I tried it once and decided that between the name and the underwhelming menu, I never needed to return.
However, my husband has. It has a good location, lots of parking, the bar is good. So it is an easy spot to suggest to work folks for business lunches, after work drinks, et cetera. And each time, I shudder a little bit. Like a page in my Strunk & White is being torn into confetti. I admit, it is a bit of joke, my refusal to go there ever again. I mean, if he wants to spend his money at an establishment that can’t punctuate, who am I to deny him. But my money? I don’t think so.
So last Monday, the day before Valentine’s Day, when I was feeling a bit more hormonal than usual, my husband met some work folks for drinks at the bistro which shall not be named. He asked if I wanted to come along but I declined and carried on with the night.
And as luck would have it, he and his work folk had a few drinks and a few appitizers and a few stories until the time flew by. So when he came home later than he had said he would, I was a bit less than thrilled with him. And when he said he brought me something, it didn’t help. The brown to-go box, his tardiness, my emotional place — it all became a catalyst for a short fight.
In the 19 years we’ve been married, we haven’t had many fights. And compared to most couple’s fights, this one might not have even registered as a fight. But it was a fight for us. However, we fight well Mister Soandso and I. And by that I mean, we actually get past the angry words pretty fast and get at what is really at the heart of the matter.
And for me, it was the fear of losing him.
Do I think my husband is having an affair? Oh heck no. But I worry sometimes that we could fall prey of that destroyer of relationships: complacency. That we could forget to stay in love with each other inspite of loving one another.
Because behind nearly every action I take is my need to control everything. It is so hard to trust, to let another care for me, to not simply attempt to buffalo through the darkness until the light returns. Or, as I told him as I sobbed in his arms, it is so hard to be this vulnerable.
The next day, he sent me roses. Not because we had been in a fight the night before. But because I have been his valentine for 22 years. The card, written in a stranger’s hand, said “When I said forever and for always, I meant it.”
That card made me cry. We’ve been saying “I love you forever and for always” to one another for nearly all of our 22 years. Sometimes it’s shortened to just “forever and for always” but it shows up in our life together over and over, reminding each of us that we signed on to appreciate and respect each other even as time marches on, changing us into the people we will be tomorrow. Forever and for always in spite of our peccadilloes.
And while that card made me cry happy tears, it was nothing compared to what he’d brought me home in that brown cardboard to-go box.
You see, while I was getting myself worried about all kinds of things that could happen to us if we get too complacent in our marriage, that it is possible for even the greatest relationships to become strained and derailed by too much of the mundane and not enough of the magical, he got me Brussels sprouts.
That might not sound like romance, but it was. Because Mister Soandso doesn’t like Brussels sprouts, but I do.
So on Tuesday afternoon, as I gently warmed the Brussels sprouts and ate them, I cried the tears of a woman who knows she is loved. Because Brussels sprouts, prepared with care, are like a marriage. They are layers and layers of something that can be a bit bittersweet but earthy. And these Brussels sprouts, sauteed and tossed with walnuts and cranberries with a subtle vinegrette were precisely what loving someone for 22 years is like…a complicated palette of flavors that apart are less than they are together.
My valentine, after 22 years, knows me so well and loves me in spite of all my peccadilloes. In fact, the two of us and our peccadilloes, and the peccadilloes of our relationship, are what sustain us and recreate us, year after year. Call us soul-mates or friends or just lucky, today we are as much in love as we love one another. Even if somedays we get complacient and get comfortable in the kind of love no Valentine’s or candy conversation heart quite expresses. There is something so special about middle-aged love…it is filled with peccadilloes and Brussels sprouts and sayings that mean nothing to others but everything to the two who say them.
*I started writing this blog post late on Valentine’s Day when I was full of love and French toast. (To celebrate the day I used a heart shaped cookie cutter to emboss everyone’s French toast.) I was also in full thinking mode after having read the wonderful “Someone Else’s Words” blog post by the delightful A Suburban Life. I cannot recommend it enough.