Our life was not a bed of roses

My friend tells me that it takes time. First, you cry everyday, then every other day…

I remember a dialogue from somewhere where a character says: How can I share my heart with you when you refuse to show me your tears?

In the years of our marriage, the only time I saw my husband cry was on the night after he came to pick me up from the Clarion West writing workshop. I later found out that he was crying because he was afraid that I would leave him. He was so frightened by my love for Nalo Hopkinson, that he decided to ignore all wisdom, hop on a plane and come to Seattle when I had already told him that I was coming home.

Of course, I love Nalo. Who doesn’t?

Why in the world do you think I would leave you when we have children together? I asked him.

The next day, he bought me a pair of butterfly shaped earrings as an apology. I loved the earrings, but that wasn’t the reason why I forgave him.

For many Filipinas, the vow of marriage is sacrosanct. No matter how difficult it becomes, no matter what trials take place, once given, that vow holds until something happens to make the breaking of that vow inevitable. Sometimes, it is violence. Sometimes, it is betrayal. But almost always, it is death that breaks the vow.

My husband died and suddenly the world has become this strange place. The order of things and the shape of my life have all become more complicated.

Seventeen years ago, I had to learn to forge a new path in this strange land. Seventeen years later, I am once again having to learn how to create a new path. The physical landscape remains unchanged, but the inner landscape is no longer familiar.

Five years ago, my mother-in-law died. Three years later, my father-in-law passed away. Eighteen days ago, my husband died.

It’s not rare, the undertaker said. For us to hear of partners following each other into death so very closely. But for a child to follow their parents so very soon. . .

I know what she wants to say, it is as seldom an occurrence as my husband’s childhood trombosis.

As I write to my friend, I wonder how I did not see the onset of my husband’s heart failure. Three of his major arteries were clogged–this means that heart attack was just waiting to happen. I think of broken hearts and grief and I think of how my husband left me and my children on the day his mother died. Instead of coming home to us, he chose to remain behind and weep with his father.

When he came home, he did not cry. He did not show me his grief. He did not share with me his pain. He locked himself away behind a wall I could not breach.

I ask my friend, how it is possible to share a life with someone and to never have shared their grief.

I loved my husband and I wanted to be the one who he could lean on. I wanted him to be the one I could lean on as well. But for all that I loved him and for all that he loved me, I never knew if he was ever lonely or sad–if the heart he carried inside him was already broken by the early loss of his mother and by the eventual loss of his father.

Aliette reminds me that my husband fell into the dangerzone category. When many men are prone to heart attack and women are prone to cancer.

Beyond all logic, I wonder if I could have done something to prevent it. I am left with my hands full of questions.

Eighteen days have passed and already, I am tired of weeping. I am tired of feeling out of sorts. Of not being able to sleep. Of breaking down at unconvenient moments.

Mom, my eldest son says. It’s okay to be sad, but please think about how embarassed I will be if you break into tears in a fitting room of all places.

And just like that, my heart lightens. I have my children still.