This can’t be love…..

I don’t love my wife….and she didn’t love me.

Now, before my children and former students who might actually read this panic, and those of you who have been following along since I started this blog 13 posts ago start to cry “Bullshit!” or think I have truly gone off the deep end, let me elucidate. What I believe we had was far more than love. I don’t think the English language has one simple term that can encompass the relationship.

Did I love her? Of course I did! There was, and still is, nothing I wouldn’t do for her. Nothing. After her failed surgeries, primarily because the first surgeon was grossly incompetent, and the second was a coward who, IMHO, didn’t want to risk his precious stats, (The reason I will NEVER see a doctor again for the rest of my life…for any reason) I offered her oncologist any of my organs and tissues that might save her. Of course, it was a futile effort as she had a negative blood type, and I was positive, but I felt so helpless and needed to do something!

Love as we traditionally view it is a singular emotion. It produces endorphins. It creates that warm fuzzy feeling. It invokes images of passion and eroticism. Did we have that? Of course we did! You need only look at our four daughters to know this. It wouldn’t hurt to look at our emotional struggles, either. We each were able to unlock doors in the other’s psyche that held hidden monsters from our past (and present) that no other human (including ourselves) could, and either tame them, or slay them altogether. For her, she had abandonment fears stemming from her parent’s divorce. She had personal safety fears stemming from an incident I will not further discuss here. She had a huge problem with not feeling that she was ever good enough. Her biggest issue was an absolute refusal to “need” someone. There were others, of course, and over the years I was able to overcome most, if not all, of them. The issue with need, she confessed to me three weeks before she passed, was resolved in the past year as she realized how much she depended upon me as a caretaker, husband (in the truest sense of a husband being nurturer, etc.), friend, advocate…. Me? Well, my issues were legion. Still are…but she patiently and lovingly slayed those dragons of chauvinism, toxic masculinity, etc., and others she turned to my/our service…anger, the need to physically dissipate and displace that anger so I wouldn’t lash out at others…

Using the term love to describe our relationship just doesn’t suffice. We were companions and supported each other publicly at all times…but, if needed, would tell each other in private behind our door, that the other was either wrong or might want to consider the next step or alternatives. We reveled in each other’s accomplishments…degrees, roles on stage, professional successes from colleagues and community. We were there when the other needed and backed off when not needed, or when we felt by creating space the other would grow because of it. Up until the last two years of her life, she acted as my SAG constantly, but knew that, in addition to her feeling drained, I needed to gain independence as well – both for my involvement with RUSA as well as the cycling I was now doing during the day while she was at work. Neither of us actually suspected that I would need it now – that she would die first. We both expected me to be the one to go first, found on the side of the road somewhere as the result of an angry or distracted motorist.

We were each other’s refuge. There are countless disappointments, heartaches, and failures in the span of 35 years. Some personal. Some professional. Some marital. Some spiritual. When you find the one person that will comfort you, support you, help you get re-grounded and start forward again, you know you have the right one. This was established early on with the passing of our grandparents. I remember coming home one day after spending several hours in the practice room preparing for my upcoming senior recital – we wouldn’t own a cell phone for another 10 years – and my wife rushing out to greet me, holding one infant daughter in one arm and dragging the other behind her. She climbed in the car and told me that my mom had called and that my paternal grandmother was not expected to make it through the day. We hurried off and I am certain I sped the 100 miles to the nursing home – with her holding my hand the entire way. We got there just in time to see my grandmother being carried out on a gurney. I was crushed. She held me, and our daughters, while I shook and sobbed in grief and guilt. I did the same when her paternal grandmother had passed shortly after we were married, and again a few years later when her maternal grandmother passed and we were financially unable to return to Michigan for the funeral.

The important thing, however, is that being a refuge doesn’t mean that you simply provide a shoulder or a hug. When my father passed away ten years ago, it was a similar occurrence to my grandmother’s passing. No chance to say goodbye…we got the call late…we arrived far after he had been pronounced and the coroner called (he died at home). It was one of four deaths of close family members in 30 days. Yes I was shook. Yes she provided comfort. But later that fall my dog of 14 years developed inoperable cancer. We made the decision to put her to sleep and I was the one that did the injection….that was a huge mistake. It was also the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I felt as though God had placed a huge bull’s eye on my back and was using me as target practice. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t sleep. I knew I was slowly spiraling into a very dark place, but I couldn’t see the bottom and neither could I get hold of anything to stop the descent. Until she literally handed me a stick. Well, okay, she hit me over the head with a club.

She had observed me coaching and teaching for years and knew how I handled students and athletes in a similar situation. She grabbed hold of me one night just before Thanksgiving and spun me around to face her. She snapped that she hadn’t married a quitter. That our children still needed their father, not a wuss. In coaching parlance she ripped me a new one. And then she put her arms around me and told me that most importantly, she had to have her husband back…that she relied on MY strength because she was grieving the events of the last several months as well.

We were each other’s sounding board and editor. While neither of us were fond of the episodes of each other’s ranting and raving about work, school, the kids, the neighbors, our parents (let’s face it, I was far more the offender here)…we knew the other would listen and either say nothing, or would flat out tell the other they were wrong. We were, thankfully, honest with each other. If the ranter was in the wrong, a good bit of editing was proposed to correct the situation. She, of course, was far more diplomatic than I, and so I was the bigger beneficiary here!

We were each other’s muse. And we still are. As performers, the occurrences here were too numerous. As musicians, however, the most gratifying came just before her diagnosis. She had organized and written several arrangements for boom whackers, Orff instruments, etc., for her elementary students over the years. She had seen me compose and arrange for several years and admired the success I had working with composers and getting these things published. For her first concert directing a junior high choir, she decided to arrange a setting of “Silent Night” in English, German, and French. She didn’t have the training in theory or on the compositional software, however, so I tutored her and did a quick analysis of the chords so she could break things down. She based her work on an arrangement of “In the Garden” that I had done for our daughters to sing at my father’s funeral. Her setting is one of the best I have seen of this traditional work.

I know I am taking a risk by stating this, but late last fall I felt compelled to set John Donne’s “Abler Soul” segment from The Ecstasy for a duet. Over the next several weeks I felt my ideas gradually morph into a trilogy which incorporated parts of Diana Gabaldon’s “The Outlander” dialogue between Jamie and Claire, and Cynthia Bourgeault’s Love is Stronger Than Death. I realized she was working with me on this. I’ve always struggled with lyrics, which is why I specialized in arrangements. What I had originally written and set aside while I contemplated structure was rewritten within 24 hours….in a manner I had not considered, nor would have done on my own. Similarly, after I had finished the second piece, I was very dissatisfied with my accompaniment at the end – supposedly wedding bells. I attempted several different treatments and idioms, and none were better. I contacted friends who each then promised to give it some thought. I began the second piece (actually occurring first in the trilogy) and felt she wanted a couple of dance interludes inserted during the wedding ceremony. In my head, considering the text, I contemplated a recorder consort from the medieval period. When I came to that point, I literally felt her say “No. I want something from 18th century Scotland. A quadrille.” For crying out loud. I specialized in music history in undergrad and my first Master’s, but I had to look up the form to know what she was talking about. Yep, it was a popular dance form in the 18th century. BUT…it was an ABACABA form. I heard myself saying “Honey, you can’t do that in 8 measures. If we insert a 32 measure dance interlude twice in this piece, it will never be performed!” She responded quickly with “Who says each theme has to be 4 measures long? Why can’t you just do a one measure motive for each theme? You have three different melodic motives that are common to each piece.”

Damned if she wasn’t right. And so the piece is finished…with the shortest quadrille you will ever hear…but effective none the less. The best part was the opening church bell motive that I don’t remember writing, but sounded exactly like what I had in mind. It fixed the end of the second work and tied the two pieces together even more. I finished the trilogy today, and, once again, her role as the muse was present. I had originally planned on the final piece of the trilogy as being a fugue in the relative major key. Apparently, this is not what she had in mind. Lyrics were dropped, the key was indeed major, but only up a step, and rather than a fugue, it has more of a processional feel (think “Pomp and Circumstance”).The trilogy is complete and will be published under BOTH of our names, because it has elements of each of us. I have NEVER used some of the compositional devices used here…The piece will be premiered by a school in Phoenix, and will be performed by a professional ensemble in Scottsdale this Fall. I’m excited to offer this to schools in this area as well….with four exceptions!

We were each other’s stand-up comic. This will come as a shock to my children and her colleagues, but my wife could tell a fantastic dirty joke! For my part, I appreciated those, but more appreciated her laugh and snort. And the way her eyes twinkled when poking fun at someone. She, while verbally distancing herself from comments I would shout at the refs at a Red Wings game, for example, would always laugh out loud on the way home and rate my beratings. Her favorites were “Hey Ref, use some Preparation H! You’ll see better!” or “Hey Ref, that wasn’t hooking! Hooking is what your wife was doing on 8 mile a couple of hours ago!”

We belonged to each other. No, not in the possessive sense. In the sense that neither of us ever had to worry about the other straying. In the sense that neither of us ever really was going to quit. In the sense that we were comfortable with each other and were never ashamed of the other. In fact, I always felt like a king every single time we went out in public! Every. Single. Time. In that final interview a few weeks before she passed, she told me there were so many things that she had always been so proud of me for she couldn’t name them all. I can’t tell you what that means in months like this.

I know this post has not been about bikes, brews, or my grandchildren. I know these past few posts have focused on my grief. February is a hard month for widows and widowers. Even more complicated when the departed passed during February. Next post will be on bikes and brews, I promise!

This post is my Valentine for my wife. It’s the only Valentine I will give or get anymore. And I was a hopeless romantic! Saying merely “I loved her” doesn’t cut it. We were part of each other. We completed each other. The absence of her physically at my side has created an ache that goes to the very center of my being. Imagine a dull toothache that throbs with every heartbeat. Now imagine that never going away…no dentist can pull the tooth…no medicine removes the pain for more than an hour or two and no doctor can prescribe more of the medicine because doing so would kill you. The throbbing is there when you finally go to sleep at night…sometimes it wakes you up in the middle of the night…and it is there when you convince yourself you have to make it through another day. No. This isn’t love. It is something much deeper. And this Valentine’s Day I am so grateful for it. So grateful that she chose me.

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Forced into retirement at the age of 55 because I was foolish enough to finish a PhD program in an era of teacher bashing and budget cutting, I turned to cycling full time. Until my wife passed away in 2018 from a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Now I navigate the highways of the US on my bikes in search of a good Brew, good times with our grandsons, and in memory of her.

One thought on “This can’t be love…..”

  1. I’d love to hear this piece. She certainly had a way to snap that “Bruce” out of us, and love ya fiercely. She always was a fairytale princess in my eyes. I’ll never forget her listening to my tearful woes as I was all but certain I was quitting, and breaking my promise to dad that I’d finish my degree if he let me marry Joel. “If you let someone like MaryAlice take all that you’ve worked for by simply being a butch, then you’re not the Jessie I know.” Damn! She gave me what I needed to finish and keep my word. I have read every single one of these vlogs. Each has lent itself to tears, but this one made me sob. I legitimately felt every single word. I can hear the pain in your words. I cannot do anything to help lessen any of it, but please know even on your extremely lonely days I think of you very often, ask mom how you are, and love you dearly.


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