For most of my adult life, I’ve always dated men who were older than I was. Sometimes it was just one or two years, but sometimes it was as many as ten years older or more. My mother would point to the example of our beloved pediatrician who married his assistant, 15 years his junior, and when they grew old together, she became his nurse. Their love was deep and sincere, and caring for him made her an old woman.
So I thought I played it safe when I married a man only seven years my senior, who frequently looked younger than I do.
Today I looked at my husband beside me, and I hated cancer extra for making him into an old man before his time. I know this will pass – he will start feeling better, bit by bit, and one day he will wake up and surprise himself by stretching and noting that his shoulders stoop less, or that he can get down the stairs without holding the railing. But right now he doesn’t believe that, not really. He’s not letting himself believe it until he can get past the 2 month mark. Last go round, two months to the day after the end of radiation, he was diagnosed with his second tumor, so he won’t believe that he’s really going to get better until he crosses that line.
Only six more weeks to go until we reach that two month mark. Until then, he continues to act like an old man, to feel like an old man. He walks slowly. He has a hard time waking up. He tires easily, and scares himself with how quickly he’ll go from feeling all right to needing to be home and in bed. My previously dapper husband’s had shakes when he shaves, and he is beginning to cut himself more often, to miss spots. We went out to brunch to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and had to go home before they had even served our appetizers. As we drove home, our meals boxed up and sitting on the back seat, his hand fell from my knee where it usually rests as I drive, and I had the momentary terror that I had lost him.
I keep holding my pediatrician’s wife up in my mind as the role model of steadfast care. I think about how she must have known the duality that I now know, of wanting to go out with friends, to enjoy life and be the age she is, while also wanting to stay home and care of her husband. But, probably, if she is like me, what she really wanted was for him to go back to the way he was when he was wooing her.
And while my gray hairs appear faster than I can dye them, I find that this isn’t aging me the way I thought it could. I still stand tall, I still walk fast (and I still talk fast, despite my best efforts otherwise). I do not feel like an old woman yet, to match my old man husband. Where is this youth coming from? I am sure a part of it continues to be shock. I can feel it beginning to wear off as I look back at the last nine months with a bit of horror at exactly what has transpired. But most of it comes from the thoughtfulness of friends, the support of community, and the occasional night when I cancel my plans and watch stand-up comedy on youtube, or listen to stand-up comedy on Pandora. I am not ready to grow old before my time.