There are so many things I’ve never said.
When we first got together six years ago, I was only twenty, and you were the caretaker that I needed in the midst of deep uncertainty about my life, my future, and my purpose. You let me stay at your apartment. You fed me when I was hungry. You drove me anywhere I asked because I wasn’t brave enough to get my own license. You never criticized or questioned the endless times I changed my mind about everything, from education to childbearing. You saw my quirks, my fears, my flaws, and genuinely loved me unconditionally, regardless.
You Were Everything I Needed
You used to make me breakfast every year on my birthday: pancakes topped with strawberries and bacon placed strategically to look like a face smiling up at me from the plate. You knew exactly how I liked my coffee and brought it to me all milky sweet on the couch or in bed as the sun rose. When I fractured my shin running and became deeply depressed, you took me out and walked patiently beside me just to keep me moving, and so I’d know I wasn’t alone. It was one of the many times that you brought me back to life.
We never needed much; most of our time together we holed up in little apartments and basement suites with mismatched, second-hand furniture and lots of books. It was always enough. We loved each other in tiny, windowless rooms, on the bed you made in high school carpentry class. We spent our winters under thrift store blankets, watching old movies; our summers were outside, barbequing and reading in the shade.
You always read all my writing, and listened to me ramble on endlessly about books I loved that you’d never heard of, characters you couldn’t possibly understand. You never complained during my weird phases of watching the same terrible movie or TV show over and over again. You constantly encouraged and respected me, and told me I could do anything I wanted with my life. You once saw me in a dress and said I’d ruined you for other women—that no one could ever be as beautiful as you thought I was.
I told you about how much my dad had disappointed me, and how scared I was of ending up with someone like him, or even worse, of becoming him. You told me how you’d always felt like you came in last. We whispered our insecurities into each other’s ears, and promised we’d never be like the people who let us down. You said your dream was to be a good husband and father. At night you wrapped your feet around mine under the blankets.
You worked so hard to take care of us. When you fell eighteen feet off of a roof at work and almost died, you looked up at me from the hospital bed with a face caked in blood and assured me that everything was going to be okay. You squeezed my hand firmly as I dripped hot tears on the sheets.
And Then We Were Four, Together
Then, I worked so hard to take care of us. I pushed you everywhere in your wheelchair; it became a game to see how far we could go. I picked you up when your injury broke you down, lifted you to your commode, and helped you bathe when you’d given up. You learned to walk again, and we went everywhere on foot, you forsaking a cane to lean on my arm. During your recovery we found out we were pregnant, and you wrapped the pregnancy test in a Ziploc bag and stored it in your sock drawer. We learned they were twins, and we cried with shock and joy, unable to believe we’d been given such a gift. We got married, and you limped up the aisle on your bad leg to stand and wait for me.
On our honeymoon you let me sleep away my pregnancy exhaustion and sickness, giving me all the blankets and pillows so I’d be comfortable. You ran your fingers across my belly and told stories to our babies—from the beginning you swore they were girls. When we were eventually hospitalized for preterm labor, you slept on a foldout chair beside my bed for almost a month. You made me tea every day, and held my hand outside on the hospital patio during those long days we wicked with sweat and fear. You cleaned my face and stroked my hair during my emergency C-section, and when the girls were out, you slipped into the NICU to take photos of their tiny, red forms for me. We were so young, and so unprepared, but you went to the store and bought me a breast pump, nursing pads, and lanolin without flinching. You helped me get dressed and use the bathroom for days.
After we were discharged without the girls, coming home to an empty nursery shattered me like nothing had before—I was in such unendurable, heartbroken agony I thought I would die. You picked me up then as though I were the child, and rocked me for hours, drying my tears with your chest and sleeve. You became the glue that held all the pieces of me together.
You Were Theirs, And Mine Too
You gave the girls their first baths and changed their first diapers because I was too scared to touch them. You drove me to the NICU in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep because being without my children felt like a bullet in my guts. When the girls came home, even though you were working and in school, you got up to feed them with me every two hours throughout the night. You sanitized every bottle and washed every dish we used in those early months, and you brought me meals while I was pumping or feeding. You had days where you took care of the girls entirely by yourself, and times where you took them out because their acid reflux and constant colicky screams made me think about putting my head through a wall.
You respected me as a mother, and never questioned my choices. You took photos of us at The Old Spaghetti Factory the first time we were brave enough to take the girls to a restaurant. You eventually got a job two hours away that kept you working over sixty hours a week, but whenever you got home, you always found the energy to give us your attention and love. You spent your rare days off grocery shopping, running errands, or at the park with us, collecting dandelions and putting them in my hair. You crouched down on our living room floor and called for the girls to walk to you, cheering as they stumbled to your outstretched arms. You washed their chubby rolls every night, and covered their eyes when you gently rinsed their hair. You’ve always been such a modern man, never implying gender roles or assuming certain jobs were mine alone.
When Did We Stop Being Those Kids?
Somewhere along the line in the last couple years, we began to change. Maybe we put too much into our children and not enough into each other. Maybe we were too young. Maybe we eventually needed different things. I grew into my role as a mother and woman, and I didn’t need to be taken care of anymore. You wondered where you’d gone, what your purpose was without someone to hold up. When we were no longer in crisis, we didn’t know how to interact; like war buddies, our bond was easier in the trenches. And as we aged, though our love never disappeared, the things that kept us together did.
But It Was Enough
Today, we aren’t a couple anymore, and it still makes me feel like someone has taken a fillet knife to my insides and cleaned them out. I wonder sometimes when it was that we stopped being those kids who always found each other in the dark. But I do know that you gave yourself to me so selflessly for years—that you were my port in a storm, and I was yours, and because of that my love for you endures. Our love endures, always. What we had and what we’ve gone through will be forever rooted in me, a stone monument erected in my heart.
Our separation hasn’t been perfect; we’ve had moments of anger, disappointment, and disillusionment. And that’s natural. As natural as falling in love is the pain of falling out of it. But most days, we lock eyes and remember the sacrifices we’ve made, the anchors we chose to lower by each other’s side for a time. And just like the simple life we lived once, that’s enough. That’s all we’ll ever need.