I have asked myself this question more than a hundred times since August and I remain totally confounded by the answer. How did this happen? How did we end up here? With 1200 miles behind us, I asked the question again, this time with tears streaming violently and haphazardly down my cheeks as I beat the steering wheel with the palm of my hand.
It was something small that set off this emotional explosion. Something small, in combination with a dozen huge things, and following one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I don’t know what my expectations were for the road trip up to Canada -that we would listen to music, chat like old times, and bask in our freedom?
Minutes into the car ride it became clear that “getting away” wasn’t a single solution to our problems. In fact, the time alone, confined to our car, away from the distractions, forced an immediate and harsh acknowledgment of the battle we are up against. I was prepared to be the driver for our 3-day trip. I wasn’t prepared to be the navigator, the decider of all decisions, and worst of all, my own company. With so much going on, I don’t think I realized how truly limited TC is in his speech and comprehension. Perhaps he didn’t realize either. But in the middle of New Brunswick, Canada with nothing but wide open roads ahead of us and no one to buffer our despair, we gave into a heavy, crushing wave of sadness and fear.
We had been listening to The Great Gatsby on an audio recording for nearly 2 hours when I asked TC what he thought was happening in the book. His responses over the past few days had worried me. He didn’t seem to understand any of my questions when they were presented out of context or in a semi-complex manner. I wondered how much he had been faking it in past conversation. How many clues was he gathering from context, tone, and inflection when the words themselves meant nothing?
“Uh, it’s about a guy named Gatsby. And he’s rich. And he traveled around Europe quite a bit,” he responded.
“Yeah,” I pressed, “That’s true. But what about the favor he’s asking from Nick?”
TC stared at me blankly and shook his head.
I sighed. “Gatsby wants Nick to arrange a meeting between him and Daisy. Because they know each other from before and he’s still in love with her. It’s sort of the whole point of the book.”
“I didn’t get that, I guess,” he murmured sadly.
And I lost it. I mean, I really lost it. This man, my husband, he’s literally the smartest man I’ve ever met. He learns things quicker than anyone could hope to. I married him, in part, because I wanted to be with someone quicker, sharper, and more worldly than myself. I never, in a hundred million years, imagined myself explaining to him the plot of a book I know he’s read before. It is the cruelest of mean jokes. It is a knife in the heart that keeps cutting at us both.
The metaphor of this particular moment is not lost on me: driving on that endlessly long foreign road with nowhere to turn, no place to pull over, no one to call, and totally consumed by our overwhelming sadness. I wanted to do something, anything to fix us, to return us to normal even momentarily, but my only choice was to keep driving. This is the reality. We can only press forward. There are no certainties, no guarantees of infusions of future happiness, no readily available solutions. Life is this foreign road. And there is still so much left to travel that the destination remains out of view.
Hours later, we pulled up to our new home for the next 5 weeks: a short-term furnished apartment in downtown Halifax. I wiped away the evidence of my nervous breakdown and walked my tear stained cheeks up to the reception desk. I made small talk with the friendly building manager, who had comically been expecting an Arabic woman and not an American one (remind me to check the genealogical history of the Maslin name). He asked what brought us to Halifax and when I explained TC’s therapy program, he exclaimed, “Oh! That’s a fantastic program! We’ve had people from that program here before and they go home doing so much better than when they arrived.” I could have kissed him.
So, to return to my earlier question: how did we get here? My answer for today is that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that we’re here, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and TC has an amazing opportunity to make significant progress in his recovery. I have a chance to write and sleep and heal. We have an opportunity to build a new marriage together, one that’s not based on love of each other’s abilities, but something much deeper and less quantifiable. It will be the best kind of hard work to perform.