While on vacation this summer, Kenny and I were quoting this comedy routine by Daniel Tosh and laughing as we walked through the woods in Scotland. ” ‘If I lost a leg, would you still love me?’ ‘What? No! A leg? Are you serious… like from the knee down? No. NO! You lose half a fingernail I’ll break up with you.’ ” And so I began the dangerous “what if” game. You know,What if I cut all my hair off Britney Spears style? What if I became a raging alcoholic and a deadbeat? What if I had a stroke and was basically a vegetable?
“But really,” I asked, “what would you do if I lost a leg?” I meant the question in terms of logistics- our whole lives would be flipped upside down. He asked if I lost the leg before or after we met, because, he said, we probably wouldn’t be together if I had been born without a leg. I was shocked. It was so unlike Kenny to think something like that! In his defense, he was just being honest. Would 14 year old Kenny have been hanging out with a girl two grades older than him with a fake leg? Maybe not. We just wouldn’t have interacted and wouldn’t have become friends. That was a fair explanation… but I was still hurt. I had watched a documentary on the tiny changes in the womb that differentiate between a “normal” baby and one with birth defects. Each of them is like a swirl of water one way and you have no skin, a mismatched fold over here and your face is inverted. It was so weird to think that a split second in the womb could have changed my life from the beautiful one I have now to one that never had Kenny in it.
We all know the standard wedding vows “richer, poorer, in sickness and in health,” but most of the time that promise is made entirely on faith alone. Aside from the guy who marries the nurse that cared for him in the hospital or the girl who married the guy that helped her learn to walk again after an accident, we just don’t know for sure what “sickness and health” looks like. Or feels like.
A couple weeks ago, I was really struggling with some severe pregnancy pains. There were days when I couldn’t walk or stand in the shower or roll over in bed.I also had this sort of weakness in my hips. It was like my legs just wouldn’t respond the way I thought they was going to. Kenny and I were both afraid I would fall because I so often stumbled over my feet. Kenny begged me to just rest and even built me a pillow throne on the couch with snacks and drinks nearby. One day, I insisted on doing several basic things- going upstairs to do laundry, making myself some food, and unloading the dishwasher. Kenny had offered to do all of these things, but I felt so guilty sitting on the couch all day while he went to work and then did everything at home, too. That evening, however, I was in so much pain and my hips were so sore, I couldn’t lift my legs. I sat on the couch with a chair in front of me and cried in frustration as I failed repeatedly to pick my legs up and prop them up on the chair. Kenny was making dinner and rushed over, knelt by my side and gently lifted my legs onto the chair and propped them up with pillows. I cried all over again at the sight of my useless legs being swiftly lifted and at the relief in pain I felt when Kenny situated pillows behind my back and under my legs.
The only thing I could think of at the time were the words “in sickness and in health.” This is what that looked like. For all we knew, we were looking down the barrel of two more months of me being essentially bedridden. Kenny worked all day, rushed half an hour home to make me dinner and get me situated, spend half an hour back to the same place for rehearsals, then came home exhausted to help me get ready for bed. Then he woke throughout the night to help lift my hips so I could roll over and to help me in and out of bed when I went to the bathroom every two hours. It only took a few days before he started to get dark wrinkled circles under his eyes and a puffy look in his face. He didn’t say “I told you so” even though he told me every day that I would be in more pain if I did too much. He didn’t sigh or grumble because I had made my situation worse by insisting on doing things he had begged me to let him handle. He smiled and wiped my tears and asked what else I needed.
Rarely do we get a chance to prove to our spouse that we will truly and selflessly love them through any life circumstance. Watching Kenny take care of me proved to me absolutely that he would love me through all of life’s struggles (and that he would still love me if I had one leg), but it also showed me something I hadn’t expected. I realized how easy it is to love someone who loves first without expectation. Kenny had cared for me and lovingly helped me do every single thing I do in a day while I complained and lamented my woes. I would complain for hours and he would sit and rub my feet and ask, “What else, baby?” He expected nothing in return, not even a chance to talk about his own day. I have loved Kenny for many years, but it has never been so easy.
The next morning I lay in bed as Kenny tucked pillows all around me and told me to rest as much as I could and I wondered how easy I make it for Kenny to love me. I tried to be loving towards him by getting all the grocery shopping and cooking done, doing laundry, getting our apartment set up perfectly because he loves a tidy home, etc. But in the process I was wearing myself out so badly that I was making tons more work for him. And I was becoming a pretty miserable person to be around. If I stopped being so stubborn and let him run errands and do housework, then I wouldn’t get as tired and at least I could roll myself over at night. If I let him run bubble baths for me and just sit and soak, my pain would subside enough that I could get myself ready for bed. Maybe then I wouldn’t feel so guilty and occasionally worthless and I wouldn’t complain quite so much. And these are just the pregnancy things! I had spent so much time trying to love on Kenny that I made myself pretty difficult to love.