Go Beyond the Pain

by Lori Jakiela

I wake this morning hobbled like someone beat my legs with a broom all night. I limp to the kitchen the way my mother and father did when they were alive and only a little older than I am now.

 

“You don’t know how much it hurts me,” my mother said, and she meant arthritis, but I think she meant living.

 

What’s wrong with me now is not so bad, I think, but still, we’re getting there.

 

I get some iced tea from the fridge and drink it straight from the carton and feel guilty for how often I blame my kids for that.

 

Be civilized.

 

Get a glass already.  

 

Back in bed, I wrap my legs over my husband’s legs. He’s slept in his socks again.

 

“Cold feet, warm heart,” the old wives said.

 

Who were these old wives?

 

And where did they glean all that wisdom?

 

I flop and try to wake my husband. Maybe he wants to sneak sex in before the alarms rattle, the texts and emails vibrate, all that electric shock of this world. I also want an audience, someone to complain to about my legs – a jerk thing to do, but still.

 

I am an old wife now.

 

Sorry again about that iced tea.

 

I stroke my husband’s face, brush my thumb over his eyebrows, make the hairs stand up straight, like the eyebrows of a madman who must wear socks with rubber pads on the bottom to keep his cold feet from sliding around the psych ward.

 

“Stand up for the stupid and the crazy,” the Whitman my husband and I both love said.

 

And the old.

 

And the lonely.

 

And the frightened.

 

I am frightened, not of dying but of everyone I love dying and leaving me alone.

 

And the lost.

 

And the unloved.

 

And the abandoned.

 

I fear my husband will die in his sleep, so I keep one hand on him all night and feel his chest rise and fall while he lies oblivious in his own peaceable kingdom.

 

When my children were young, I’d do this to them, too, one hand in a crib, reaching up through the bars to count the breaths with my fingers, a musician learning keys.

 

I know my mother did this to me and I swore – well, you know how that goes, how we become

everything we said we would not become and how in the end, that’s mostly okay.

 

“I’m sorry,” my mother said when she was dying.

 

“I’m sorry I wasn’t a better mother. I’m sorry I was nervous all the time.”

 

And the nervous.

 

And the heartbroken.

 

And the remorseful.

 

I don’t know if my husband reaches over to feel my breathing at night.

 

I don’t know what he fears.

 

I snore a lot and sometimes he shoves me awake, gentle-like, and I roll over so he can get a little rest before work.

 

One time, he recorded me snoring – who does that? – and it sounded like a cartoon, Elmer Fudd, maybe.

 

If you don’t know Elmer Fudd or Bugs Bunny, I’m sorry.My husband and I have been married a long time -- twenty years plus now.

 

I’ve had my share of luck.

 

I know this defies the laws of gravity, Bugs told Elmer Fudd. But I ain’t never studied law.

 

These days, I take a lot of Aleve for the aches that come on.

 

Go beyond pain the Aleve commercials say.

 

Still, I’m grateful for everything I feel – my husband’s skin on my skin, our lumpy bed, each side worn down to the shape of our thick middle-aged bodies, the gravity of that, and how we can lie there and talk before drifting off about Whitman and books and our dreams and how amazing to still have dreams at our age, the gravity-defying miracle of that.

 

On our sixteenth anniversary I joked we’d earned our licenses to drive away, throw every hard thing into the rearview, and wave each other on to our next life.

 

But we’re still here, holding on.

 

Grace Paley said about aging, “When you get up every morning, you must take your heart in your two hands.”

 

I take my husband’s sweet sleeping face in my two hands and smooth his wacky eyebrows back in place.

 

“The future is no more uncertain than the present,” our dear Whitman says.

 

What I know this morning: the world will go on a little while more. And we will go on with it.

 

The blessed shipwrecked beauty of that.

About the Author

Lori is the author of several books, most recently Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, a memoir which received the William Saroyan Prize for Creative Nonfiction from Stanford University, and Portrait of the Artist as a Bingo Worker, a collection of essays about work and the writing life. Her author website is http://lorijakiela.net.