Love in the Present Tense

I saw an old photo of you. You looked heartbreakingly young and silly. The woman you are with, who ended up as your wife, looked very attractive and so much more stylish and mature than you were.

If I had met you at that age, I would have dismissed you as too goofy and immature. I don’t think I would have fallen for you. It is true that as a young man you were very good-looking, with a full head of blond hair and a brighter version of those piercing blue eyes that I can drown into. I still love you better with your sun spots and wrinkles; they speak of your journey, how you loved, and lost, and loved again. How you were reformed as a husband and father, and how in some ways you never managed to grow up from the goofy young man you were in that photo, while in others you became too weary and old.

I love you despite all your faults, and maybe because of them. I love you even knowing that I never want to trade places with the woman who shares your life, a woman who I feel has given up too much of herself and her independence to keep you going. I love you because your eyes sometimes light up for me and tell me things that I like to hear, perhaps things that you are not capable of saying, or things that I have only imagined. I love you even though you said to me that you wish you met me when I was younger, slimmer, and without grey hair. This was your comment on a photo of me 20 years ago, before I met the man who was to father my only child and then move on to become my ex husband. I did not fully understand then why the comment hurt me. I just told you that the girl in the photo does not exist anymore.

I always envied couples who have preserved their love, or partnership over many years. Those who have grown older together from being a young couple or school sweethearts. It saddens me even now that I will never have this experience. But I would settle for someone who loved me better as a mature woman, than he would have the ignorant girl. I would settle for someone who would prefer me as a mother, as someone who had lost and suffered and bounced back again. I would perhaps even willingly fall for someone who would love me with my wrinkles and white hair, the way I love you. It would have been nice if I had this experience for once, and met someone who loved the real me better than the old image. Because I am a better person now than I was 20 years ago.

The chances of this happening are very slim, and it is highly unlikely that I would meet a man who would bother to look a little bit beyond the surface. This makes me sometimes sad, and sometimes a bit resentful and jealous of a person like you who can enjoy the quiet devotion of a long-time partner and the crazy infatuation of a younger woman who openly tells you she prefers the current balder, grayer and older version to the younger image. You are so lucky to have love in all possible tenses, while it is a struggle for me to find it even in the present tense.

Death By a Thousand Cuts

You are away, and I am again missing you, more than I should. The past week of your absence was tough on me, and I had to deal with so many little problems on top of my work stress, it felt like death by a thousand cuts. My worst suffering was a result of my son’s illness. He kept bouncing back briefly and then developing new ailments. The constant oscillation between relief and new despair bled my patience dry.

Meanwhile, your few text messages were all complaining about work stress and deadlines. You never had time to read my texts, you said. The texts I sent were mute cries for sympathy, that went unheard. I harbored resentment towards you, and envied your organized life where the biggest problem is missing a deadline. Those problems were mere footnotes to my deluge of daily worries. Of course, I do not hold a high-ranking office in my department, and will probably never aspire to one as long as my child needs care and supervision. Still, work is just one of the many balls I juggle. And it is the least important because if I drop it, there is always some other person to do the task. I am not indispensable at work, but I am the only one there to care for my child.

Yesterday he missed school again. I was despondent for the whole day, trying to keep up with what he ate, whether he took his cough medicine, whether he is resting, and whether he is being careful not to pass on any germs to the neighbor child he usually plays with. But when I finally went home, and for the first time in a week, my child received me without complaining, he looked almost normal.  I held him for a long long time, my heart a silent prayer of thanks. I texted you that he is now better, that I can finally breathe again. In a way I wanted to absolve you from any obligation you might have felt to ask about MY problems.

You gave a lukewarm -and belated- apology for your silence, maybe sensing the storm has passed. You told me that you were under so much stress, that an unfit person in your place would have had a heart attack. In an instant, all my resentment against you was forgotten and I felt the need to console and understand YOUR problems. My critical mind knows that this is a ploy men often use, and you are not above it yourself. I can tell that you garner a lot of support from the women around you. It is our nature, after all, to protect our kids, our parents, and our loved ones. This is perhaps why most personal assistants to high-ranking executives are mostly women. We can sincerely, and selflessly, dedicate ourselves to assisting others.

I absolve you again from the need to look after me. You are not my lover and as a friend you came too late. I will still be there for you offering a sympathetic ear and a virtual pat on your shoulder for a job well done or a crisis averted. I cannot help this, I did not choose caring about you and I would have changed it if I could. Your absence will always be one of the deeper cuts, but my need to give you support and be there for you is much greater than my need to receive anything from you.

In the meantime I will try to change things, and will keep trying to fall out of love or friendship with you, because clearly I deserve better.