Marline and I at Ecola State Park, Oregon
(Copyright © 2016 by Rebecca L. Fry.)
I often hear: “I can’t imagine life without her” (or him). This is not true in my case. I can indeed imagine life without my wife.
As a stay-at-home father of two, I often do imagine life without her. For 45 or more hours every week, I’m — in effect — a single parent. Those are not my favorite hours of the week. Almost daily, I think: “Single parents are freaking superheroes!”
Not because I’m a pessimist but because I’m a realist, a practical person, I force myself to be prepared to many possibilities in life. One of those possibilities is that my wife — our breadwinner, our head-of-household, our connection to the middle class — won’t make it home someday. I first seriously thought about this on Nov. 5, 2009, when a self-described “Soldier of Allah” opened fire on Ft. Hood, sending dozens of bullet-ridden soldiers through the doors of the emergency room where my wife was then employed. I was at home, five miles away, feeling helpless. On that day, had my wife’s name been counted among the victims, I figured that after a period of mourning I could move on with my life, going pretty much anywhere I wanted to. We didn’t have children yet.
Today, with two small children, imagining life without her is scarier. Every day when she calls to say, “I’m on my way home”, it’s a relief, and then 20 minutes later I completely relax when I hear her key unlocking the deadbolt. What if that key didn’t turn?
I’m a grown person, so I actually can’t imagine falling completely apart if she didn’t make it home — for whatever reason. But I know it would be difficult.
The hardest part — I assume — would be answering the “where’s Mommy?” questions from the children, and then attempting to support them emotionally on top of my own grief — while also holding together the household. “Holding together the household” might actually be the easiest part — because so much of it is routine. Getting everyone dressed and fed, putting the correct child on the school bus in the morning and getting her back in the evening, putting away toys every night, bathing, putting them to bed… Most of this would happen without much thought.
Finding the money to make it happen would be harder, I know. True, it’s not very romantic to think about this, but as a practical person, I can’t help it. If I immediately returned to work, half my salary would go to daycare. The rest wouldn’t be enough to make ends meet (despite life insurance probably being enough to cover funeral expenses and pay off the remainder of our mortgage). There would be a stark, immediate shift in our lifestyles from “doing pretty well” to “barely making it”, or perhaps even “not making it”.
My children would join the 26% of American minors living in single-parent households, along with all the possible consequences derived from that.
And I haven’t even begun to mention how much I would miss my wife emotionally or in other ways. Imagine being on a sports team, engaged in a championship game against another team. Then try to imagine that same contest without your teammates. Try playing a doubles tennis match without a partner, or scoring a touchdown against Alabama without the burly guys blocking for you, or being a goalie without your other 10 players. Try to cover the outfield and all three bases without help. You can’t. I can’t. Even Pelé couldn’t win a game alone. (It bears repeating that I consider all single parents to be awesome superheroes, even the ones who utterly fail.)
My wife is my teammate. She catches the fly balls that I can’t get to, holds the football while I attempt field goals, runs interference for me, and is at the other end of every double play. Teamwork isn’t everything in a marriage, but it’s almost everything.
While I don’t discount help I might receive from family and friends, there is no question that my life — and the lives of my children — would be immeasurably more difficult without my wife being around.
If you read into this any depressing thoughts, that’s in your own mind. This text is a celebration of how much my wife means to me, despite being viewed through the lens of her hypothetical absence. Occasionally considering how it all might turn out only serves to increase my appreciation for the wonderful woman who chose to spend her life with me.
Today, on her birthday — the 12th that she’s celebrated since meeting me — I am reminded of many things. Most of all, perhaps, I’m reminded of the strange confluence of events that led to us meeting each other, and how easily it could have never happened. If multiple universes or alternate timelines exist, it’s likely that in most of them we didn’t end up together; there were too many ways for it to go wrong. I’ve never been more glad to be living in this universe and on this timeline.