13. Don

This scenario and others subtitled with a generic man’s name are fictitious. However, they are based on accumulated understandings about husbands either depicted in literature or real life.

My name is Don. My wife’s name is Susan. This story is about priorities and lives gone awry.

Like Mike in the previous story, I’m a product of Mid-20th Century America. But, perhaps unlike Mike, my priorities were shaped by multifaceted experiences and beliefs. Think Vietnam and the late 1960s. Think draft card burning, antiwar demonstrations, rock concerts, Volkswagen Minivans painted in outrageous colors, drug use, aimlessness, and lots of long hair.

Even bizarre behaviors and anti-establishment rantings.

Susan and I met in high school. We were both from prominent and well-to-do families. And we were spoiled, with feelings of entitlement. We knew privilege. And we were both gifted enough to be accepted by the best universities. I was prelaw and Susan majored in international relations.

Life for us looked promising and secure. But every night we saw disturbing events on our TV sets. Berkley demonstrations. Chicago riots during the Democratic Convention. The Woodstock phenomenon. Kent State shooting deaths. And more.

It seemed as if our world was unraveling. And only my college deferment kept me from being tapped on the shoulder to become the next soldier to die in Vietnam.

The military draft ended midway through my time in law school. By that time Susan and I had participated in some of the wild stuff, but kind of on the periphery. A couple of rock concerts. Some small demonstrations. Letters to the editor. That kind of thing.

No drugs or other excesses. We survived the maelstrom unscathed. Our kind of normal could be pursued as originally planned. Stay on track. Maintain tight control. Don’t rock the boat. Prepare for the unexpected but be as ready for it as possible.

Healthy eating and plenty of exercise. Even before our wedding, we were serious about financial planning. Investments. Insurance. Staying in close touch with our extended family and network of friends was a big part of our future.

We became politically active. But true to our station in life, we valued social stability over radical change.

Messy does not work for those of us following the trajectory of success in life.

Susan and I married after I finished law school. She had completed her undergraduate work. But she decided her chosen field of international relations would involve too much travel and stress. She would be a stay-at-home wife and mother. I was grateful.

With a specialty in corporate law, it was logical for me to become part of the business community. Not overly exciting. But stable and lucrative enough.

Stereotypically, we purchased a nice home in a comfortable upper middle-class neighborhood. We joined a country club, worked with our kids’ schools as supporters and sponsors of various events. We found a church suitable for our way of believing, which had excellent programs for children and young people.

Susan did not work outside the home. I had a job that allowed flexibility enough to take nice summer vacations. We enjoyed family travel throughout the nation and even certain spots in the world. Cruises. Disneyworld. Europe.

We gave money to good causes and Susan participated in various kinds of charity work. Together we attended my professional conferences whenever possible.

The American dream.

With few exceptions, our kids grew up with minimal health concerns and did well in school. Susan and I had occasional but treatable health problems. Minor inconveniences. Like everyone, we lost members of our extended families.  Hospital visits. Care facilities. Funerals.

Susan and her mother were emotionally close. One day her mother, 79, fell and broke a hip and gashed her head. She was already suffering from COPD and other cardiopulmonary problems.

I’d never seen my wife fall apart before. But she did this time. Her mother’s physical condition improved slightly but cognitive abilities seemed to take a nosedive. As her mother’s condition worsened, Susan became more and more depressed and anxious. Nothing I said or did seemed to help.

For years our lives had been pleasant and uneventful. But now she wasn’t able to control the anxiety over her mother. And then I had a mild stroke on the golf course. EMTs were efficient and able to take me to an emergency room quickly enough to mitigate lasting damage. While I wasn’t concerned about my problem, Susan certainly was.

She hovered over me much of the time. It almost drove me to distraction. Our relationship, once so warm and mutually sustaining, became fractured.

At least the events of the 1960s were external to our lives. Those challenges were “out there someplace.” But the current multifaceted concerns were inside us. Almost impossible to control. 

Finally, with my insistence, she sought counseling. I attended too. Everything improved a little until we heard our youngest daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was treatable but Susan’s emotional progress came to a screeching halt.

Walking the dog was an outlet for me. It got me out of the house. Out of the lunacy. I spent more time at the office and on the golf course.

Susan’s mother died and our daughter’s cancer had been caught in time. The prognosis was good. But Susan, who had few problems during menopause, was becoming more and more depressed and seemingly out-of-touch with reality as she approached age 70.

It was almost as if her mother’s accident and subsequent illnesses triggered something in her personality. Her driving was so erratic she received traffic tickets, something that never happened before. Friends seemed to drift away.

Even our kids didn’t seem to enjoy visiting us. Our once immaculate house became a mess, not helped by the constant importation of stuffed animals, trinkets, and other odds and ends.

Any complaint from me about these behaviors would send Susan into a rage. She said I had always been selfish and uncaring. I never loved her. Our life together was a dismal failure.

Thanks to a benevolent employer, I opted to work part time beyond the usual retirement years. More time on the golf course. More time with my buddies at the country club. More time away from that awful house of mine and the woman in it.

Finally, I managed to convince Susan to see a neurologist. Tests. Withdrawal of too many drugs for anxiety. Referrals to psychologists and counselors.

I was anything but ready to hear the word “dementia.” But I did. And on many occasions. Probably Alzheimer’s. That wasn’t in my repertoire of life’s “facets.” But it showed up anyhow.

Love tests us all the time.

I’ve always loved Susan and still do. But this situation isn’t like avoiding the draft in the 1960s. It isn’t the same as getting control of the awful variables in life. It will require me to make some serious decisions in which Susan will not play a role.

Except as my blameless wife who must endure the results of those decisions.

Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.

©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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