When people around him get sick, my husband gets paranoid. We have been married for nineteen years and I know what I am talking about. He has come to rely on his own peculiarities for escape.

Coming out of the hospital after having had to drag him there to visit mutual friends or relatives, John never fails to tell me how he now has a terrible headache. I don’t ask him where his head hurts; I know he couldn’t tell me. My guess is that his head does not really hurt. It’s a general malaise the he’s suffering from – a temporary depression from not being able to cope with things he has no control over. Especially people’s illnesses.

Usually, after I’ve had an operation, he’s desperate to have me recuperate in a hurry. That’s where his gentle pep talks come in. Sweet as anything. “Come on now, baby…  you can do it. The doctor said you’d be on your feet in no time. It’s been three days already… Don’t you want to show everybody how strong you are?”

“No, I don’t,” I say with a nasty grin. “I think I’ll stay in bed for three months. Do you mind?”

He doesn’t say anything, but turns and looks away. He knows I have caught him in the act, and maybe he feels a little ashamed. At least I hope he does. I don’t mind admitting that sometimes I find it rather satisfying to be mean spirited. But darn it, when he’s sick, I look after him without employing any fancy strategies.  Why can’t he do the same for me? 

But I suppose he can’t help the way he is. Or can he? 

 If I am sick with a virus, it doesn’t take John long to come down with something alien, too. This is when he slips into bed beside me, dejectedly moaning, “I don’t feel good, either. I feel so sick – God knows what I’ve got.”

Yes, God knows all right.

But so do I. Only I think it’s better not to elaborate on it. I am not a psychologist, so I might as well stay out of it. I don’t even say a word. I ignore him totally. I certainly don’t wish to do anything to escalate whatever pain he’s feeling. Somehow attention seems to do exactly that. I know – I have been tricked before into feeling sorry for him.

“Aren’t you going to get up and make supper for the kids?” he later asks, in a strangely humble tone, but still in bed pretending to be sick.

 “No, you are,” I reply with a good, firm voice.  Then I pull the blankets over my head and I don’t budge.

Sometimes I have to be tough with him. But does he know I am treating him like a child? I often wonder about that. I don’t feel proud of what I am doing. But the thing is that I just don’t know how else to deal with him.

 A few weeks ago, I slipped and fell on the stairs. My foot throbbed with a terrible pain, and the ice I was putting on it wasn’t helping much. I didn’t know what to do, so I turned to him to see what he thought.

“Oh, take a couple of aspirins,” he said, without even lifting his head from the newspaper.

“Yeah, but maybe I should go to have it x-rayed.”

“It’s probably just a little sprain.”

“Still, I think I should have it looked at.”

“Okay…. if you really want to,” he sighed.

I can’t believe how he loves to minimize my injuries.

Two hours later, I was sent home from the hospital with a prescription for pain pills and a set of crutches. I was also strictly advised to stay off the foot for several days.

“Oh, we’ll sure do,” he said to the doctor, with a big smile. Of course, this automatically gave everyone around the impression that he was the most helpful of husbands. I could have killed him.

But who knows, I thought as we drove home. Maybe he “will” look after me this time. Maybe he has changed. Sometimes that happens to people.

But I was wrong. John would never change. In fact, he was getting worse. Or should I say more resourceful? Yes, resourceful, for the next day, unexpectedly came a sudden contract job out of town. He would be gone for two weeks!

“Oh, you will be all right,” he said confidently. “You have the kids… Besides, I’ll be phoning everyday to see how you’re making out.”

“Thank you,” I smirked. “You’re all heart.”

“Oh I know,” he laughed, not afraid to turn it into humour now that he was on his way out. He kissed my cheek.

We live in a two-floors house and the first two nights of my accident I slept downstairs on the couch. But the third night, I decided I wanted to be in my bed. At the hospital I had been shown how to use the crutches and I was supposed to go up the stairs on my own. Carefully, I started climbing. It wasn’t easy.

Watching me, my nine-year-old son and pre-teen daughter were tense. But when I got to the top, they clapped and laughed.

“Mom, I’ll bring you breakfast in bed tomorrow,” my daughter said, all happy.

 “Yes, that sounds great,” I replied. “You’re an angel.”

“I am not an angel,” she said. “I am just a girl.”

 “And practically a woman,” I smiled. “A strong one at that.”

In bed I pulled the blankets up to my chin and I smiled, dreaming of breakfast on a tray and my young daughter coming to wake me up, with a cheerful smile.

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