Circa November, 1978 + Wellington, Maine
Case #1: After coming home from a romantic evening, which was a much needed night out for two that included dinner and a good movie, Linda and I both anticipated snuggling, and more. We were feeling close and intimate, like we felt before the fall. Our warm and cozy log home welcomed us on our return, like an old and loving friend. Linda lit a few kerosene lamps that flickered silently, throwing dancing light about our nest. All was quiet, except for natural sounds outside such as coyotes howling in the distance, a gentle wind in the trees, and dried and leathery leaves swirling about. This seclusion was one reason we had come to Maine. We were in our chosen element, except for the chair, of course.
We had our routine down by now. Linda took off my coat, stripped me to the waist, and removed my shoes. I then positioned myself alongside our double bed. Linda grabbed my pants on two sides while I prepared, with her help, to slide directly into my place place on the marital couch, as the saying goes. Nothing out of the ordinary had happened so far. Linda lifted and I heaved; the two of us strained to do what is so easy and natural to so many. I finally transferred into bed, only to discover, in dismay and disgust that I was sitting in a small boatload of poop. That's no metaphor. We knew immediately, without doubt and without a word that the romance had been killed for us, at least for that night.
Linda and I were well aware after almost a year of this misery that we were losing the romance in our marriage. Neither of us knew how to get it back. I felt small and humiliated, like I was half a man at best. I wanted to scream in frustration and anger, to vanish as if I never was, to make excuses, and to apologize, all at once. I was at a loss as to what to do, so I said and did nothing. What could I say, anyway? "The reason these things happen is because I'm crippled, it's not my fault."" I didn't want our romantic life together to end like this. We wanted a lot of things we never got.
That's my story. With my feelings came disturbing and distressing thoughts and questions about Linda. How must she have felt? What were her thoughts? How did she see our future playing out? She was most often the vocal one, more open emotionally than I was. It was no surprise Linda vented her disappointment and anger right out front: "I'm sick of this. I can't take much more. Can't anybody do anything about this? Why does this have to happen so often?" It didn't seem that often to me, but it shows our diverging perceptions of the same events.
MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS (PART II)
THE RIOT SQUAD IS RESTLESS
May, 1978 + West Roxbury, MA
Case #2: It was one of the great West Roxbury hospital Sundays in early spring, sunny and warm, breezy and inviting. The entire troop of the under-forty spinal cord guys and wives, and girlfriends, and assorted others were all outside in a hideaway in VA grounds, left alone by security guards, doctors, nurses, and other authority figures. There were few questions asked about what we were doing. We were out of sight and out of mind.
Nobody really wanted to know what we were up to, which was drinking beer, smoking reefer, and swaying to rock and roll at maximum volume. We were dancing, laughing, and swapping Before-the-Fall stories. We all wildly exaggerated everything, as if we were once Nobel Sex Laureates, Lance Armstrong, and Michael Jordan, all in one. We felt loose and easy and free.
Linda and I were reliving our pre-injury hippie days. We were high, happy, together, and loving life. We loved each other in what seemed at the time to be a world without limits that had no fences facing, as the song goes. Thoughts of the ladder and its aftermath were forgotten for the time being. Linda hopped onto my lap for a spontaneous, wild chair dance. We were spinning and cavorting to the beat, one hand waving free. Not for long.
"Oh, no," she cried, knowing she was sitting on piss. It was like the Riot Squad needing somewhere to go, busting a harmless party just because they wanted to and could. It was as if my urine had a dynamic of its own, to flow freely all over me at the worst of times and places. Our fun was done. Yet again, frustration, disappointment, and anger quickly replaced our so-sweet feelings of by-gone days.
There was nothing to say that would do any good. When you're sitting in piss, words lose their value. We knew this was but one more episode in a play we hated from the first. Torn between what was necessary and what we wanted, Linda and I headed back to the ward. She and whatever nurses or aides were around rushed me into bed, got my clothes off, did a hurry-up bed bath, put on a new condom, re-dressed me, and hoisted me back up out of bed into my chair.
All was performed in super-quick time. Try as we did to resume our fun, the feeling was gone, the buzz was dead, and our party was over.
MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS (PART III)
October, 1978 + Wellington, ME
Case #3: During my ten months in rehab at the VA, I would mood swing between counting my blessings and thinking I had lost everything. When I got back home, I learned a terrible lesson: you can always lose a little more.
Autumn was setting in at the Gill family homestead; we needed cords and cords of winter firewood. Friends stopped by with chainsaws to help and render what support they could. Just as no one finds their way home alone, so no one makes peace with quadriplegia without friends.
One of these friends was Kate, a woman we had known for several years. Kate was beautiful and radiant: with long, luminous hair as black as a grackle's back. She had all the qualities that seduce and subdue. She also had those two most deadly elements: ready availability and total Independence. She would work by herself cutting firewood outside and come in to talk whenever Linda was not around. This was common: my women friends dropped by a lot and responded very feelingly. When I asked why this was so, one said they were "cooing over a wounded bird."
I was about to plunge Linda, Sarah, and myself into a maelstrom and let slip the dogs of war: October 28th was my birthday; I was 34 years old. Linda and my friends threw a great party at our house, the same warm and cozy friends that had welcomed us in days gone by. I drank way too much wine and smoked way too much dope. My heart was open wide, like a beaming, delighted child of six surrounded by his closest buddies, gifts, and glorious cake topped with brilliant candles. I was a sitting duck. I was primed to seduce and be seduced, to subdue and be subdued. I should have seen it coming.
Suddenly, Kate was kneeling at my side, her brown penetrating and watery eyes looking deeply into mine. She was saying she had a terrible crush on me. "Kate'" I said "you're exquisite." The floodgates opened. It was as if Hoover Dam let go in an instant, drowning all in its destructive, unstoppable fury. Love, passion, forbidden, all-consuming, crazy, flaming, infatuation shook me to the depths of my being. I was gone, washed away, and born again. 'Out the window' says the song.
Convinced she would understand and not interfere (I was crippled, after all), I told Linda immediately. This was an obvious testament to my unperceptive self-absorption.
So began my betrayal of a sacred trust and months of pain without relief for Sarah, Linda, and me. I cast our family directly into a whirlwind, like sailors in an unsuspecting hurricane.
What rendered this defenseless betray unforgivable was this:
There did not exist a more supportive, caring, and loving wife/partner during my time in the VA hospital than Linda. She took charge, moved with Sarah to Massachusetts so they could be near me. She came to see and cheer me on a daily basis. She brought me health food; wheat meat sandwiches and soyasausage. Linda was intimately involved in my care, helped me make medical decisions, and persisted in working with me to solve out sexual and other difficulties. We were a team, inseparable and committed to each other, Sarah, and our family.
Back in Wellington, Linda, Sarah, and I found ourselves in a vortex of accusations and counter accusations, tearful, angry confusion, alienation, and increasing emotional inaccessibility. The three of us suffered alone and together. Share and share alike.
Kate and I engineered clandestine letters, phone calls, and meetings. I was doing the unthinkable: betraying my most deeply held beliefs in family and loyalty while hurting the two people I had sworn to love and protect. I was destroying our dreams and our lives together. I was acutely aware I was doing all this. I saw it and knew it, yet i felt powerless in the grip of this insane desire to love and be loved by Kate. I would resolve time and again to end it and fail to act, until my heart finally broke.
Kate and I planned to meet in Boston while I was doing an annual VA check-up. Linda and Sarah were going to Ohio to visit family. Linda knew.
Their flight had been cancelled; the Ohio trip was put on hold. Confusion as to where to go, with whom, and when plagued us and left us in a limbo of indecision. I wanted to be with Kate in Boston; Sarah wanted to be with her family, Linda did not want to be alone. We all felt lonley, like we were being abandoned by each other. We were each deeply scarred by this time. We had reached ground zero. If we didn't go back to Wellington together now, we probably never would.
Linda, Sarah, and I were alone together in my room at the sink with a large mirror behind it. They were directly behind me. I saw them reflected, as in a carnival glass; magnified, clearer and larger than life. I was looking at them as two images thrown into relief in my rear-view mirror, receding from me as I sped away. I was, as usual, self-centeredly talking about how I needed the hospital staff to take care of me. With a voice quivering with emotion and in words overflowing with heartache, Linda asked, "Who's going to take care of me?"
I looked up into their eyes, and saw Linda and Sarah as they were, totally naked in their pain and loneliness. I gazed into the abyss I had created and sustained. I saw the pain I had wrought on these my loved ones who in no way deserved what they got from me. My moment of truth had come.
My passion for Kate evaporated as my love for Linda, Sarah, and our family shook me awake at last. Their pain was my pain; their loneliness mine. I had known our hearts were breaking. At that moment I saw it written plainly in the lines of our faces. All my excuses and justifications melted away. My defenses were in ruins.
"I will take care of you", I vowed. I resolved once and for all to make amends and rebuild the ruins of what was once so precious and beautiful.
These words of the eagles, at once poetical and profound convey a message pregnant with meaning for me:
"You're walking a wire,
pain and desire,
looking for love in between..."
MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS (PART IV)
YOU CAN'T FUCK IN THIS
December, 1978 + Wellington, ME
Case #4: After a warm, sweet time with close friends over dinner, drinks, music and after an intimate, loving evening together for us, Linda and I awoke in each other's arms at 4:00 am to the sour smell of urine. We discovered an entire night's output of urine (about 2 quarts) soaked into the sheets, blankets, mattress, our pajamas, and all. Even onto and into the pine board floor, from which the odor would never fully disappear. The entire situation was such a huge mess we had to call a trusted neighbor and friend, one whose funkiness was beyond reproach, to help us out of this jamb.
When he arrived, fresh out of a warm bed on a cold night, he took the whole thing in stride. "Son of a bitch, Gill, you can't fuck in this!" There wasn't much funny about it, just another miserable injury thing. This one hung over us like a proverbial sword, forever, or so it seemed. Every morning's wake was another possible repeat of yet another impossible situation. These incidents i have described are very like the tip of the iceberg that sank the Titanic. These episodes were getting much harder to accept and harder to take. The Titanic was closing in on the iceberg at an accelerating rate. The closer we got, the faster we moved.
As out one-time union became two bewildered lovers betrayed by circumstance, closeness became frustration, intimacy wariness, spontaneity vigilance. We were adrift; the only constant was the direction. Apart.
These repeated episodes and others, such as the Kate ordeal eventually left us exhausted and washed out. Linda simply had no more to give. We were watching out love die, scene after scene, which felt to me like fishhooks pulled one by one out of my heart.
What followed seemed to have an inevitability of its won, like an out-of-control avalanche headed to the Swiss village. We didn't have the interior resources left to stop what was happening. Anger, frustration, blame, recriminations, regret and remorse led to shouting matches, border wars, uneasy truces, amnesties, negotiations, reconciliations, and a seemingly perpetual stream of scalding, bitter tears. We swung wildly from 'silhouetted anger to manufactured peace'. Our marriage and home had become a battleground.