Learning to Deal With the Real World

It seems strange to have to learn to deal with the real world at my age, but for more than half of my life, I didn’t have to deal with the world as it is. My life mate/soul mate and I created our own world of peace and accord. We always wanted the best for each other without ever a hint of envy or resentment. We helped each other. We listened to each other. We cared for each other and took care of each other. We shared values, income, responsibilities without counting the cost or worrying about who got more than their share. In fact, we often worried that we were taking more than we gave.

It wasn’t like that at the end, of course. Long-term illness skews things, so during his last years, there was often tension and frustration as our lives started to diverge — he to death, me to life alone. We could feel the disruption of our world, and though we were under tremendous stress and occasionally gave in to fits of pettiness, we mostly managed to deal peaceably with each other. To others, however, we appeared to be in perfect accord. During one of their visits, the hospice nurse turned to the social worker and said, “I don’t think they have any idea how much they love each other.”

What we had didn’t feel like love, and yet, what else could it be, this creation of a world where we each gave whatever we could without stopping to count the cost? We didn’t have an easy time of it — so often life took disastrous turns, but still, we were always there for each other.

And now we’re not.

He’s . . . somewhere (or nowhere) and I? I’m here, muddling along as best as I can in this alien world. The world is alien in part because his absence has created a black hole into which so much light has disappeared; in part because I am alone without someone listening, caring, helping; in part because it truly is alien. Though people often say, “We’re all in this world together,” they don’t mean it. People want things and they pursue those things with a passion. Isn’t that what most people think life is about? Finding someone or something to be passionate about? But here is the conundrum — passion takes what it wants and doesn’t count the cost to others. (That is why passion is such a great story driver.)

He and I used to play games where the goal was not to win or lose, but to come out evenly matched. We hated games where one person won everything and the other lost everything. It seemed too cruel. Neither of us wanted to lose, but we didn’t want the other to lose, either, because we knew how much losing hurt. (It probably won’t come as any surprise if I tell you we created our own games.)

We never argued. Well, there was that once, six weeks before he died, but I hate thinking of that. I understand now the horrendous pressure of our lives, but for so long all I could think of was how horrible I was for having my first fight with my mate six weeks before his death. (I understand it now, but I still can’t think of it without tearing up. I never wanted to be that woman.) But for more than three decades, if we disagreed, he’d state his position and I’d state mine (or vice versa). If we couldn’t come to a resolution, we’d walk away (sometimes in a huff, sometimes in frustration). The next day, he’d bring up the subject again, conceding that I was right. Of course, by then I’d have mulled over what he said, and I’d concede that he was right. So we were back where we started. The best thing about it is I knew he’d thought about what I said, he hadn’t just blown me off by walking away.

When he died, my world of accord died, too, and now I live in the world everyone else does — a world where some have way too much and some have way too little. A world where passions tear people apart as often as they bring them together. A world where competition is rampant, where it’s not enough just to win, but also to make sure others lose. A world where small disagreements escalate into battles. Admittedly, this is what the world has always been like, but I didn’t have to deal with it.

And now I do.