It starts snowing the morning of the ceremony. Thick flakes blanket the ground as my grandmother zips up my dress. Outside, the flurries are beautiful and slow, the prose of how we imagine our life together to be spent. He would be my knight in shining armor; cutting the heart from the dragon of my mental illness, protecting me from the discomfort of existing. Our life would be easy and pretty and unbroken. As we stand across from one another, palms sweaty, our hummingbird hearts are flying, and we are soaked in the glow of the joy of committing ourselves to each other. My grandfather is officiating, with his Internet ordained minister license, and he talks for a long time about the movie Groundhog Day. I feel impatient with all of the words, I want to kiss my groom already. (That piece of our vows means more to me now that I’ve lived my married life of groundhog days convincing a brain to keep going that doesn't always want to live).
We step forward into the pure white beauty, naive to the danger, to the risk, of being married so young. We are ignorant to the blinding effects snow has on the roads ahead. We are unaware of how easy it is to grow cold when you stand out on the ice for too long. We don’t understand the unpredictability of it; the slipping and the sliding on hidden black ice. We didn’t know how heavy snow feels if it goes unattended. We didn’t understand the responsibility in promising to spend your life honoring another imperfect person.
Reality that my husband is not a bulletproof superhero comes hard and fast just a month after our honeymoon. With a tear to his abdominal wall, and an Urgent Care visit, he needs me to step up and do what I vowed to do. We are across from a surgeon, sitting in vinyl covered metal chairs, signing pre-op paperwork. He needs hernia surgery. The question lunges off the page right toward me, like a wild animal, causing the room to get loud and my brain to go into a tunnel.
“Do you have someone to drive you home after the procedure?”
I have been hiding from this fear my entire life. We don’t have family near, we are new to our town, and I am an eighteen year old bride who doesn’t have her driver’s license. I can’t even drive myself to the grocery store to buy eggs if we need them. Fear of driving is the number one symptom of my anxiety.
I can’t do this. I am angry with him and his broken body because he is supposed to be the hero, not me.
I spend the weekend taking last minute driver’s ed classes, and standing in line at the DMV, so I can drive the mile home from the hospital. My entire body contorts behind the wheel. I hate each minute of that mile. I feel as nauseated as my purple lipped husband in the passenger seat, unaware of the demons I was fighting.
That was the first time I realized I couldn’t rely on him to fix me. Just as I couldn’t be the one to sew the mesh into his skin, and heal his wounds... so I drive our green minivan that mile home. In sickness; him, recovering from surgery—me, with a brain that makes everything difficult.
I can remember each time I have driven since I married my husband and forced myself to get that drivers license seven years ago. I have never gone too far from home, always within a safe distance. I have found the courage buried deep inside of myself to drive my girls to the doctor’s office, to the grocery store, to preschool. To this day, my body feels stiff and sick in the driver's seat, painfully aware of the danger involved in controlling a giant metal machine.
Two months ago, for the first time in my life, I drove on the freeway. After a week of solo parenting—I felt it imperative to take my girls to the movies. They needed to get out of the house; I needed to feel like a fun mom. As I drove through the dark, stormy roads, I cursed the fraudulent part of me that convinced myself to even leave the house in the first place. very joint in my body filled with cement, my head throbbed, the anxiety built up so thick I thought it would burst right out of me. I checked my headlights over and over believing there was no way they were on because I could not see the road right in front of me. I didn’t feel like a fun mom; I felt like a coward.
I realized in the days following, based on my girls recollection of our time out with each other, that every bit of it was magic for them. They got to see a cute bear in a red hat on a big movie screen, and eat m&ms and popcorn for dinner. They felt so safe in that car, on that freeway, that they both fell asleep on the way home. After I carried their heavy bodies from their car seats to their beds that night, I wept. I felt so defeated that after this long living with anxiety, it still hurts so much.
It is March and there is a blizzard beginning to dance, charmingly, outside. It is the third blizzard to slam the Northeast in four weeks, and we are all tired of it. The brutally cold air has bitten our skin since October, snow has buried us alive since December, and our shoulders haven’t felt the sun for too many consecutive days. School is cancelled, again, and we are stuck inside ... again. It snows heavily for hours and the inches pile up quickly. We live in a snow globe, and safe in the warmth of our home, it looks gorgeous. But we all know how dangerous it is. Everyone will hide away avoiding the inconvenience of icy roads and 50 mph winds, and I will take advantage of the slowness and pull out the ingredients to bake carrot cupcakes with my girls. As we are impatiently piping cream cheese frosting on too-warm cakes, I look up and see him out in the storm. He throws heavy shovelfuls of snow over his shoulder again and again, and then I watch as he scatters the salt over the driveway so that little feet and car tires will not slip.
Not a word of complaint leaves his lips as he walks through the front door, stomps the snow off of his boots, and then helps the girls get bundled up in layer after layer, so he can take them out to build a snowman with them.
This is my husband, approaching this winter in the same way that he approaches loving me, with equal parts work and play; but both done with joy. He is a man who understands the danger of snow now, and still chooses to see the beauty and the power and the strength in the storm. He is a man who sees the depths of the ice and does not give up simply because he cannot make it stop snowing. He does the maintenance work so that we can play a little more safely, and drive a little bit easier, even if he cannot make it all disappear. This is the man who would vow to live this life with me, over and over again. A man who has held my hand as I figured out, little by little (since that first mile home from the hospital) to use my own shovel to unbury myself, and crawl toward my own healing. Because of the way he has loved me, I can see the ways in which I have grown. The ways in which I have chosen to find joy and optimism when things felt cold and dead.
From the outside, because I still feel the terror over small tasks, it is easy to believe I have made no progress. It is easy to see me as an unpredictable, unreliable cold front, or a half a year snowstorm of depression after birthing each baby. It is easy to see me as only weakness, only rare sunny days, but every day, the man I married joyfully makes a home out of me.
Words and photo by N'tima Preusser.