I’m sitting in the waiting room at the imaging center waiting to be called in for my MRI. I’ve been having headaches, which my doctor thinks are caused by stress, but I’m sure mean that I’m dying. I’m nervous. They call my name and I stand, catching my reflection in a mirror. It doesn’t help that I’ve left the house without blowing dry my curly hair and I now look like Harpo Marx. I’m even wearing a green trench coat.
The nice technician adjusts my head, hands me something to squeeze “in case of an emergency,” then sends me back into the machine not caring that I’m claustrophobic. My mind immediately starts to race: “What happens if there’s an earthquake?”, “Is this what it’s like to be buried alive?”, but the thought that is the strongest is “This is what I get for all the terrible things I’ve secretly thought about my ex-husband.”
My thoughts had to be secret. He had had cancer. I wasn’t allowed to be bitter.
It’s hard to explain how you feel when the guy with the brain tumor decides that he’d rather go it alone than spend one more second married to you. It didn’t matter that I’d moved our family across the country three times so he could be by the best doctors (this includes 4 months in North Carolina. Have you ever seen the bugs in North Carolina?), or that I spent endless hours in utter anguish. His illness trumped my right to be the scorned ex-wife.
My mind flashes again. This time to the day we had been interviewed at Duke Hospital by 60 Minutes. Ed Bradley was talking to a group of patients. He had asked my then-husband what he’d hoped for. His response: “To be happy. To laugh and be happy again.” Ed Bradley was moved. He turned to the table and asked “Do any of you ever feel like giving up?” It was one of those vulnerable moments where you feel safe to admit things because you’ve all been united through tragedy. I slowly raised my hand, then quickly pulled it down when I realized that he had been talking to the patients, not the spouses. Unfortunately, I didn’t pull it down quick enough for Ed Bradley to miss. He looked at me and shook his head, his thoughts transparent: “You want to laugh and be happy again? Lose the downer wife.”
My doctor called by the end of the day to say that I was fine, and that I should try to reduce my stress. He suggested yoga. I hung up the phone feeling an overwhelming sense of relief, truly grateful that I still didn’t have the right to be bitter.