“How about taking a yoga class together?” Doug asks one night while we’re making dinner.
I busy myself with cutting carrots, thinking about it. I appreciate that he wants us to find things to do as a couple. And I’ve taken some yoga classes with Jill. Nothing could be less competitive than yoga, right? But that’s not how I felt when I was doing yoga. I was constantly comparing my downward dog to everybody else’s, and not in a good way: That lady’s even older than I am—why is she so limber? Why is the instructor looking right at me when she says, “Use the wall for balance if you have to”? I know Doug’s going to be much better at yoga than I am. Even though there isn’t really any “better” in yoga. Except there is, for me. “You really are competitive,” Nancy McKenna says when I explain this train of thought.
Last summer, when we were at the beach with my extended family, Doug set out on a long bike ride. When he returned, everybody marveled at his fitness, at how far he’d gone. I made a joke: “He’s trying to outlive me,” I said, “so he can start again with another wife.”
That night, Doug made a point of saying to me, privately: “I’m not trying to outlive you, you know.”
“It was only a joke,” I said, and laughed to prove it. That he felt the need to deny the allegation only made me more insecure. In no other area of our conjoined lives are we separated by this sort of performance gap. We make about the same amount of money. We’re both decent cooks, parents, citizens. It’s only in this one sphere that he’s ahead of me—that he’s winning. And it just happens to be the sphere I care about most. Or maybe I care about it most because I’m losing to him.
Doug has a bad knee. He hurt it at work. It’s been weeks, and it’s still swollen and sore. “You should go see a doctor,” I say, “and get an MRI.”
“They won’t send me for an MRI. They’ll send me to PT.” That’s “physical therapy.” And it’s what Doug does for a living. So he’s already been doing for his knee what any PT would: elevation, rest, borrowing the electrical-stimulation machine I use for my arthritic ankles, that he gave to me for Christmas last year.
It’s strange to have him hobbled this way. Of course I feel awful for him; he’s in pain, the poor dear. He can’t get his regular workouts. But guess what I also feel?
I’m sorry. But I do.
It never occurred to me that something could slow him down—that time might, after all, prove inexpiably evenhanded. Once it does, it’s as if a curtain has been lifted. Hey, shit happens! He could blow out his ACL! He could get hit by a truck while he’s biking! He could keel over dead from a heart attack—look at poor Jim Fixx! I could be pushing him in a wheelchair someday!
Ideally, I’d like us both to pass away at the exact same time, holding hands, lying side by side on our marital bed. But if one of us has to go first, well—marriage is all about selflessness and making your spouse happy. Doug said he wasn’t trying to outlive me. Just for the record, I would like to outlive him.