“And what is your relationship to the patient?” the admitting nurse asks.
“I’m her wife,” I answer without missing a beat, without giving a second thought to all the laws I might be breaking and frauds I might be committing.
I absolutely refuse to be separated from my girlfriend as she navigates a hospital Emergency Room. Certainly not when she’s feeling wonky, and we’re both silently wondering whether this could be the thing that takes her from me – permanently.
I am reminded of the movie, If These Walls Could Talk 2 (HBO, 2000), about three lesbian couples. The first story in the film, takes place in 1961, and is about two senior lesbians who have lived together and loved each other for a lifetime. Theirs is the story that pokes and nags at my consciousness as I identify myself as “wife” to the nurse entering data into the computer about my girlfriend.
In the film, “Edith” spends the night in an E.R., expecting to get information about her partner, who has fallen off a ladder due to a stroke. Edith wakes up the next morning in the waiting room, only to learn her beloved has died in the middle of the night, afraid and alone. It hadn’t occurred to anyone to let Edith know.
It’s a nightmare of a scene, and I’m determined to avoid this as my girlfriend is ushered through triage, and scheduled for tests over the next few hours.
When we first arrive at the E.R., all I can think to myself is, “They’re not going to tell ME ANYthing. They’re not going to let ME anywhere NEAR her. I’m just the girlfriend. I might as well be a stranger! ” So I surreptitiously transfer a ring from my right hand to my left, and tell whoever asks that “I’m her wife,” to ensure I can remain close and informed.
Of course, it’s not 1961 any longer – thank goodness! – and the clerk doesn’t even blink when, as a woman, I use the word “wife” to describe my “spouse.” The lie about our marital status goes undetected, and doesn’t even warrant a raised eyebrow! Perfect. One less thing to stress about.
It’s going to be a long night. The plan is to park myself by my girlfriend’s side, reassuring her, advocating for her care, holding the space for her to be scared, asking the questions that help us understand what the hell is going on, providing whatever support she wants and needs.
There is no “waiting room” to speak of. Because of Covid, I have to leave the hospital until they can assign her to a private room. I wait in my car.
At the 60-minute mark I call in, “Hello, I’d like to get an update on my wife.” This is such a weird combination of words to say less than three months into our relationship, long before she and I have even considered shared living space, let alone a shared life! Nonetheless, I approach the security guard with my best poker-face, and declare, “My wife is in room C12. How do I get there?”
My girlfriend and I now jokingly refer to those harrowing hours as “The Night I Was Her Wife.” I tease her mercilessly by singing the chorus to Beyoncé’s All The Single Ladies:
If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it Oh, oh, oh! Oh, oh, oh, oh...
I’m not suggesting she should propose marriage to me before somebody else scoops me up. I don’t intend to make a proposal of my own any time soon either. That’s not even on our radar. But it feels good – days later – to make jokes about that scary night.
The scare has passed. Her prognosis is excellent. But, it’s painfully obvious, that as women of a certain age, we’ve come into each other’s lives with some potentially heavy medical baggage. And yet, I don’t see why this should discourage either one of us from venturing into romance, or even love!
“I’m in this with you; I’m not going anywhere,” I assure her as I cradle her face in my hands and we lock eyes. I realize, after I’ve said these words, that I actually mean it! This medical hiccup may have alarmed me, but it hasn’t scared me away.
We’ve barely been together three months. Perhaps this is love. The jury is still out. But whatever it is, it feels as though this emergency visit to the hospital has helped to clarify our status. This whole “wife” thing is less about what we call ourselves, and more about assessing our level of commitment to each other, to us. I realize in this moment, that I’m all in.
For whatever reason, the Universe saw fit for us to connect in our “later” years. There is more life behind us than ahead of us. That’s simply our reality.
Here’s what I know now for sure:
From this day forward, in sickness or in health, for better or worse, ring or no ring, as her girlfriend, her lover, her wife, whatever she chooses to call me – every moment we get to be together is all the more precious. Even in the best of circumstances, our time is limited.
So, Universe, You have my attention. I hear the questions You have aimed at my heart:
- Do you, Celenia, take this woman showing up in your life at this particular moment?
- Do you take the full joy and the full catastrophe of your journey’s convergence with hers?
- Do you take the risk of heartbreak that comes with stepping fully – mind, body, heart & soul – into love?
You bet, Universe. Humbly, gratefully, intentionally.