“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 the overwhelm of a hospital Emergency Room. Certainly not when her body is manifesting puzzling symptoms, 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, which takes place in 1961, 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 the health status of her life partner, who has fallen off a ladder due to a stroke. Edith wakes up in the waiting room the next morning to learn her beloved has died in the middle of the night, probably afraid and most certainly alone. It hadn’t occurred to anyone to let Edith know.
It’s a haunting and heart-breaking scene, one I am determined to avoid 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 utter The Big Fib, “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 right by my girlfriend’s side, reassuring her, advocating for her care should that become necessary, 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.
It’s bad enough I have to leave the hospital for the first 75 minutes after she is checked in because of Covid restrictions. There is no “waiting room” to speak of. They instruct me to “call this number” for an update. They promise to let me be with her, once a private room becomes available.
“Hello, I’m calling to get an update on my wife.” This is such a weird combination of words to be hearing myself 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...
This is not meant as a hint for her to propose marriage to me before somebody else scoops me up. Nor do I intend to make a proposal of my own any time soon. That’s not even on our radar. But it feels good – days later – to kid each other about the night that truly scared the shit out of both of us.
Thankfully, the scare has passed. She’s fine. Her prognosis is excellent. But, it is painfully obvious, that as women of a certain age, we’ve come into each other’s lives with some medical baggage. Frankly, I don’t see why this should dissuade or disqualify either one of us from venturing into love.
“I’m in this with you,” I assure her. “I’m not going anywhere,” I say as I caress her face and we lock eyes. “I mean it. I may be scared for you, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been scared away.”
Love always comes packaged with the risk of loss and heartbreak. It goes with the territory! So even though ours is a relationship that can barely be measured in months, I am not at all deterred by this brief interruption in our regularly scheduled programming.
If I’m being honest with myself, this whole “wife” thing is less about what to call myself, and more about checking in with my heart, and assessing my level of commitment to her, and to us. The results of this check-in: My commitment’s “vitals” have never been healthier or stronger!
For whatever reason, the Universe saw fit for us to connect in our “later” years. We are both aware of Father Time’s clock ticking away, louder and louder. There is more life behind us than ahead of us. That’s just the reality of our situation.
So after a fretful night in the E.R., here’s what I know 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.
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.