My veterinarian has no idea this has happened, but I’ve already selected her to replace me as my husband’s new wife and the mother of our two kids — should anything ever happen to me.
I’m a morbid person. I’ve never been capable of shooing away thoughts of death, so about a decade ago, I stopped trying. And a funny thing happened after I embraced my thoughts: The whole reality of death became a lot less frightening. I think about death the way some might think about what they plan on making for dinner that night, based on what produce they already have in the fridge. OK, I’m going to die one day. It could happen anytime and won’t necessarily wait until I’m 95. I’d hate my kids to go through life without a strong, nurturing female presence — and I want my husband to be happy in love again, though secretly, more because of the kids than because I’m desperate for him to experience butterflies in his stomach. The only solution: He must fall in love again and life must go on.
The moment we met our pretty female vet, who years later would put our 14-year-old cat, April, to sleep with sincere, slightly unprofessional tears in her big, brown eyes, I knew she was the one for him (us?). It seems like she’s a few years younger than us, has the kind of long, dark hair my husband loves and wouldn’t roll her eyes at him the way I do when he talks about wanting more cats.
“If I die or get really sick, you should date her,” I told my husband after leaving her office one day (not the day we put April down).
“Stop it,” he answered. “Don’t talk like that.”
But it’s silly not to discuss death or illness, I protested. Dancing around the topic is like neglecting to put money away for our kids’ college fund because neither will be gleefully crossing a campus with knapsacks slung over their shoulders for another 13 years. I understand we’re all supposed to live in the moment, but the “what ifs” can keep me up at night. I’m aware of the fact that I’m creating a false comfort zone, but unless I feel there are perfectly viable solutions to how to handle things that are definitely, 100 percent going to happen one day, I don’t feel settled.
And so, that’s how our veterinarian became my kids’ future stepmother.
Over the years, I’ve come across stories of wives and sometimes husbands (but more often wives) who “let” their men date other women after they are suddenly diagnosed with debilitating conditions that leave them physically and mentally unable to be intimate. If my feelings about this scenario were a banana split, the slow burn I feel when I picture my husband kissing the nape of a beautiful woman’s healthy and smooth neck, while I sit in a chair in a dark room watching the Wheel of Fortune and trying to pretend I’m not in pain, are like the frothy, flimsy whipped cream on top. My immediate thought is, Seriously, you a**? You can’t masturbate until they either find a cure for my disease or I’m treated to eternal peace?
And then I dig deeper to the chocolate and vanilla ice cream and, beneath that, the healthy piece of fruit waiting under all of those airy thoughts. What if I were sick for years? What if, when faced with the reality of sickness, sex becomes that thing you thought you’d miss when you were a little kid (I think of how my daughter insists she’ll always want to play with her Barbies) but then find is a magical, but primitive way of connecting with another human? What if one of the miraculous outcomes of human suffering is an ability to rise above basic, carnal connections, feel someone else’s soul and consider their sexual urges the way you would food and drink?
I’m not that evolved yet, believe me. Like I said, nape of the neck is as far as I’m willing to take fantasies of my husband having sexy times with another woman. And I realize it’s easy to throw around pretend scenarios when you aren’t actually battling an illness and aren’t forced to summon forth every bit of strength within you to get through the day. I hope I can be like those women I’ve read about, the ones who know their value as humans and wives is eternal and not linked to satisfying everyday urges.
Before I realized the procedure could be reversed, I asked my husband not to consider a vasectomy for one reason only. Should something happen to me, I want him to meet another woman, date again, marry her and give our children a mom. If she wants to have her own children, I want him to be able to take part in that joy, so that they can share a new life together and add to the love we’ve already created with our own children.
My husband falling in love again doesn’t mean I vanish from his memories — but if he’s lucky enough to meet a wonderful and caring woman (cough, like our vet), he needs to keep living and loving.