Can a Pillow Be a Prophet?
My relationship with my husband has been a Shakespearean experience—true love but not running smoothly, at least not for the first decade or so.
I waited a l-o-n-g time to get married. For a long list of reasons: a relationship in my early 20s, for instance, that went painfully awry—the short version is that he married someone else while we were engaged.
Add in some abuse by my (male) pediatrician, alcoholism or mental illness in several male family members, an introverted personality, and a tendency to something called emotional anorexia—basically that would be an avoidance of actual intimate relationships, strangely coupled with seriously obsessive relationships in my mind alone with men who wouldn't and/or couldn't be available as romantic partners. And those men who were available? I ran from them. Oh my, did I run. And somewhere along the line I realized I had developed the belief that no man could ever love me—it ran through my head like a mantra. I was not a very happy camper in the relationship department.
So when in my mid-30s I met this man who was very attractive, interesting, funny, had a poet's soul, and who told me he was attracted to me, what did I do? Ran the other way, of course. And went after another guy who had already made it abundantly clear to me that he was only available as a friend.
But life takes funny turns sometimes. That man with the poet's soul? After waiting around for me to change my mind for a couple of months, he ended up getting involved with someone else. I was so relieved; the pressure was off! Every once in a while we would have a meal together, or take a walk. Which developed into a really nice friendship. Which was relatively easy for me since I knew he was involved with someone else. Until she started complaining that he was taking me out more than her. And eventually they agreed that since he was, in fact, still very interested in me (something he had carefully, and wisely, hidden from me), it would be better if they broke up.
But by then it was too late. It took a couple more months but then all in a rush I went down that slidey slope and SPLASH! Fell into the glorious, deep blue and scary sea of love.
True that I still tried to run away—sometimes literally. One night I got so overwhelmed by my fears that I ran out into the huge dark backyard of the house where I rented an apartment, trying to hide, trying to outrun my panic. He came after me and found me, put his arms around me and said, "I'm not going to let you go that easily." I cried then. Was it possible? Maybe a man could truly love me?
Then there was the odd coincidence of names—his first name was Lawrence, an old surname in my family. And the middle name of my mother and one of my brothers. That was scary enough. I came close to fainting a couple of months later when I learned that his middle name was Norman. My dad's name, and the name of my oldest brother. I had not had the best relationships with either of those brothers. What did all this interweaving of names mean? Was it fate?
But I'm not very easy to live with sometimes, I can tell you, and back then I was a lot worse. Same with him. A terrible childhood and a painful first marriage had left him with lots of scars. He guarded his heart carefully, fanatically sometimes. We fought some but we tended more to pull away. Except sometimes when he would totally shut down and retreat into himself. Then I would go in to a complete panic of abandonment, desperately and addictively trying to get him back. Which men just love. Especially men who have had invasive, abusive mothers.
What's that joke about adult children of dysfunctional families in relationship? It's like two hedgehogs making love...they have to do it very, VERY carefully. Sometimes (well really, lots of times) I wanted to leave. But we also truly enjoyed each other. The chemistry was fine. We thought the same way about a lot of things. Our sense of humor often pulled us through. And he was such a deep soul. Appreciating beauty. Struggling to know the meaning of life. So we went on. Up and down, in love but sometimes feeling pretty crazy.
One day, a few months into our relationship, he was over at my apartment. I was lying on the couch in my living room and didn't want to get up. Maybe I was sick, or I might have injured my ankle? In any case I asked him to go get a pillow I liked, one of those big ones with arms.
Okay, maybe some of you can see what's coming, depending on where you grew up and what you call those pillows. I had not heard the term "husband" applied to that type of pillow until college, when some of my dorm-mates used it. I've always been amused by that moniker, and must have shared it with him at some point.
Just a little more background here—Lawrence, who is generally pretty informal, sometimes uses rather formal, even archaic, language in a lovely and sometimes slightly ironic way. Our voicemail is an example. Instead of "good-bye" or even "farewell" he says, "Fare thee well." Which I love. It's so...Lawrence.
Anyway, here he comes, back into the living room, giant pillow in hand. I had gotten up so I could arrange the big pillow in with the others. I am adjusting things when he comes through the doorway. And in his most formal voice he says—are you ready? "The husband has arrived."
Everything stopped. I mean, the entire universe stopped for that announcement.
The. Husband. Has. Arrived.
I heard angels, or maybe it was heavenly trumpets, or perhaps it was simply the deep silence of the stars wheeling through the dark blue void. It certainly felt like synchronicity. Like God—or Somebody—had spoken.
I don't remember what happened next. After standing, stunned, for what seemed like hours, I probably muttered something dumb and took the pillow. I don't think he realized how I had heard his words.
I was elated. And terrified. And elated.
But then, as months—and then, yes, years—rolled by, and we continued to struggle, I thought again and again how very foolish I had been to put any deeper meaning into those four words. Things got better and we got engaged. Oh, so that was a divine announcement. Then things got worse again and we got un-engaged. Those stupid trumpets and wheeling stars. They were my imagination after all.
We hobbled along for a while but with some some maturing, some professional help, some healing, and with both of us realizing we were indeed happier together than apart, we began to grow and change.
The good news? We did finally get married, nine years after we first became "an item." That was almost twenty-one years ago. Of course we still have issues and problems—sometimes big ones. But we are solid now (though still very imperfect), best friends, and still in love. So it turned out to be true. The husband had, indeed, arrived. I just had to be patient. Really, really patient.
Next time I'll write about how a tree frog inspired some hope, some prayers and some self-compassion.
Brentwood Home Pillows
Andrea Hawkes, during the 2017 solar eclipse, Idaho (thanks, Andy!)