And the nurse said "You two are making me cry." Which was kind of startling -- we were just glad to see each other. But there's this script that kicks in, and Marsha and I have parts in it. We used to get so mad when random strangers would come up and (speaking as usual to the able-bodied one) tell me how wonderful I was. For being with someone I loved. Sheesh! (Not that this nurse was rude; she was very sweet.)
But there's a lot of pressure (mostly internal, of course) to fit into the script. Marsha and I once watched a tear-jerker called The Notebook. Gena Rowlands plays a woman with Alzheimer's and James Garner her husband, who visits her at her nursing home and reads her a story from a notebook he brings.
Turns out that the story is the story of their lives, and the notebook is the book she's written about it. Her Alzheimer's is advanced enough that she doesn't recognize him or the story, except sometimes after he's read to her long enough. After we've finished the flashbacks to their younger selves, she does get a little of her memory back and they have a touching scene -- until she forgets him again and starts shouting at the stranger in her room. The nursing home staff come in and drag him away, he has a heart attack, he finally heals well enough to sneak into her room again, she recognizes him, they die in each others' arms, the end.
That story, or something like it, tugs at me all the time. But it's not my story. Not all of my story. I love Marsha to the bottom of my heart -- that's a truth. And there is more to me than being the James Garner character in The Notebook. For the first eight years Marsha and I were together I had another lover. (I still miss her.) Presumably if those random people had known that, they'd have come up to me to tell me what a cad I was. Or more likely they'd have simply avoided us -- perhaps we should have handed out little brochures: "What's Actually Going On Here, and Why You Might Want to Go Away." (There's more to Marsha than playing the Gena Rowlands role, too. For one thing, she doesn't have Alzheimer's. The M.S. causes weird cognitive deficits as well as the physical symptoms, but she's bright and fierce and her reading material is still more high-brow than anything I've ever read.)
I plan to go on living for some decades after she's gone, and I'm trying to live a life that includes being whatever-the-heck I am to Marsha: person-who-keeps-her-alive (as long as she wants to be) is half of the job description, and priest of her dying (when it comes to that) is another half, and ex-lover and dearest friend are in there somewhere. Where was I?
I want a life that includes being what I am to Marsha, and also that includes the sort of support and shared joy (and let's not forget sex) that for most people comes from their life partner. I have a lot of experience with sharing pain and giving support, a lot of skills. I'm proud of that. As Callan says, that means I'll get more of it. That's fine. I've chosen this. And I choose more. Sharing pain and sharing joy. That's probably not realistic. I want it anyway. I want to deviate from the script. I want it for me, and I want it for everybody. I want the movie to show a whole set of loves reading that notebook to Gena Rowlands, and being with her as she dies, and living on.