On Hope

By Jen Agg

When my husband suffered a stroke, I was determined that this was not going to be the thing that unwound our love.

Jen Agg is the owner of Bar Vendetta, Grey Gardens, Rhum Corner and Le Swan in Toronto, and the...

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I was rowing when it happened. I heard a thud, the kind of full, invasive sound that could only be a body buckling to the floor. It’s amazing I even heard it. My computer had died and whatever mindless rowing show I’d been watching had left my AirPods. It’s also amazing I was still home. I’d had a late start that day and was running about an hour behind. It’s funny how those sorts of random occurrences take on deep significance when they are simply fortunate.

I knew what was going on the moment I rushed up two flights of stairs and found him. The kind of stroke my husband Roland had that morning, basilar artery ischemic, is not the sort of thing you want to be googling. It has a high mortality rate in cases where the victim (and yes, you are very much the victim, a stroke attacks cruelly) is not given prompt medical attention—if, for example, they are home alone. Somehow, in another (ahem) stroke of luck, we happen to live just a few small blocks from the best stroke hospital in the country. Roland was at the hospital very, very quickly. 

I remember every detail of that day. I remember how long the ambulance idled in front of our house. Our son Jamal and I stood on the lawn in the April chill. Way underneath the magical thinking of this is going to be fine, I was quietly hysterical. I remember thinking, people should know how much pain I’m in right now, like I already knew it was going to be a long road. I remember the kindness of the first-responder medic, who rolled her eyes with me when her clueless partner asked what my relationship to Roland was as I was stroking his face. I ran into her hours later, my car illegally parked on a street near Toronto Western Hospital. Why wasn’t he already in surgery? She remembered my name and walked me in to expedite the process. I was there to sign liability paperwork—due to early COVID restrictions, that was the only reason I was even allowed inside. I was lucky enough to be able to briefly see Roland before he went into surgery. 

One of the nurses was annoyed I was there. He shoved a gown at me and grudgingly allowed me to accompany them to the stroke ward. I just kept telling Roland it would all be okay. I pulled my mask down for a moment and smiled at him. The nurse glared at me but I didn’t care, I thought there was a very real possibility I would never see my husband alive again. I probably made a few jokes which mercifully I can’t remember but can guarantee were highly inappropriate. Then I sat on the floor in the waiting room, beside a plug so I could charge my phone. It was the worst five hours of my life.

At one point, the doctors emerged and told me they’d been unsuccessful in eliminating the blockage but were going to go back in. They were performing an extremely sophisticated laparoscopic surgery. They enter through a vein in the hand. I just sat there, texting frantically with friends who couldn’t be with me. David, a friend and colleague, came and waved from the street. I could see him but he couldn’t see me, which is a great metaphor for how I actually felt, completely alone, invisible. The waiting room was almost totally empty, many of the chairs taped over, signs of COVID everywhere. 

Finally the doctors reappeared. Was it the same doctors? I couldn’t be sure. He had survived and was resting in post-op and no, I absolutely couldn’t see him because of COVID. I went home completely numb and friends brought dinner. It was soft, whatever it was, and I could just let it slide in. I had zero appetite even though I’d eaten nothing all day but I needed something to soak up the three glasses of wine I chugged. Later in the evening, Roland called me. He was pretty out of it, but he was alive.

*

Our life before the stroke had been a whirlwind: me refusing to stop building restaurants, Roland painting more in the last fifteen years than he had in the twenty prior. In some ways we are each other’s muses. He is the person I want to most impress with all the ways I choose to flex creatively and I know he only cares about my feedback on his visually arresting, large-format paintings: portraits that will stop you in your tracks, eyes that jump off the canvas and bore into you.

When COVID hit, all of that ground to an immediate halt. Being in lockdown, even for those of us able to do that in the most privileged way possible, still felt like the kind of dream that has an ominous soundtrack. Things seemed, ostensibly, okay—shaking a daiquiri for cocktail hour is fun, for a minute. But the restaurant business reality of no revenue for the foreseeable future quickly set in. The stroke got way out in front of all my fears about losing five successful businesses, literally how we eat. A really good way to stop caring about potentially devastating financial consequences is to only care about whether your husband lives or does not. 

*

What I wasn’t expecting was how normal it would all eventually feel. The way we could adjust to vastly different circumstances, like newly wet flour in yeasted bread dough settling into a pan, proofing into all the nooks and crannies, breathing in the constraints, like it’s nothing. 

A medium-plus stroke is not nothing. But in the months after, it somehow went from feeling like everything to just being a thing we deal with. This happened at a glacially slow pace, as all things in stroke recovery do—can you still call something glacially slow if the icebergs are melting way too fast? (“Yes!” a pedantic loser cried from the balcony, “the metaphor is about speed of movement, not the climate crisis!”)

Obviously everyone’s stroke “journey” is different and some people make fast(ish) and almost total recoveries, but that has not been our experience. Even though Roland had the stroke, I very much think of it as our experience, because when you live with someone and love them and are also in some ways a caregiver, you are very much in it with them. This can be incredibly isolating, not just in a practical sense, but in a way that makes you feel as though no one can really understand, unless they’ve been through it.

At first it was the destabilizing uncertainty: would it be a bad day, or a rare good day? How could I keep both our moods afloat when I was working really hard on the basics of our survival while maintaining an unbreakable facade of hopefulness? Was there effort in that? I don’t remember. Roland was sad a lot at the beginning and I knew I couldn’t let that sadness drown us both. Many of life’s challenges force reaction and demand a change of perspective, but particularly with health issues, you have to really be committed or the ugliness of it can win. I absolutely refused to let it. This was not going to be the thing that unwound our love—a love born in a fireball of attraction, bonded over a shared enemy and nurtured over decades of simply never being bored of each other or running out of fascinating things to talk about while remaining enthralled with each others’ faces.

The first week was scary. There is an increased chance of a second stroke in the immediate aftermath of a first one, so getting through that first week is nonstop stress. My adrenaline was pumping, I felt coked out. I barely slept and hardly ate. I still couldn’t see him in person. Roland’s face sagged on the right side, and his right eye drooped and wasn’t properly doing its job. On the second day, already transferred from Western to a rehab centre—a good sign! and a place I hope to never see again—Roland walked to the washroom on his own. This made it seem like the stroke hadn’t done too much damage. But this walk was a false flag. It turned out the stroke was still evolving and hadn’t finished wrecking shit yet.

On day five, still unable to see him in person, I got a call that he’d have to go back to the hospital. I collapsed as the doctor was patiently explaining what was going on. Well, not so much collapsed as slowly sunk to the floor. The MRI confirmed what the doctors suspected, that it was the “best case scenario,” an evolving stroke. It did not sound particularly best to me. I begged the doctor to let me come see Roland, but got nowhere.

That was the second-worst day of my life, waiting by the phone and feeling completely without control and terrified that the man I loved so much was going to die alone, in a hospital. I don’t know who I was more scared for, me or him. I remember Jamal trying to comfort me in this moment but I couldn’t be comforted. I waved him away and distracted myself by pacing around a house that felt shrouded in fear, a marked departure from our usual Haitian music, accompanied by Roland loudly unloading the dishwasher while I sat in my chair, laptop and phone in eyeline, putting out fires and maybe writing something about how annoying the restaurant business is

I was suffering from PTSD and I kept replaying the fall over and over to the point where I stepped around the space on our bedroom floor where he’d collapsed as though there was police murder tape outlining a body.

Roland eventually moved back to rehab. He called it “jail.” The longest they will let you stay is seven weeks, and the doctors and physiotherapists were all strongly encouraging him to stay the full tour. Most of the nurses were perfunctory at best, with a couple of exceptions. Obviously they were working under very taxing circumstances, but as a patient, maybe Roland shouldn’t have a clear memory of one of them checking him a little too coldly for death signs. He said he felt like they were just waiting for him to die.

I was totally unmoored. I felt all my roots pull out and revolt, my sense of self tangled up in fear of the unknown. I didn’t cry much, I just got numb. I am so used to being in control of what happens to me that when it was ripped away I was like a beach ball floating out to sea, getting tossed by waves I’d never seen coming.

I continued sleeping and eating the bare minimum. I will be forever grateful to a small group of pals who took turns dropping off dinner because I really couldn’t take care of myself. All I could see was cloudy grief and all I could do was soft focus on Mad Men. I pretty much retreated from my life, which wasn’t hard because, thanks to COVID, most people were doing the same, retreating. It felt like the whole world had stopped anyway, so my world being yanked to a halt didn’t register much. 

I didn’t want to take sleeping pills or eat weed because Strokey had no sense of time. He would call at all hours and I never wanted to miss a FaceTime. I wouldn’t let him see me cry, I felt like my only job was to keep his spirits up. Even if I had allowed myself a rare bout of tears, when he called I wiped my eyes, taped on a smile and slid the phone open … it’s called acting, and it actually helped me cope, in a strange way. Knowing I had to be strong for someone allowed me to access more bedrock than I even knew I had.

It was around this time I discovered ASMR videos, out of desperation. I truly cannot explain why someone role-playing a doctor or aesthetician or giving me an eye exam in a whispered voice (shout out August and Whisper Audios and obviously Maria) would be so relaxing and lull me to sleep, but it really helped. I only just recently weaned myself off regular use of them as a sleep tool (in an ironic twist, watching videos right before bed can’t actually be all that good for you, even if it’s effective short-term).

Roland tried hard to keep his spirits up but it was very, very difficult. COVID protocols meant many hours a day alone and the ward was    understaffed. There is a strange phenomenon that is common after a stroke in which you may become far more emotional, called emotional lability, and yes, it feels like a liability, to so much, if you’ll allow the almost-homonym. In Roland’s case this often manifested in sudden-onset bouts of tears, which was so hard to see through a screen and so extremely out of character. The doctors wanted to put him on antidepressants (they were often looking for quick solutions to make the rehab day-to-day easier but those solutions didn’t usually take in the big picture). I was positive Roland’s depression was circumstantial and would lift when he came home. We discussed it at length. I was nervous about making a potentially wrong decision but some part of me felt sure antidepressants were not the right way to go (though obviously they are right for some and have helped many, many people). We opted not to do it.

Around that time one of the rehab social workers decided it was good social work to tell us that maybe this was it, that perhaps he wouldn’t improve any more, which was absolute bullshit and borderline cruel. Even if it had been a reasonable prediction (he couldn’t walk at the time), it wasn’t (because now he can), and there is no way this is a good thing to say to people in week three of stroke recovery who desperately need the motivational power of hope. I was furious and complained about her and have no regrets. That is sadistic behaviour, a way for a person who feels small to taste a little power.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom at Toronto Rehab (a place I suspect is vastly better in non-COVID times). There were a couple of people who went above and beyond. A nurse, Gita, showed Roland tremendous kindness and extended humanity in a forehead touch or words of encouragement. And Jennifer, a personal support worker, sat with Roland while he ate lunch, mostly so he wouldn’t choke on his food, but the company was appreciated as he slowly and carefully taught himself to use cutlery with a hand that wasn’t fully tuned in. We FaceTimed many times a day but it wasn’t the same as being there. The weeks just kept ticking by.

It was somewhere in these grey and fuzzy weeks that I started really working out, like maybe I took it a bit far? I had done Pilates and weights and some light cardio for years but I amped it up considerably, rowing for thirty minutes six days a week, doing twenty minutes of Pilates, yoga or weights and then thirty minutes of hula hooping, just to put a fairly low-impact workout into the “maybe a bit much?” category. I’ve only cut the time down a little bit as I’ve gotten more into lifting, which is quite possibly the perfect workout, or at least, it’s what I’m currently obsessed with. It did wonders for my ability to cope, which had started to feel quite tenuous. Of course I told no one how unhinged I was feeling, because I’m terrible at asking for help. 

It’s funny to be so aware of all the things I’m bad at. Here’s a list: 

Things I Am Bad At (an ever-evolving list):

  • Asking for help: Number one thing for sure, I would far rather suffer in silence than try to explain why I am feeling sad to even the best pal
  • Letting go of control: Whether it’s as a table boss or just in general, my instinct is to be a decision maker. It’s something I consciously work on and every once in a while I just let someone else drive, and it’s nice!
  • Constant productivity: I can be lazy in ways that would astound. Some days I will simply choose to do nothing and honestly I don’t even feel bad about it
  • Being empathetic enough: Under some circumstances I can lack appropriate empathy. I usually get there eventually, but my instinct is towards harsh judgments, maybe unnecessarily harsh
  • Letting go of dead horse grudges: I will simply keep beating them, sometimes quietly, to myself, sometimes screaming from Twitter
  • Hearing all the praise: Even though the dumb insults flow right off, the architecture of the gatekeeping, the sense that there are forces at work to actively keep me down never fully leaves. And even if a lot of that is actually true and we obviously know that misogyny … exists, I could maybe focus a little more on the positives
  • Making money: I could’ve made so much more money if I had just played a different game
  • But then the final “what-are-your-flaws-that-you-are-quietly-spinning-into-positives-as-you-go-down-the-list thing” is being bad at giving a shit: I truly don’t care about all the garbage bridges I’ve burned. I didn’t really want to cross them anyway … imagine wanting to be famous? Disgusting.

I’m unable to really do anything about all of this, despite trying. Yes, I have tried TRYING. I will never be good at asking for help, it’s simply not in my DNA, but I am aware enough to have warned a few friends I’ll need to be on suicide watch when Roland dies, as life would seem quite pointless without him. I learned this while we were apart for almost seven weeks. I suppose it’s possible I’ll die first, but it seems like a bad bet.

One thing I am good at is kicking up a stink. The head of Toronto Rehab had naively given me his cell number and, citing Roland’s mental health hanging in the balance, I bugged him so much he caved and let me sneak into the facility four times in ten days for evening visits, which massively cheered Roland. He was miserable and wanted to come home so badly, but of course, the rehab doctors wanted him to complete the recommended stay, and so did I. I was concerned his mobility was still too limited to safely navigate our house, despite my efforts to add some ease with toilet and shower bars. (The day after Roland came home the ban on visits from partners/essential caregivers was lifted. I’d like to think I played a tiny part in that. Masks work and it was a cruel separation.)

*

Home day was late June. I had arranged for a physiotherapist to come to our house. I found him through Twitter (can’t fully hate that hellsite, have made a lot of pals on there). His wife reached out to me when I was crowdsourcing, looking for the best physiotherapist in the city. I sent him an email and he replied with so much empathy and shared so many recovery stories, I knew we should work with him. 

Roland was skeptical. “He is just trying to get a client,” he told me. But also, Roland’s brain was fucked up! He wasn’t thinking straight and he was wrong. David Frake of Balance Physiotherapy has been a life-changing person. It is no exaggeration to say that I have no idea how we would have come this far without him. The care he puts in, the hope he endlessly provides, it has been the single most important thing for us. He goes so far above and beyond the hour-long weekly physiotherapy sessions he has with Roland on Fridays. I have sent him many text messages when things have felt a little bleak, because the real cunty part of stroke recovery is that it’s unreliable.

When Roland couldn’t see properly out of his sluggish and sagging right eye, he insisted that he would be happy as long as his eye recovered, which he didn’t believe would ever happen. It eventually did, and he just replaced that goal with other impossible-seeming ones. The happiness he expected to feel over his recovered eye was not proportional to the relatively quick recovery of said eye. Happiness in general, at this time, was elusive. Because even though you are always making progress, it is one step forward, two steps (five steps?) back. The plateaus between progress jumps can be six weeks long, so you constantly feel like you’ve hit the final recovery wall, that there may be no place left for the goalposts to move. That’s the thing about recovery: you are always moving the posts in terms of what is acceptable, and based on many conversations, I know the only thing that is actually acceptable to Roland is walking and existing as he used to.

Within a couple of days of being home, Roland was chewing something and spat out most of a molar. Yes, absolutely, this is what we needed right now, a broken tooth and a dentist visit post-stroke at the height of the first lockdown, the first of many, it would turn out. Remember being super scared of getting COVID? Because I do, and going to the dentist felt extremely high risk, but what choice did we have? I parked as close as I possibly could to the entrance to the office on Bathurst, but there was construction and a lane closure so I couldn’t pull over right out front. The best I could do was just around the corner. We had a walker for Roland, but he didn’t want to use it (pride, stupid stubbornness?) so Jamal and I just held onto him as we took a thirty-meter walk that felt like a mile. He did not get COVID at the dentist. 

Those first few weeks at home feel like they were a million years ago. They say you don’t remember pain but I’m not sure that’s what I felt. I was so relentlessly hopeful and positive and I just dug into that, even as Roland was unable to walk on his own (we had a walker on every floor to assist him and going up the stairs involved a lot of effort on his part and mine, as I lifted his disloyal right leg for each step). On his first night back I cooked poached chicken with ginger scallion sauce and steamed a big pile of vegetables with a small side of brown rice. I wanted to vastly change his eating habits to help stave off another stroke. He was not impressed. And I was extremely not impressed by his disappointment. We had a small argument and I very quickly realized he wasn’t fully himself, which scared the hell out of me.

But that this was one of maybe two or three disagreements over the last two (almost three) years frankly feels like a fucking miracle. We slowly learned to navigate his healing. I learned to be very soft and forgiving of things that might once have irked me. He napped a lot in those early days of recovery, sometimes sleeping more than fourteen hours a day. I continued to cook healthy food but stayed away from poached chicken breast, a leg man is a leg man. (Though I do think it’s worth pointing out that I make very delicious poached chicken.) 

I started describing a stroke as a twenty-car pile-up on the highway of your brain’s quickest route. Recovery is the next car getting off the highway just before the devastation and twisted-up metal of cars blocking the road, except it’s night time, and the power is out, and it’s a thunderstorm and actually, turns out there is no road. So one car slowly and timidly draws a new path where there never was one. Your brain is resourceful this way, but it’s slow going. After a while, all the cars start taking this newly formed exit and your brain learns a whole new way of communicating with your body. It isn’t just the slow mobility or plodding “stroke walk” we are always fighting against to ward off permanence. It’s waking up feeling shitty most days and knowing how hard that is as a constant and working to try and bury that feeling, which in itself is effort. I remember assuming there was going to be a moment where everything would feel like it was going to be okay and I’d cry and it would be like this sappy TV show snapshot, but that has never happened. Roland’s first steps unassisted were across our front porch late in the afternoon on July 1. Even though we were both overjoyed, it didn’t have that sigh of relief, everything-is-fine vibe. Recovery is so torturously slow that you almost don’t notice it. This is why I record Roland’s walk all the time. He needs to be able to see how far he’s come. I see it, but it can feel imperceptible and if you let it, and that’s where hope can get sucked out, Dementor-style. And what you need to keep moving forward in impossible-seeming circumstances is hope. So we just keep having it.

Some days it feels okay. Roland is able to speak at close to his pre-stroke pace, and he seems less bogged down by foggy neural pathways. These days are the pins in the mountain that keep the whole climb from falling apart, but they are also psychologically torturous. Knowing that it is possible to feel better, but often not in fact feeling that—the frustration of that would knock me right down. But Roland works so hard to stay optimistic and keep hope alive. I know I am a huge part of that. To try and recover from a stroke without a devoted partner? I can’t even imagine. We have a running joke where he’ll respond to some low-level annoyance of mine with, “Don’t worry honey, I’ll died soon” (which is precisely how he says it in his own particular vernacular) and then I wait a beat and say, “But when?” Every once in a while, he’ll add an addendum that takes a dark quip and forces too much reality onto it, noting that if he ever has another stroke I should let him die. These kinds of conversations about our mortal fragility are important and more people should have them—autonomy over our own bodies is essential, even if it includes not wanting to exist in them anymore—but I am not always able to face that version of reality, especially while already confronted by so much of it. Obviously I would prefer Roland had not suffered a massive stroke that has infected his (perfect) walk. Yes, I miss seeing him stride toward me. It would always raise my heart rate a bit, confidence personified in movement. But I am so grateful he is still fundamentally the same person. I know we aren’t supposed to think in terms of it could have been worse, BUT IT COULD HAVE BEEN! Many stroke survivors experience massive personality shifts and memory issues and I don’t know how we would possibly navigate that. Learning to walk again, even though it is too slow for two impatient people, feels surmountable. The nebulous fog of the unknown—will he paint again, will he ever wake up not feeling like he was run over by a truck, will he walk close to normally and have his old energy back—can seem like an impossible maze, but it’s one we need to stay put in, because it’s the hope that keeps us going. How would we cope if it ever were to feel hopeless?

He still hasn’t painted. The thought that he might not again is unbearable for me, but for him, the focus is on survival, painting feels less urgent. A small mercy that he isn’t aching for it, although he recently mentioned an urge to for the first time since the stroke. Occasionally he gets very wistful and introspective and asks me if this is how people will remember him, which guts me. I have so many memories of him pre-stroke and while I can hold on to them and think fondly of a time in our lives when we weren’t mired in the worst parts of recovery, I also have a strong sense of who he is fundamentally. Even though our lives are maybe less carefree now, my love, adoration, and respect for him remain unchanged, perhaps even elevated by the boundless tenderness that one must access when caregiving.

I don’t fully understand where I am in terms of processing because a large part of plowing ahead through the obstacles of stroke recovery is this whole keeping hope alive thing. And maybe a little bit of that is believing in something that isn’t achievable. Almost three years on, I am not prepared to accept that we have reached any sort of pinnacle of recovery, but is that naive? I wonder what would happen if I had to acknowledge that this is as good as it gets,which, our physiotherapist is constantly assuring me, it isn’t. But is that just part of his game at keeping us focused on physiotherapy? A so-called normal walk? This kind of circular thinking, while obviously pointless, is effective at keeping me in a state of suspended hope. I don’t try to pretend it hasn’t been traumatic, but I am good in a crisis, always have been.

One thing I can say for certain is what a profound experience it has been and is. To discover what I am capable of as a person. To know that the deep love I always believed Roland and I had is in fact extremely real. The complexities of a strange new power dynamic could easily crush the strongest relationship, which is why open communication is so important. There are unpleasant things that need acknowledging, and if you ignore them, they can swallow up all the good. I sometimes feel like Roland is so focused on his recovery that my stress is irrelevant to him. But when we talk about it, he is understanding. He gets that he is not in this alone, although I’m sure it’s easy for him to feel like he is. Roland probably has moments of feeling like he can’t criticize me, or more specifically, something I’ve said or done, as he might’ve before the stroke, because he depends on me more. which becomes especially fraught when I occasionally get sick. I was recently down for 48 hours with a barometrically swollen head, not quite a migraine but enough to make me pretty useless for day-to-day tasks. I got annoyed when Roland didn’t load the dishwasher—who is going to do it, the magic dish fairies? I heard him say “I can’t” and insisted he meant “I won’t” because even though simple tasks like that are difficult for him, he is absolutely capable, he just normally doesn’t have to, because when I’m not sick I don’t care about doing it all myself, (which is a whole other conversation about what motivates my domestic inclinations, me or the patriarchy…why not both!?) I knew saying something would only make him feel bad, but I was feeling so shitty and just couldn’t stop myself. It took some time to unwind because his first reactions in moments like that can be defensive, mostly because he feels so bad a lot of the time! It makes for complex discussions, but essential ones. Without those kinds of talks your brain is left to circle its own drain with unanswerable questions. What if I got really, actually sick? It would be like having both kidneys removed, the relationship would have no one able to clean up. We both need to understand each other or we won’t have the strength that comes from mutual support to bear the additional pressures stroke recovery heaps on us. I truly understand how hard it is for him, because I am bearing witness to it every day, and we talk about it a lot but try not to let it rule all conversation, a delicate balance. It’s very painful, physically and psychologically, and he navigates it all really well for the most part—he cracks sometimes, and so do I, but I know how lucky I am to have him and that feeling has only gotten stronger even if he (stupidly) wonders why I choose to stay with him. I joke that I can’t leave him, it would only confirm to the haters what a cunt I am if I do! Find yourself a partner with black humour and be happy for a long time.

I don’t know how you untangle your own trauma when you are focused so completely on someone else’s. Most days I think I’m fine and am exactly the kind of person who can take on this kind of constant thrum of pressure. It’s like living next to a hydro field. The result of the stroke, the hum of electricity, is always there filling in the days, influencing our lives in countless ways, but also easy to adjust to so you almost don’t hear it.

 *

I‘ve been thinking about it, my trauma in this, because of a conversation with a new pal who knew just what to ask me and intrinsically understood the complicated feelings that can exist around caregiving for a loved one. I pointed out that she seemed to understand this a little too well. “A parent?” I asked. Turns out her husband had died of cancer a few years back. She talked about how long and intense grief can be. I have been turning our conversation over, trying to figure out if I am in fact grieving something. I can honestly say I’m not. This is a lie I tell myself, because a person who is not mourning anything doesn’t randomly well up—not often, but it happens—and if it happens when I’m alone, sometimes I’ll allow strange sounds to leave my body. It would be misleading to call them anything other than grief.

I was walking around New York City recently—I left Roland for five days (very encouraged by him to do so: “Honey, you need a break from me”) for the first time since he had the stroke. I cut fruit and put it in deli containers for five breakfasts and made bulgur and bean sauce for five lunches, hopeful this would mean healthy eating (not Pizza Nova). And still, I was very anxious leading up to this trip. (I’m not an anxious person generally—I have obviously experienced anxiety over the past few years and when it does hit, I wonder, how do people live like this?) Anyway, there I was on a beautiful late autumn day, crispy skies, bright, happy sun, wandering the Lower East Side, stopping in appealing-looking stores and letting the city guide me, sitting down for a glass of chenin on a sidewalk patio before searching out the next thing, and I thought, damn, I’ll never do this with my husband ever again. I’ll never walk aimlessly around a city with him ever again. I welled up behind my sunglasses. And then I thought, he never liked doing this shit anyway.

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