As a child, my life revolved around a few occasions; Halloween, Christmas, my birthday and LAGOON. The big, white, rickety roller coaster was what dreams were made of, and wild Merry-Go-Round horses couldn’t keep me from its wooden frame.
My dad would usually be my seat mate, while my mother was found sitting on a bench in front of each attraction, reading a book until we were finished. This was absolutely stunning to me. Why would she intentionally avoid fun? So I made a loud declaration when she refused my invitation to come along.
“WHEN I AM A MOM, I WILL ALWAYS, ALWAYS RIDE THE RIDES!”
“Good for you, dear,” she replied, and turned the page of her paperback.
Then came sixteen—a magical age, to be sure. But not just because of the driver’s license and dating. No, what I remember most was rushing toward a big, blue metal garbage can after climbing off the Tilt-o-whirl. And I knew then, Lagoon and I were over.
Years later, when Sterling and I began dating, I told him that I get really motion sick, but he couldn’t hear me because he was busy swerving around on the road.
So I told him that I get really, really, really, really motion sick. And he said, “Wait, what?” And drove 90 mph up the mountainside, flipped a 180 and skidded to a stop backwards.
This went on for months, well into our first year of marriage. Every once in a while, he’d say, “So, what exactly does it feel like? Do you get dizzy or what?” And I’d try to explain, but it was useless, because he’d never experienced it himself.
Then one day, we went to Lagoon. And he rode the Tidal Wave. When he stumbled off the pirate ship, all gray-green pasty faced and cold sweating through his shirt, he swallowed past the restriction in his throat and garbled out, “Is THIS what motion sick feels like?”
And I nodded while clearing a path for him to rush the same blue metal garbage can, knowing my work here was done—the bliss that accompanied his ignorance was no more. True empathy had been realized.
Of course we hit rocky roads further ahead. Like the time he sat next to me in the hospital and ordered and ate an entire pizza, while I sucked on ice chips preparing to give birth to our firstborn son.
Also, that same day, literally right in the middle of a contraction, he grabbed his forehead and said, “Oh my gosh, I have THEE WORST HEADACHE, Lis! You have no idea how bad this hurts! Seriously, this pain is awful! I need to go sit down. Hold on just a minute.”
Yeah. Rocky Roads like that. But this is not to suggest that I wasn’t also a perp. Just a few years ago, I was safe in the midst of one of my extremely rare, nearly nonexistent, healthy lifestyle periods—exercising, snacking on tuna fish and kicking my sugar habit to the curb, (it has since returned with a vengeance, tattoos, and addicted to crack).
Also, my migraines were giving me a reprieve, and I believed I was to blame for my good fortune, so I felt compelled to let Sterling know that his poor choices were leading him to an early grave. My eyebrows and pointer finger were perpetually lifted when I spoke to him.
He would come home from a long day at work, complaining about his aching back or wrenched shoulder, and I’d say something like, “I really think something is wrong with you. You drink too much pop. You should eat peas, like me. Then you wouldn’t be getting old before your time.”
He’d argue with me a bit, saying it probably had less to do with Coke, and more to do with 14 hour days and removing a thousand pound engine with his bare hands, but I was unbelieving, insisting he was flawed.
Until one day, the gods of sanctimony stopped smiling upon me and in one 24 hour period—AND EVEN WITH PEAS IN MY HAND AND TUNA FISH ON MY BREATH, PEOPLE—I threw out my back, had heart palpitations and started a four day migraine.
Which is when Sterling lifted a finger, pointed it right at me and said, “Well now...it looks like something is wrong with YOU!”
Surprisingly, that did not make me love him more. Bless his heart. But I for sure had a surge of empathy as I walked in his shoes, and that helped instigate a pact; Compassion, not condemnation. Sensitivity, not shame.
This has served us well in our marriage, and will do so even more as we morph into old age. Because heaven knows, the ailments we’re each going to face will be much more bearable if there’s someone by our side with a fistful of medicine and a kiss on the forehead, rather than a hand on the hip and a bag of peas...even though peas are pretty tasty when you wash them down with chocolate. Or so I’ve heard.