It all started with a demand from one of my longtime friends. "Now that Tommy is gone,” she said, “you've got to get off your couch and go out in the evenings." She is a persuasive woman, someone who easily wins any debate.
She pressed on, "I remember you used to love going to plays."
"I have to go to bed at eight so I can get up at four and start my work,” I said. I assumed she’d applaud my entrepreneurial spirit, but instead she countered:
"That's nuts." I have heard that diagnosis from many others.
I once could use my husband as an excuse for staying in. There was a time when he and I were frequent theatre-goers, and there were many evenings when we joined friends for dinner. But as his brain degeneration worsened, and his aphasia left him unable to speak one word, we discarded those pastimes.
"It just wasn't fun anymore," I told her. She’s a very empathetic person, so I thought this tack might get her to go easy on me. "Tommy couldn't join in on conversations at a restaurant,” I continued, “and at the theatre, I'd worry if he went to the men's room on his own. He refused to let me stand outside the door, but I was afraid he wouldn't be able to find his way back to our seats."
My poignant story did slow her down, but it was temporary. "So, now?" she asked.
"I love T.V.," I admitted. "For me, a perfect evening is bringing a dinner tray to the couch and watching one of the shows I taped the night before." I felt my heart lighten as I conjured the scene. Bliss for me; evidently a horror story for my friend, who was wrinkling her nose as if my laptop meal had gone sour.
"That's awful," she said.
I ignored her disdain and for a moment, continued my meditation. Except for the dinner tray, that was how my husband and I spent our evenings. We stretched out on couches that faced each other. But instead of chatting across the coffee table, our focus was on a procedural drama, such as the entire "Law and Order" franchise that was playing out on the screen.
Amazingly, for two people so different from each other, we enjoyed the very same television shows and routine. There were no disputes coming from our dual couches; it was simply a scroll through "My Recordings" to decide on the one we'd watch for the evening.
"That's why our marriage has lasted as long as it has," I often told friends. We were nearing our 15-year anniversary, which I considered a record for the second-time around and for such a mismatched pair. I'd further explain: "Tommy's Gentile; I'm Jewish. He has no kids; I've got two and grandchildren. I have a master's degree; Tommy never went to college. He lived on a budget; I was married to a doctor. But, we both love staying home and watching the same television programs."
In fact, our passion for our couch potato lifestyle was so strong that we came to begrudge invitations for evenings out. "We're hosting Passover dinner," another very longtime friend had said, "but I know you don't want to come." Sweetly, the invitations continued despite her anticipating my response.
But now, with Tommy gone, without my head wrapped around his caregiving, my nights on the couch are starting to fray. I'm getting lonely. I admit that evenings out to theatre, to dinner, to the event I just ordered tickets for, are becoming more appealing.
I'm even managing my dislike for nighttime driving by using taxicabs. And, I'm adjusting to getting gussied up as the sky darkens. To prevent head- and eye-droops as the evening wears on, I take catnaps. Slowly, one event at a time, one limb at a time, I’m peeling this small and stubborn body off the couch.