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Marriage, Grief, and Moments of Truth

Sometimes we don't get the answers we seek. Sometimes we create a narrative that helps us make sense of our world. This is mine, and he, too, has his own.
12/21/2015 04:00pm ET | Updated December 21, 2016
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A bad night.

Bad dreams.

Lying in bed in darkness and silence.

Did I feel alone when he was present in that darkness and silence?

I remember hearing him get ready for work: showering, the creak of the closet door in the other room, the music coming from his routine of yoga stretches. It seemed as though my presence had little impact in his private world. That cursory kiss, where, in the final months, I noticed he would come close and just miss my mouth.

He would ask about his tie: Yes? No?

Will you make me oatmeal? Of course.

He looked at the headlines from his iphone, his mind was completely focused on work: he was committed to his job. He was very successful: saw himself as a spokesperson for the urban poor, for those less fortunate. He loved humanity, but he had difficulties with people.

He hardly saw me--only in the context of his own existence--within his own sphere, his own orbit--the air he took in to live and breathe by--he never left that--a closed system.

Yet I took comfort in his company--it was what he gave me--his presence. And that is a lot in any relationship. We were companions, and good companions when I didn't have emotional needs. But when difficulty struck our lives, he couldn't take it. If it couldn't be fixed with a few phone calls, a meeting, some money maybe, then the problem needed to be abandoned. And if the problem lasted more than a few days, things grew worse.

Did he take it as a failure on his part? Not to be able to fix the problem?

I remember giving him a quotation by Jung to keep on his dresser (in an attempt to suggest he look at the world from another angle). "The serious problems in life...are never fully solved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our working at it incessantly." He liked it. But it wasn't his approach to life, or a way of problem solving.

I came to accept his limitations, appreciate what he was able to give and have my emotional needs met by others in my life. But I never ceased being curious about his behavior--and imagined therapy would unravel the truth of his universe.

One day I came across an article on aspergers--signs, signals, indicators. As I read it, I realized that my husband met a number of the symptoms of someone with this syndrome: difficulty with friendships, inability to make eye contact, periods of mutism as a child, no sense of humor or inability to hear nuances of language despite wide vocabulary, engages in one-sided, longwinded conversations without noticing if the listener is still listening.

Several years ago his coworkers threw him a party, as he had accepted a new position. As a hoax, a colleague made eyeglasses with open eyes painted in them--for his colleagues in his next work place. The joke was, that people could wear them when he was talking and appear like they were awake. He didn't get it.

I remember saying, a number of times, "Hey, what I said was funny! It's a joke!" And in a flat monotone he'd say, "I know, I get it," without looking up from the newspaper, without making eye contact. He had no close friends he spent time with other than me.

But the most difficult characteristic was, does not empathize with or seems insensitive to others' feelings and has a hard time 'reading' other people. I made no sense to him sometimes. When my mother became ill, and I spent months at her bedside, and grieving her death, he confided to a friend of mine who had called to see how I was, he replied, "I don't understand, the woman was old, why is she so upset?" Again, back to my female friends for nourishment and support. Once when I tried to gingerly approach the topic of asperger's, he became very angry and told me I didn't know what I was talking about. Perhaps. I showed him the article. His response: idiots. It was easy for him to call people idiots. He is extremely smart and well educated--a trained mathematician and scientist, fields asperger's often excel in.

When we first met, he insisted on our first vacation together that we go canoe camping in the Adirondacks. I had never done this before. I was up for the challenge. I wanted to know him better; this seemed like a good thing, an adventure--physically, emotionally. And I knew it was important to him. During one of the hikes we did on the trip, he insisted on going up a steep climb that had been closed. A sign read that some fallen trees had blocked the trail. We climbed up anyway. He insisted. I had branch marks all across my face. I was exhausted, but feeling like I'd be a wimp if I said, "enough, let's go back." So we went to the summit. All views had been obstructed--it was a disaster. I couldn't figure out why he had insisted on going up; it seemed tenacity mixed with arrogance. But it also wasn't safe. He seemed impervious to that.

Even walks could be, a strain, as he turned them into opportunities to instruct me about plants, trees; or "let's turn here, no this way, or, just a bit further." It seemed important to him to be in control of where, what, when.

Which he did for most of our marriage.

How close were we?

Ever?

But then a child in our life died-suddenly and tragically, a beloved niece, 25 years old, who had lived with us at varying times and was very much a part of our lives. Her death was a problem that would never be solved. My grief was inconsolable in the weeks and months that followed. My sadness grew, and I couldn't see his.

I recall a few times he'd come back into the house a few minutes after leaving for work--forgetting something. I would be sitting at the kitchen table crying--if it were obvious (my crying), he'd come over and give me a squeeze--not a gentle hug, a squeeze. But most times he'd pretend like he didn't see me crying, and maybe he didn't, maybe in truth, he never saw it. It takes effort to see other people, to see beyond the dailiness of tasks, and to be curious about what they carry within, even those you are the closest to, the ones you love.

I remember driving to go visit our second grandchild who had just been born, and named Daniel. My husband thought about his own Uncle Danny. He told me a story about going to Aunt Dottie and Uncle Danny's apartment when he was growing up. They were talkative, loud, brash and funny. His words. He said he had remembered thinking that he wished his own family (the one he grew up in) was more like Uncle Danny's. The most touching, meaningful thing he ever shared with me. That told me a great deal.

Since he left our home, I have rarely seen him. Not my choice, I wanted to be with him. He was my companion, for better, for worse. I wanted him to comfort me in my grief, his grief, too, I thought. I wanted him to bear witness to it, the both of us together. But he couldn't do it. He couldn't even bear to hear my voice on the phone, and he couldn't look grief in the face.

Sometimes we don't get the answers we seek. Sometimes we create a narrative that helps us make sense of our world. This is mine, and he, too, has his own.