I remember the night when I first wore his sweatshirt. He must have felt me shivering on the back of his motorcycle as we were coming back from the ocean. He pulled into the parking lot in front of Kmart or some other store in Ellsworth, Maine.
“You know, I think I need to do a little shopping before classes start up again.”
I followed him in and watched as he found a blue sweatshirt and paid the clerk. No, he didn’t need a bag.
“Would you mind wearing this until I drop you off? It’ll be easier to carry that way.”
And, with a smile, I pulled the sweatshirt on over my short sleeves and climbed on the seat behind him. I don’t know how many times since then that the old sweatshirt has stayed when other clothes have been sent off as donations or to the rag bag.
Tonight I’m wearing one of his t-shirts. It’s the one he was wearing the morning before he flew off on an airplane to Alaska and it still smells like him. Seven. more. nights.
The first night my husband was gone the kids and I camped out in a little cabin. There were kids in the loft and on the floor and two in my bed.
And there was a weight in my chest. I lay awake and listened to noises and wondered if we’d face danger in the night. Bears, bad guys, tornadoes, and UFOs all crossed my mind. My thoughts followed my fears and I imagined what would happen if my husband never made it back. How would I raise seven children alone? Would we stay in our off-the-grid house in the woods or move? Could I learn to plow the driveway and get our own firewood? Before we got married I could change my own oil but I haven’t touched an oil pan since I walked down the aisle. I cut down one small tree using a chainsaw this summer to impress the kids but I had to work hard to not look scared when it started swaying.
And the part of me that was raised in an era of ‘girl power’ is ashamed to say that I depend on my husband for a lot of really practical ‘manly’ things around here. Even as I write this I hear a mouse scuttling in the wall and wish my mouse hunter wasn’t in Alaska.
When he’s not here with us, I feel the weight of what he usually takes care of. If there’s a bump in the night he’s the one who gets out of bed to find out what it is. He’s the one who’s out of the house at 6:20AM and gone for eleven or twelve hours each day so that money magically shows up in our bank account. Sometimes when I have a child in the habit of wasting a lot of food or being careless with something we figure out how long Daddy had to be at work to buy whatever it was. All these things filling our home and our table are things he provided.
For all these years of marriage there has been a man in my life feeling the weight of protecting me and my little ones and providing for all of our physical needs. All those years ago he saw my need for a sweatshirt and he’s never stopped seeing needs and going out of his way to meet them.
Recently I sat outside by the pond talking with a friend. As a young mom she told me about her struggle to know whether or not she should keep working or stay home. She said she’s been talking with a lot of women and all of them say that whatever decision is made you always second guess yourself. Plus, it’s scary not to have a fallback. If you are out of the work force for long you lose experience and skills that translate into earning potential.
So many women are making so many different choices. Each situation is unique and those of us who have the ability to make a choice have been blessed with so much freedom.
But, there is also something deeper. Something that doesn’t have anything to do with income or economics. I’ve felt it. There’s something in me that whispers that I’m not a strong person if I want a man to kill the mice and go first to check on the bump in the night and to bring home a paycheck while I stay home. There’s a little shame that can rise when I say that I depend on my husband to keep my car rolling and wood in the fire and my heart beating peacefully in the middle of the night.
But I don’t have to be ashamed; I can be fearlessly thankful.
Accepting provision and protection and feeling a need for someone isn’t weak. I could set mousetraps and I could find childcare and I could go to work. I could be sure to keep myself from needing him and from the danger of experiencing great loss if I were ever to lose him. If we could just live together but maintain a minimal level of dependency we could feel ‘safer’.
But, truthfully, I’d rather be wearing his old sweatshirt.