“How are you?”
Suddenly, an everyday walk from my cubicle to the copier flipped into an unexpected conversation with my coworker. Her question stymied me. Lately, I go through my days on auto-pilot keeping each moment as busy as possible to not have a chance to think too much.
How am I doing? I thought as I peered into my office mate’s friendly smile. Normally simple questions would not be difficult for me. At the beginning of summer, my husband, Kev, suffered a stroke out of the blue. In the weeks that followed, acquaintances asked me about him all the time, always him. I shared his recovery and his struggles. Then people ask how the kids are doing and finally people ask about me as an afterthought. It has been a while since someone asked how I was holding up first.
How am I doing really? I thought as my mind reeled. I went from summery plans of eating too much barbecue and watching never-ending middle school baseball games to a well-worn patient room. Day after day, I was marooned on a slick plastic enrobed lounge/bed/torture device with bright lights, beeping medical machines, surrounded by a river of doctors and incomprehensible medical jargon. Watching and waiting as my beloved fought for his life, I was a frenetic ball of anxiety.
After Kev’s transfer from intensive care to rehab I slipped from wife to health advocate, from partner to single mom. As my husband re-learned walking, I split in half. One side of me was an over-enthusiastic cheerleader boosting my husband’s spirit and soothing my children’s fears. The other side of me was a frighten shell. Every day I thought, What’s going to happen to him, to us, to our life? How do I do all the things I already do and the stuff he used to do? Wait did anyone feed the cats? Hey coworker betcha didn’t know I was a crazed hamster running on a spinning wheel of despair?
At summer’s end, Kev was discharged home. Once again, I transformed this time to caregiver. My boys had also metamorphized from irksome kids to inexplicable troubled teenagers. Thanks, puberty! Juggling his care, our kids, their troubles, my job, and the perpetual loads of laundry, my life became a series of waiting rooms, trips to the doctors, trips to schools, and trays of medications. By fall every call was from a pharmacist or a vice-principal.
I’m tired. I’m dead dog tired. I’m sleepwalking through the day with an insipid smile on my face tired. I’m a zombie all day, yet I still can’t sleep at night. I worry about the bills. I worry about my kids bungee jumping into stupidity. I worry about what comes next. I listen to my husband’s breathing at night interpreting every sigh. I replay the constant fights with our boys as I pull them closer and they push away harder. Hey coworker! my life soundtrack is whining and complaining punctuated with the angry slam of doors. How am I doing I want to scream and kick things is how I’m doing.
I stared down at my office building’s sensible beige carpet tiles and remembered my first date with Kev. Over dinner, he asked if I was a people person.
“Well I wouldn’t wheel anybody’s mom down a flight of stairs while laughing maniacally so yeah I’d say I’m a good person but not a people person,” I joked.
“I like a woman whose definition of good starts way back at Richard Widmark,” he said.
“I like a man who gets my noir movie references.”
I smiled at my memory. Despite my current emotional crapstorm I’m still a good person. I know people don’t ask how you are doing to get a Dumpster fire of terrified truthiness poured on their heads on the way to the coffee machine. People ask how you are doing because they care and they want to know you are okay in an inspirational Hallmark movie kind of way. My coworker wanted to know that I was okay first.
“I’m fine. It’s–.”
She interrupted, “No, I asked about your husband. How’s he’s doing?”