On the Monday, Karen was made redundant.
On the Tuesday, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Was it that week, or was it the week after that I asked her to marry me? I honestly don’t remember. It was around then, either way. Once we’d put the first shocks behind us, and figured out how much there was that needed doing, while she was still able for it.
I was English back then, and living in Newcastle on Tyne; she was American and living in California, a Silicon Valley tech-girl to the core. All her work was here, whereas mine travels with me. I can write from anywhere, so it only made sense for me to be the one who emigrated. Besides which, on the one hand, north-east England; on the other, Northern California. Which would you choose? I did love Newcastle, and I had thirty years of history there with all the relationships that that implies, but I did love sunshine too, and this town is called Sunnyvale for a reason. And San Francisco is just up the peninsula, an hour’s drive away, and San Jose is closer than that, and I’ve always loved cities…
Of course this meant buying into American health care — in a very literal sense — with all that that implies. I hate American health care, so passionately I can barely bring myself to talk about it. Everything about the process is corrupt, from the prices charged — wait, $80 for a pair of nitrile gloves? — to the different favours granted. One company was paying $5000 a month for one of Karen’s drugs; she changed jobs, we changed insurer, and the new company was paying $11,000 for the same drug.
Happily, Karen’s grown up in this system, and she can deal with it. I seriously can’t. I do everything else: all the meal planning, all the shopping, all the cooking, all the errands. All the dishes, the day-to-day cleaning (we have cleaners in twice a month), all the day-to-day gardening (again, we have a yard guy twice a month who brings in his big machines to mow and clip and so forth, but the vegetable beds and the fruit trees are mine to plant and weed and care for). It eats my time, and I struggle to find space for my writing, which is what has mattered most to me for forty years.
And yet, and yet. There’s another article out there, about why a guy divorced his chronically sick wife; his life is not my life, and I did nevertheless feel compelled to answer it. Karen and I have been married for seven and a half years now, and sure, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the burden I’ve taken on. But I did know what I was signing up for, and “in sickness and in health” actually does mean something to me; and the rewards of her company and partnership remain far greater than the troubles that they bring. I married into this, and I’m standing by it. Actually, I’m quite possessive of it. We are Mr and Mrs Brenchley, and this is the life we have. Which at the periphery may be defined by sickness, but at the heart it’s defined by love.