ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part Two, Chapter 155: The Great Unknown
I just now understand that the reason Ernie drank — a deep-down feeling of insecurity — still lay within him when we met.
I just now understand that the reason I fell so easily into the relationship was a similar deep-down insecurity.
We both feared the same thing: abandonment. On a deeply subconscious level, we both felt abandoned as children. Neither of us knew it. It was the Great Unknown at our very core.
All along we thought we were helping each other, but we were really propping up each other. He couldn’t tell me the truth — how unhappy and dissatisfied he felt — because he didn’t want to risk losing the relationship or even making me angry.
I didn’t even know how unhappy and dissatisfied I felt; I kept this a secret even from myself. We had to keep the relationship going, no matter what. Who would we be on our own? What would we do? How could we do it?
As hard as this is for me to believe because he was such a capable man, Ernie must not have trusted himself. Deep down, he must not have believed in himself or valued himself. Deep down, he felt helpless. He turned himself into a ferocious fighter, a risk-taker, to defy the inner weakness he felt.
He assigned himself the most difficult tasks: write a Best Seller, win a Pick Six, make Ernestina love him. All this competing and fighting wore him down and wore him out. Then the physical sicknesses came, as they will.
He beat back heart disease with the quintuple by-pass. He beat back the first occurrence of bladder tumors with five surgeries and two rounds of immunotherapy. He beat back colon cancer with another surgery. He lived with prostate cancer.
With his resistance low and his defenses pocked, he could not beat back the recurrence of bladder cancer. Yet he fought it until he had no more fight in him.
I said to him: “Why do you have to do everything the hardest way possible? Why do you even have to die in the hardest way possible?”
In the end, as he lay on our bed, unable to turn over, with no appetite, completely helpless but still able to talk, I screamed at him: “It’s never enough. Whatever I do for you, it’s never enough. Why did you even marry me?”
He gave me no answer. He turned mute the way I so often did with him. Role reversal.
Jesus, if this is true, that we were in a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship — and I know it is — it explains so much of why what happened to us, happened. Oh, Ernie, if only we’d known our sickness. It has a name. It has symptoms. It can be diagnosed. It can be helped. We could have helped ourselves, been helped. Oh, Jesus, I am sick.
And what have we done to Joshua?