ERNIE AND ERNESTINA: The Writer, His Wife, and their Afterlife
Book One, Part Two, Chapter 48: Simmer and Boil
When Joshua says: “I don’t want to talk about it. I’ll talk about anything but emotional stuff,” . . . hey, he’s mimicking the me I used to be. No, I didn’t consciously have that thought or utter those words, but I acted it out.
When Ernie brought up his “emotional stuff”, I turned mute. Finally, in his last year or two of life, he blurted out what had long been on his mind and in his heart.
“I don’t know where your resentment comes from, Ernestina. I am not your enemy.”
“I’ve had it up to here with you.”
“You have no compassion.”
“You don’t have a sentimental bone in your body.”
“Because you don’t have feelings, you don’t think anyone else does.”
Then, as his end drew closer and closer:
“You were so young when we married. Just a baby. Perhaps I took advantage of you.”
“I don’t want to be a burden to you and Joshua.”
Feeling sick and spent, he said:
“After I’m gone, you’ll throw out all my papers.”
“After I’m gone, you’ll mourn me for three weeks, then forget me.”
“Burn this body and throw it in the gutter. It’s done me no good.”
Along the way, what did I say to him?
“You’ve always told me what to do. I’m just a tagalong.” And in a dramatic voice, raising my eyes to the ceiling: “Duty! I hate the word duty. I want to do something because I want to do it, not because I have to do it.” And finally, with Ernie lying on our bed, helpless, unable even to turn himself, I scream: “Why did you even marry me?”
We never responded to the other’s blurts and outbursts. We never sat knee to knee, holding each other’s hands and looking into each other’s eyes and engaging in meaningful, habit-acknowledging, life-changing conversation. We didn’t seek counseling or go to self-help support groups. That thought never entered my mind. Instead, our hurts stayed long hidden and our anger hardened. Inside, we simmered and boiled until finally, the steam erupted.
Mainly, Ernie boiled inside, and I stayed on low simmer.