My husband has three weeks of graduate school left.
He has worked so hard, and I am so proud of him, and that is not what I’m going to talk about right now. That is for later. That is for when the stage has been crossed, the diploma received. For when beers are in hand and confetti is in the air. The congratulations, the gratitude, the overwhelming swell of appreciation and admiration are for the finish line.
And right now is for me.
David has been in his graduate program for two years, and I am exhausted. His pursuit of higher education is the ghost in our lives. After working brutally long days implementing the Affordable Care Act in our state, David comes home and wrestles the ghost. The ghost always wins.
Class just one night a week doesn’t sound so bad, and maybe it isn’t. Except that it is. Because on weekends he is at the library. Other nights he’s working late. There are papers to write. Projects to complete. The ghost is always there.
David started school less than two months after our engagement. A year later we cut our honeymoon short so that he didn’t have to miss a class.
I know that his friends and family miss him. He only gets to see them rarely, now, and part of the whole reason we moved here is precisely so that he could see them more. He tries to be present during the brief times he is with them, does everything he can to leave the ghost behind, to talk and laugh and listen. To connect. It isn’t like that at home. After the first year, we tried to implement “Husband and Wife Mondays” where for one night a week graduate school was not on the table: no studying, no homework, no stressing about the lack of former. It didn’t last.
I am talking strictly about the ghost, here. David has been amazing. He is dedicated to school and to me at the same time. I don’t know how he manages it. I don’t know how he has room inside of him for all of it at once. He has taken so much care to make sure I know that I, us–our marriage–is still priority number one. But that reassurance is the most he can do, because the ghost rattles its chains, swallows him whole, steals him away.
Oh, there were shining moments. Our honeymoon–though short–was a precious oasis. There have been date nights, and dinners out, and concerts caught. In January we celebrated our annual Stay In Bed All Day day. We closed the door on the ghost, locked him out, and spent the day in our pajamas playing board games, drinking whiskey, making out. But the day ended, we opened the door, the ghost came in.
And it is exhausting to be the One Who Is Not Doing. I’m not the one who went to class, who studied constantly, who wrote essay upon essay upon essay. But I am the one who cleaned the house, made all our meals, ran the errands. And sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I didn’t clean the house, or cook, and we were cranky and survived off junk food until I got it together again. Sometimes I was selfish. There are things I wish I’d handled with more grace. Most of the time I remembered that David wasn’t going to graduate school to punish me. Most of the time I remembered, but sometimes I forgot. I woke up when he was already out the door for work some mornings. I went to sleep alone before he came home. I wrote him notes and stuck them on the fridge and loved, loved, loved to find a note from him in return. Between sleeping and exchanging notes, somehow whole months passed. I did my best to comfort him when things were hard. To be his champion. I am the one who shouldered my husband, who chose when to push him to do more and when to persuade him to do less. Sometimes, I chose wrong.
It is hard, and it is lonely, and it is exhausting to be the one who keeps it together. The one who waits. The one who is standing still. But worth it. Graduate school is a choice we made for our family, for David’s fulfillment, for our future. We sacrificed a lot, but we gained a lot, too. We rely on each other. We express what we need. We are partners.
In three weeks I will celebrate my husband’s enormous accomplishment. Today I celebrate my own. This ghost has haunted me, too.