I pass my Ketubah hundreds of times on a daily basis, it is one of my most valuable pieces of art. Stretched and framed, it hangs on the wall right outside of my bedroom door. The calligraphy is magnificent, designed and crafted by hand by Asher Herzberg, my friend Eta’s father. I had seen his handiwork before and, while going through my single 20’s, would frequently mention that I would love for him to design my Ketubah one day. That day finally came ten years ago and Mr. Herzberg gifted it to me as a wedding present; it is extremely precious to me.
Today, I found myself standing in front of my Ketubah. I was searching the words for something specific and I struggled to read through the Aramaic. The document, which essentially describes the groom’s responsibilities to his bride, mentions my virginity at least three times. It talks about Gaby’s responsibility to provide the essentials: clothing, food and sex. From what I could understand, the bride (that’s me) would get paid $180,000 dollars should something happen (divorce, not being able to fulfill specific obligations, I’m not sure). It talks a lot about money, and yet I have no idea where they came up with that dollar amount. It was signed by my husband and two witnesses. I did not get to sign this document; the entire signing of the Ketubah ceremony took place in a room full of men taking shots of scotch and whiskey and nibbling on sponge cake while I was seated in another room greeting friends and taking pictures.
I’ve watched enough TV and movies to be able to recite by heart Christian wedding vows. Many couples vow to honor and cherish each other in sickness and in health, till death do they part. The Jewish marriage ceremony doesn’t include any of those terminologies, we circle our grooms seven times underneath the Chupah (canopy). There is a reading of the Ketubah, the placing of the ring and a declaration, seven blessings before we sing about never forgetting Jerusalem, and then the groom stomps on a glass.
So, when Gaby placed my marriage band on my finger, there was zero contractual obligation on his part to stand besides me during sickness. Yet, here he is, day in and day out. For the past five months, Gaby has become both a single parent and a caregiver. He now shoulders the burden of running the household while working a full time job. He has negligible downtime a part from grabbing 20 minutes a day to workout on his treadmill.
Even with people making us dinners and the four hour help four days a week that we have with the children, Gaby is still on the front lines. He comes home from work exhausted and usually finds me either in bed or under a blanket in a chair in the living room. There’s clothing that’s been folded that needs to be put away, clothing that needs to be loaded into the washing machine, or the dryer, or hung up to dry on a hanging rack in our living room. There’s the aftermath of dinner to deal with: cleaning up and putting away food, loading and stacking the dishwasher, washing lunch boxes and preparing them for the next morning. He showers the little ones, coaxes them into pajamas, and sends them over to me for hair brushing and lice combing. Our babysitters read them books before bed, giving Gaby some time to tend to my needs. He brings me bowls of soup and mugs of tea, sometimes the pain in my back or legs are intense so he massages my limbs while telling me about his day. With our eldest daughter, he helps her study for her science test or sets up the laptop so she can complete a project. He tries to be patient as she struggles to unwind and get herself to sleep.
But it’s not just the physical and emotional needs that he has to deal with, it’s also the wrath and the mood swings and the verbal lashings that he has endured. The prednisone made me so so crazy that I would often verbally abuse him. I’m beyond ashamed about my behavior and the hurtful words I would hurl at him during moments of extreme pain. He has been nothing but loving, caring and attentive. Yet, I would barrel through the home like a category 5 hurricane. And like a palm tree in a hurricane, he would bend, but the roots of our relationship run deep and he weathered the storm.
But if you’ve ever walked outside after a hurricane, and really surveyed the damage, you’ve noticed that the lucky few trees that are still rooted to the ground don’t quite look the same. Some have lost many branches and fronds, others no longer stand as tall, their trunks tilted from the sheer weight of the storm.
Lately, Gaby reminds me of a palm tree after a hurricane. He no longer stands quite as tall, his shoulders weighing heavily with the burden of his life. His eyes used to sparkle with happiness, but lately they have become heavily creased and sad. The other morning, when I was too tired to get out of bed at 6:00 a.m. to help get the kids up, dressed and ready for school, I noted how difficult it was for him to simply stand up. He was quieter than usual and I could feel his depression. I asked him what was wrong but he didn’t want to talk about it. The guilt I have felt since diagnosis started to gnaw at me, my illness has become such a burden on him.
“This is just my life, there’s nothing else to say. This is my life.” I finally coaxed a few words out of him, and I felt his despair. There was really not much I could say though, because the reality of our lives is that it’s difficult.
So I stand in front of our Ketubah and search for those words, the ones that obligates him to be with me in sickness. The sentence that explains his actions these past five months. The words that have forced him to run from pharmacy to pharmacy to fill prescriptions, the phrases that requires him to shower me and dress me and watch over me as I sleep through cancer treatment. The terminology that binds him to me during moments of extreme anxiety, or fear induced meltdowns.
But there are just no words.