Husband moved out the first part of last week. Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, hair gel, PJs, and next day's clothing all relocated to the guest room for nine days, him choosing to be a guest in his own house.
At the tail end of two weeks worth of sleepless, fevered days and nights, husband finally succumbed to the cold all three children and I were conquering. He knew I needed restorative mending, the kind only found in sleep. He also knew sleep was not something his wakes-at-the-slightest-noise wife could have with him beside her, upper respiratory infection making his sleep fitful at best, constant tossing interrupted by congested coughing fits.
And so, he left our marriage bed, choosing the much-less comfortable twin daybed on the floor beneath. The first night, I slipped down the stairs and peeked in at him, continuing my servant's role just as I had been doing the two weeks prior with children, now checking husband's fever and making sure he had taken his medicine.
At over 6 feet tall and of German ancestry, he looked more like a large grizzly bear folded accordion style in a too-small cave. Beneath him lay a stack of four crocheted afghans and a couple fleece blankets, his attempt to make the mattress more comfortable. Instead, the tableau emphasized how uncomfortable he truly was, seeming to depict some post-modern adaptation of "The Princess and the Pea."
I protested, assured husband this act of kindness wasn't necessary, to please just come upstairs. Stubborn in glassy-eyed sickness, he refused and hunkered shoulder down more tightly between the bed's ends to hibernate.
Even in the early years of our marriage when we two struggled to become one, not even then did we sleep in separate beds. There were certainly nights when we slept teetering on our respective edges, but the same quilt still covered us both. No matter how unresolved the issue, how heated the argument had risen. No matter how far apart our day had taken us... at night, we were still we.
This time, though, I returned upstairs alone. Funny thing about ten years of sharing restricted bed space with one's mate--it makes the absence all the more absent. In half-emptiness, I slept, cold pillows from head to foot where warm husband should be. With every night-time waking, I missed his presence, but my tired body did get rest.
We choose these roles, the ones that show greatest love in self-sacrifice--to be the guest in one's own house, to be the servant to one's own family. Being the hands and feet of Christ to one's own family is sometimes more difficult than showing the same love and respect to strangers. But especially between a husband and wife, these daily acts of demoting self knit the two pieces together all the more strongly, perhaps even more so because the actions are chosen versus required.
This past Tuesday, hands full of toiletries, a much better husband stopped me mid-cleaning in the guest room, that mischievous twinkle I know so well making me smile.
"Well, I guess I'm moving back in," he grinned.
Hours later in bed's fullness, I listened to the cadence of his still-congested breathing, moved my pillow a little closer to his side until my knees rested against him, and pulled the queen-sized quilt up over us both.
Photo: Husband's souvenir for me from his recent business trip to California. I had to laugh; he knows me so well.