What does it really mean to love someone 'unconditionally'?
|Sitting in the passenger seat, Jennifer held her stomach and sobbed. The pain radiated up into her chest and made her nauseous. Her husband, Rodney, rushed, frantically, through Main Street traffic. He swerved, only inches from other cars, even veering into on coming traffic at times. Drivers hooted angrily at him and flashed their lights but he was undaunted.
“It’s going to be OK, Jen” he consoled her, unconvincingly. “Just hold on, we’ll be at the hospital in no time!” Jen swayed from side to side as Rodney took a bend too sharply. The streetlights swirled into a blur of yellow and orange before she fell limp and hit her head on the dashboard. “Oh God! Jen! Wake up!” Rodney pulled at his wife’s collar to get her attention but she was unconscious, her hands covered in blood and her face streaked with devastated tears. “Oh Jesus! Help me!” he prayed out loud.
He screeched into the hospital’s emergency parking and stopped at the front door. Leaving the car idling, he dashed to the passenger door and pulled his wife’s sagging body from the car. Her head fell back over his arms, he could smell vomit on her breath. He didn’t remember her getting sick. As he entered the hospital, emergency staff engulfed him. They whisked Jennifer away and left him standing alone in the waiting area with her blood down one arm.
A terse and dis-interested nurse asked him what had happened. “She’s-… We were having dinner. I don’t know,” he said dejectedly and sank into a chair. “She’s pregnant”.
The nurse looked up from her paperwork with a flicker of sympathy, “How far along?”
“16 weeks.” He finally gave into his fears and sobbed. “Will the baby survive?”
“It’s… unlikely, not with this much blood loss. I’m, uh, sorry.” The nurse stood and walked around the desk. She had a handful of paper towels, “Here, try wipe some of it off.” He all but snatched the towels from her, stood and marched outside to his car. The car doors were open, the engine still hummed quietly, awaiting instruction. This had been his dream neighbourhood; quiet, safe, good schools.
He sat into the driver’s seat and reached across to pull the passenger door closed. Jennifer’s blood stained the seat and there was a puddle of chewed dinner on the floor. He felt his stomach lurched at the smell. He drove the car a few metres from the door and parked. Sitting in silence he prayed, God, why is this happening?
God seemed to respond with more silence.
Then, a nurse was rapping on the window, “Sir,” her voice was muffled through the glass, “Your wife needs surgery, please come inside and sign the consent forms”.
“Alright, I’m coming,” he growled.
A week later, Jennifer sat up in the hospital bed as a nurse brought in her lunch. “Good day, sweetie, you feeling any better today?”
She felt nothing so she said nothing, just looked down at her hands and waited for the nurse to leave. “Well, they’ve out done themselves today, roast chicken with all the trimmings, you eat up now.”
Once the nurse left she sank back down and covered her face with the duvet. She didn’t remember much, just pain and lights, then waking up with Rodney, unshaven and exhausted, next to her in a hospital room. She hadn’t cried when she heard, she knew already.
She and Rodney had been trying to have a child for 5 years. This was her third pregnancy and by far the furthest they had gotten, 16 weeks! The scan that week even revealed that it was a girl. Rodney had never been so thrilled, he had hugged her and whooped. He even began suggesting names. “Emma, perhaps? Or Catherine after your mom?” Jennifer was blissful, content.
Now, just days later, she felt empty as though this baby, her third child lost, had left a gaping hole inside her, a grave. The open pit teemed with all manner of crawling monstrosities. Cockroaches and maggots seemed to wriggle under her skin, devouring her from the inside. There was no sleep, no rest. It was not pain she felt, but rather the absence of life. The nurses had given her a morphine drip with a manual dial. She turned the dial up a notch and let the chemical peace wash over her.
When she stirred hours later, Rodney was back at her side. He stroked her hand absentmindedly as he prayed. When his eyes met hers they were filled with love, unadulterated, unconditional. She couldn’t hold his gaze and instead looked to the buzzing and whirring noises of the machines around her. “The doctor says we can go home today.”
“I’m not ready.”
“We’ll figure it out, Jen”
“There’s nothing to figure out, Rodney!” she said with unbridled hate.
Over the weeks that followed, Jen and Rodney’s friends and the state psychiatrist all advised him to give her space, let her grieve, let her heal. So, when she stayed in bed for days and didn’t speak to him at all, he put on a brave face and trusted that she would come back to him, eventually. When she took too many pills and wet herself in their bed, he cleaned up the mess and tucked her back in.
She was an empty shell, a ghost roaming his house. They did not interact, he merely stepped aside when she was passing. Her eyes were pits, graves where light went to die. But she never cried, never screamed or even said how she felt, she just sat and stared at the walls or slept.
One day he came home early just to check on her and found the house was empty. A half full coffee cup sat on the kitchen table and her wallet was gone. The mix of emotions seesawed from fear to hope. Perhaps she had decided to go outside and sit in the sun. He tried her cell phone, no answer. The worry returned when he’d been waiting 30 minutes. He decided to drive around the block and see if he could find her. The trip was unsuccessful but as he pulled into the driveway he saw his wife’s shell, still in her pyjamas, sneaking back into the house. He ran inside to greet her but her eyes were not just empty, there was something else. She was high. “Where have you been, Jen?” he tried not to shout but this was unacceptable! “Are you- Are you on something?”
She pulled lazily away from him and fell up the stairs. “Piss off!” was all she could say before passing out on the landing.
Rodney was furious, how often had she done this? Sneaking out in the middle of the day, to do what? Get drugs? The worries flooded his mind, he felt light headed. He stooped down to lift her up off the ground and walked her to their bedroom. There was no point in demanding answers from her, those two words she spat at him from the stairs was the most she had said since they had left the hospital.
The next day, Rodney sat at work not able to focus on anything. Had his wife left the house? Where was she going? Who was she with? What was she on? The questions bombarded his every thought. One final question silenced all the others, what if one day she doesn’t come home?
When he got home she was lying in bed. From the look of the room she hadn’t left the bed all day. “Hey, my beautiful wife” he said choking on the words. “I missed you today.” He kissed her forehead. She didn’t even acknowledge him. He walked calmly to the bathroom and shut the door. How much longer will she hate me? he asked the Lord quietly. How do I get her to come back?
Rodney had always spoken to God. Even when he asked Jennifer to be his wife, he had first taken the question to God; I love her, Jesus, is she the woman for me? The peace of God is not easy to explain, but he had felt it. That was enough for him. The next day he got down on one knee at her parents house and asked them all for her hand in marriage. She always teased him for being so ‘old school’ but he knew she liked it.
Now, sitting against the door in their en suite, he cried out to God to intervene and save his marriage. When he surfaced from the bathroom with red eyes and a tissue to his nose she shocked him by speaking; “Rod, I- I’m sorry for- you know.”
He rushed to her side and held her. “It’s ok Jen, I love you! Jen, I just miss you. We lost a baby but we still have each other, right?”
“I don’t know Rod, I don’t think I can do this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I need to get out of here. This house is… it’s too much. I need to get out.”
“OK, we can go see your mom. She’s worried sick about you.” Rodney was struggling to hold back the wave of tears that came with his relief, just hearing her voice was refreshing rain on his soul.
“No, I need to get away from you.”
He was careful to respond, “Where will you go?”
“I’ve made some friends, they… understand me.”
He pointed at the needle marks on her arm, “These friends?” he asked not able to keep the disgust out of his voice. With that her face glazed over and she didn't speak again.
They glided past each other for a few days, Rodney dared not push her to talk. Soon, after he’d forgotten the episode, he came home one day and she was gone. Their safe had been raided, their small cash reserve and his father’s antique pocket watch were missing. He immediately went to the police but they knew the signs of a druggie, “She’ll pop up when the money runs out, don’t worry.”
For 3 weeks he slept on the couch and watched the road, hoping to see her coming up the driveway. Slowly, bit by bit, he moved back into their bedroom. It seemed to take longer but, eventually, he stopped jumping at every car that drove by. They had lost three babies and, now, he had lost his wife.
After a while, the friends stopped calling, the journalists got bored, even Jennifer’s family seemed to accept that she was gone. Almost a year after rushing manically to the hospital... the phone rang. Rodney was digging in the fridge for sandwich fixings. “Hi, you’ve reached Rodney and Jen’s, please leave a message.”
“Rod? Hi, it’s me. It’s, ah, Jennifer, your, ah, your wife.” He froze at the sound of her voice. “Damn, I didn’t realise this would be- I can’t do...” He snatched up the receiver before she could hang up.
“Rodney, it’s you. Rod, I… I’m-“
“Jennifer, where are you?” His heart was pounding in his ears.
“I’m fine, Rod, please don’t worry, I’m in a home.”
“Let me come get you.”
“No, not yet, I need to… figure some stuff out first. I just wanted you to know that I’m… alive.”
He sat down lowering his voice and trying to be calm. “Jen, please come home.”
“I will, but first I need to get help. These people are helping me, I’m getting clean, Rod. Rod?”
“Can you still love me?”
“I never stopped loving you, Jen.”