I’m driving down the same highway that I’ve driven countless times before, the sky still red from the setting sun. My van is filled with the smell of sweaty hockey gear still damp from a weekend tournament. My boys are silently playing their iPods. They’re happy, aren’t they? I ask myself, wondering if they know yet. Wondering if they’ve figured out that their dad is different from the other hockey dads.
With a new hockey season comes new hockey families. Different people asking the same questions. Where is their dad? Are you still together? Why doesn’t he come to games? And every season I offer the same hesitation as I try to read that person. Will they understand? Will they judge us? Will they believe me? I often don’t explain, but sometimes I have no choice.
We’ve turned our home into an oasis. Pool, soccer nets and even a hockey rink and a putting green, trying to compensate for the fact that we don’t take vacations, anything to make sure our boys don’t feel cheated. We throw great parties, making a home where people love to be. Our friends come to us.
Our family of four is well adjusted despite the addition of a fifth who is rarely talked about. It’s morphed into a full-fledged monster. A perfectly wonderful life swallowed by something that can’t be seen or heard. It can’t be identified or eliminated. It lives within him. It’s part of him. It’s his panic disorder.
Not being able to leave our community without a panic attack means we have lost friends who don’t understand, not that I blame them. Sometimes, even I don’t understand. Have you tried tranquilizers? What if we just drove with you? Have you tried therapy? Why haven’t we thought of that? Good idea, we’ll try that. Thanks.
Our real friends, they understand. They know about the countless therapy sessions, the tens of thousands of dollars lost along with the hope of becoming seemingly normal. They offer help, not judgment. They offer comfort, not a cure.
And for 12 years I have told myself I am ok. I don’t need a man to hold my hand as I navigate my way to hockey rinks in rural communities with poor signage. I’m independent. I’m strong. I have a GPS. I can do anything that’s required of me and short of being two people and being able to be at two rinks at one time, I’ve managed just fine so far. Or have I? Do my kids sense my anger as I accept an award at a convention and I have no date? Do they feel my sadness when I see them celebrate after a goal, looking for their dad who isn’t there, wishing he’d seen it, wishing he’d heard the applause, and felt the excitement? Do they sense that, despite telling myself that this is my life that I love, how sometimes, I need help.
While I can’t help him, I know he needs me. I know if I weren’t here his monster would surely engulf him into something far worse, into something I wouldn’t recognize as the adventurous, full of life, fear-free man I fell in love with. This man that I chose as my husband because I wanted to have children exactly like him; his big heart, his infectious smile, his generous spirit. And they are like him, in every way. Will they have this? This thing? This monster of their own? They can’t. I won’t have it. I don’t wish this for their future, for their wives or for their children.
So we drive these highways. We take all elevators. We run in every direction looking for an opportunity to meet fear head on. We embrace fear. We use it, we conquer it and then, we celebrate.
Does he know how much I want to take this from him? Take away his fears both real and make-believe? Does he know that I wouldn’t give up even one of these sometimes-difficult days to spend in a different life? Does he know that everyday when I wake, I thank him? I say, “Thank you for this life; for these boys; for giving me the ability to see past peoples’ circumstances and see right to their heart?” Does he know that this monster has made me better? That, as it made him weaker it actually made me stronger; that it’s made me want to fight even harder? That’s what he’s given me. What an extraordinary gift. Did he know any of these things before reading them here?
So, I continue to drive down this same highway I’ve driven countless times before, with still the same red sky, with the boys silently playing their iPods and still wondering if they’re happy; wondering if they know; but knowing that they do.