When I was in high school, my parents made the acquaintance of a young couple. The husband ran a small business and since my Dad had been in business for himself for years, the man confided in him and occasionally asked advice of him. One day my Dad came home and told us that he had some sad news: the man had told him that his wife had cancer and that they had no insurance, they had also recently had a baby and his wife was struggling with her cancer treatments and taking care of their child. How awful, we all thought, and expressed an interest in helping in any way we could. Soon after we were presented an opportunity to show our support: a flyer for a fundraiser arrived in the mail. The couple’s church community was holding the event to raise money for medical bills and childcare. We attended and made our donation, pausing briefly to shake the hand of the man and nod our heads to the young woman, her bald head wrapped in a colorful scarf. She smiled a sad smile and turned her gaze to the baby in her arms.
A few months passed and my Dad went to see the man at his shop. He returned home with an even more disturbing story. The wife’s brother, a doctor, out of concern for his ailing sister, made a visit to the couple’s home. Later, he pulled the husband aside and broke the news: the woman did not, in fact, have cancer. Either she was mentally ill, or confused or simply lying, but she was not sick with cancer. The husband admitted he had never gone to the doctor with his wife, nor had he seen any confirmation of her illness from a professional; she was his wife, and he believed her. It was his job to take care of her and their child. The money from the fundraiser, already spent, would have to be returned, and the man, struggling with running his business and raising their first child would now have to come to terms with his wife’s mental state and try and get her some help.
I was in my teens at the time that these events came to pass for the man and his wife and their story has haunted me in the years since. I couldn’t believe that you could be in a relationship with someone, live with them, be married to them, have a child with them, and not know that they didn’t have cancer, that they were lying to you or keeping secrets or betraying you or deceiving you. Wouldn’t you have to be completely unaware, oblivious to reality, an idiot, to not see what was right in front of you, the signals and signs and clues? I felt sorry for the husband, but I also felt he must be as much to blame: his wife was crazy, and he couldn’t tell?
Today I know what is like to be that man.