What Do You See in This Picture?

May 7, 2021

  

What do you see in this picture?

I should say, what do you think you see in this picture? 

The moment was captured in 2015.  At the time, we lived on the outskirts of LA.  The photographer was exceptionally proud, saying, “This picture grabs me, I can see the love and trust in your eyes.” 

It was her job to tell me this; the more photos I ordered, the more money she made.  It was also her job to smooth out every wrinkle and blemish, reversing the prior ten years like we were two Benjamin Buttons. 

Do you know what I see when I look at this picture?  I see two people who are profoundly lost.  I see a wife who rests her head against the tile as she cries in the shower each night, wondering how many more years she can make it in the marriage.  A wife who has lost her best friend and doesn’t know if he’ll ever come back. 

I see a mom of two little ones who, at times, is mentally and physically exhausted. A mom who’s so lonely for connection that she pays the sitter an extra hour to keep her company, pretending as if she didn’t mean to chat for so long. But they both know the truth-  she would rather have the companionship than her fifteen dollars.  

I see a daughter who wishes with all her heart that her mom was alive to be her cheerleader.  A daughter who longs to have her mom take care of her, to watch the kids for a night, help her find the floor in her laundry room, or tell her that this too shall pass.  

I see a young woman who closed her event production company to follow her husband across the country for his career.  She spends her days changing diapers, breastfeeding, cleaning the kitchen, and wondering if she will ever feel like herself again.  

I see a new mother who can no longer remember names, dates, or where her wallet is.  She wonders how long she will feel stupid, how long this so-called mommy brain will last, and if she will ever be as sharp again.  She wonders when she should get back to her career, who will hire her, and if she’ll still have it in her.  

I see A 37-year-old girl who’s on the verge of becoming a woman, but she will have to stumble a little more to earn that title. 

Now, who is he?  Well, that could be left up to interpretation.  For now, it will be my interpretation.  

I see a young man who was lighthearted and gentle when he met his wife 18 years prior but who got that beat right out of him during his surgical residency in the projects of Brooklyn. 

I see a young trauma surgeon who’s learning the hard way how to tell parents that their child didn’t survive the car accident or a husband that his wife of 35 years was down for too long and would be on a machine for the rest of her life.  Speaking to others in the worst moments of their life is an art he had yet to craft but would eventually fine-tune. 

I see a young doctor who clocks a 120-hour workweek and falls asleep at his desk in the tiny shithole they call the surgeon’s call room.  When he does sleep at home, the obnoxious buzzing of his pager torchers both of them throughout the night, as she passive-aggressively rolls him on his side to stop his snoring during her 3 am breastfeeding.   They are both dangerously sleep-deprived which is eerily similar to intoxication and no way to live. 

I see a young man who is finally making real money but must work to pay off his school debt that has crept up to $250k. He’s surrounded by older physicians with fast cars and fancy homes.  Some love their lives, living them to the fullest.   Then, there are the others who quite literally sleep under their desks, no longer knowing how to be a human outside of the hospital.  Their families are worn down by their incessant need to be in charge, short fuses, and OCD personalities; a toxic combination for a family. 

I see a young man whose new career is thrilling and fascinating while also exhausting, frighteningly stressful, and heartbreaking at times.  In the coming years, he will evolve into the surgeon he’s meant to be.  However, at this moment in time he is like a duck in a pond who appears calm, but under the surface of the water, he’s paddling for his life.   

I see a young man who doesn’t know his wife wants to leave him and will have to make some big decisions to keep her.

We moved to Arizona in January of 2017.  I wanted to be closer to our families, and I secretly knew I would never be able to afford a home on my own in California. 

We started couples therapy right away.  We intended to go every two weeks but paid almost as much in cancellation fees as we did in therapy fees.  Two weeks would turn into four, and inevitably, we would spend the hour catching the therapist up on the month’s events and playing a wicked game of tattletale.  I should also add, it was an an expensive game of tattletale.  

In 2018, a friend I admire dearly attended a course by the Personal Success Institute.  She shared the many ways it changed her life. She believed it would benefit me to attend regardless of whether Kaveh went. 

It was an easy sell to Kaveh.  He heard the word “success” and was hopeful it would teach him to make more money and earn the promotion he had been working towards.  I heard “personal success”  and hoped it would be the key to saving our marriage or give me the strength to stand on my own.  

I called immediately and learned that the instructors travel throughout the country teaching, and we would have to wait six weeks for them to come back to Phoenix.  Those six weeks drug on like they were six months.  Finally, we walked in together on a Friday morning, uncertain what the future would hold.  We left on a Sunday evening, having been awoken to a whole new way of seeing life, our marriage, and future goals. 

I liken it to 3 years of intense coaching in 3 days.  It changed everything about how we see ourselves and others in the world.  We discarded programs that no longer served us and learned new ones that would unveil who we are meant to be in the world.  We learned for the first time what it really means to be intentional with our goals, how to lead others, and most importantly, to be clear on where we are leading them.  

As you know, Kaveh and I didn’t divorce though we came frighteningly close.  This weekend marks three years since we had our come-to-Jesus talk. We would give ourselves precisely 30 days to decide if we were going to stay together.  We marked our calendars for Monday, May 13th 2018.   On that day, we would determine if we still wanted to be married or if Kaveh would move out throughout the week while the kids were at school.  We had thirty days, and we agreed we would each bring our best selves to the table.  We would kiss goodbye, hello, good morning, and good night whether it felt contrived or not.  I would put on makeup each day, and he promised to wear real clothes that didn’t include drawstring scrubs followed by drawstring couch shorts.  We selected four date nights and reminded each other what our love languages were. He would be honest about when he would be home from work, and I would smile when he walked in the door, whether it was 7 pm or 11 pm.   

We vowed to get plenty of sleep and avoid all alcohol.  There could be no outside factors that could sabotage our 30-day efforts.  We knew what was on the line, and we took it seriously.  It was a life-changing thirty days that we will never forget.  

Today I am happy to say we are as in love as when we met sophomore year.  But this is a different kind of love.  Love that has withstood the tests of time with its ups and downs and inevitable curveballs. 

We did the work, and it paid off.  Kaveh took a long hard look at where his time and energy had been focused.  He realized he had been arriving home with an empty tank each day, leaving only drops for myself and the kids.  He made the conscious decision that regardless of his work demands, the family would come first at all cost.  He learned to be gentle, patient and speak softly again .   

I learned to let go of my carefully crafted list of resentments, lose the victim role, release my judgments, to be on his team, and most importantly, to trust him.   

We dropped the toxic habit of taking sarcastic jabs at each other’s expense in front of friends and family.  That meant no reminding others how I backed the car into the garage door for the third time or what an ass he was the last time he drank too much.  Jabs like this are like plucking the feathers from a bird, for soon the bird won’t be able to fly.  

I became a grown-ass woman, and he became more than a man; he became a leader of leaders. 

We are opposites in many ways.  Unfortunately, we both have strong opinions and, at times, outrageous personalities.  This will never change.  It’s who we are.  Consequently, passionate disagreements still happen, but they are few and far between.  Now, we ask ourselves, “Would I rather be right or happy?” Then one of us softens, and we move on.  

We have very few photographs in our home; it’s just not my style.  I’m not too fond of touched-up photos and filters that cloud the truth.  I even did a boudoir shoot, and the photographer kept insisting on smoothing out my cellulite and softening my wrinkles.  I reminded her that those are part of who I am and leave them be. 

Still, I keep this one in our bedroom.   It reminds me how far we have come in the last five years but, most importantly, the fragility of a relationship.  It reminds me that filters only hide the truth from others.

 

I was recently hiking the red rocks of Sedona with a friend whom I consider a mentor.  She nonchalantly confesses that her husband once had his own apartment.  She didn’t regret this time, nor other times their relationship was challenging.  She explained that even a good marriage will undoubtedly ebb and flow. That a couple will fall in and out of love.    In a metaphorical sense, they will divorce and remarry multiple times throughout the course of 50 years, that is, if 50 years is to be their goal.    

It was refreshing to hear her admit that at times she wasn’t in love with her husband, but the desire to love him was always there, and sometimes that was just enough to get them through that season in life.  

Today, we both put our marriage above all else.  Other things will come and go, like money, jobs, illness, friendships, homes, and social statuses. But we have decided that our marriage is the foundation of all we have and ever will have.  The cracks have been mended, and now we have the tools to repair the future cracks that will inevitably come.  

Today we are two grown adults taking full responsibility for all we have created in our lives, both the good and the bad.  Today we are in love. 

 

Kaveh’s special lady friend, 

 Shea

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