My mom always said that if you look around to the emergency room, you can always tell who’s hurting the most—they’re the people who aren’t screaming. They’re just sitting there, pale and silent.
This doesn’t only hold true for physical ailment. Emotional pain can be just as stunting and silencing. It can takes weeks, months, years to process through a few seconds.
In the beginning of summer 2017, Curtis (he’s very wonderful) bought a motorcycle. Black, shiny, and very heavy, it checked in somewhere around 1200 ccs (for all the not-biker people out there, that just means when you give it some gas, it jumps forward real quick). We drove four hours south through Indiana to pick it up. On the way there I almost hit a dog that ran barking into the street.
The couple was older, selling the bike because their college aged son wanted a different model. They signed over the title and Curtis tucked it into our car, the proudest man alive.
A mile away from the house, we pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned building and he rode it up and down the country road, grinning. Then I road it up and down the country road—though I grinned less and bit my lip more.
We couldn’t bring it back to Chicago because we had nowhere to park it and learning how to ride a motorcycle in the city didn’t seem safe. So we parked it at a friends house in the country, an hour away from our tiny Chicago home.
Three weeks later we woke up early on a Saturday and headed out to the country, him to ride his bike, me to visit my friends. After visiting, I went to the store, then went back to their house and sat on the front porch in the sun, listening to the wind in the tops of the trees and the sounds of regular life: tractors, the occasional passing car, birds giving their two cents. Curtis was due back in 15 minutes.
Fifteen minutes came and went. And then my phone rang.
“I’m on my way to the hospital. You’re going to have to come pick me up.”
The birds were still singing, the sun shining, a machine humming along in the distance, but in my mind I saw a bloody, mangled person who I cherish. I walked off the front porch and over to my car, got in it, and started driving. Till death do us part.
I called my best girlfriend on the phone and said, “I have to drive for half an hour and you need to talk to me about anything.” Roads that I’d taken for 11 years looked the same, but I didn’t really see them. Instead, I was seeing bruises, broken bones, and burns all over the body of someone I love. In sickness and in health.
Pulling into the parking lot of a tiny hospital in the middle of nowheresville, Indiana, I looked down at my hands and realized they were shaking. I stood from the car, realized my hands weren’t the only thing shaking, and unsteadily made my way towards the big sliding glass doors. Each step took me towards what I hoped would be the recognizable frame of the man I’d fallen in love with. For richer or for poorer.
The woman at the front desk looked at me with pity, and my voice came out an octave too high as I asked for Curtis Rider. She gestured at the large automatic doors, and I stepped in their direction. For better or for worse.
When the doors swung open and I stepped into the room-part of the hospital and looked around, a nurse came around the corner and asked who I was looking for. Again, I squeaked. Curtis Rider. He grinned. “You mean Curtis Walker?” His humor was wholly lost on me. To have and to hold from this day forward.
He led me to a curtained off room and pulled aside the blue drape. To be my wedded husband.
Covered in blood and burns, Curtis looked up at me apologetically from the bed. Bruised in pride and spirit, burnt in skin and flesh—and beautifully unbroken—he apologized. Again and again and again. He’d been blown off the road and tossed across the pavement into a ditch. A doctor driving behind him stopped, picked him up, and took him to the hospital, where they cleaned him, bandaged him, and made fun of his last name. We went to the police office to file a report, waited for an hour, then drove home in relative silence. I, Anneliese, take thee, Curtis.
I didn’t cry that day, or the next day—but I cried the day after that.