My Sons Pushed My Wheelchair
This story is as much a marital drama as a tale about how sometimes we don’t realize we have to face reality, and how empowering it feels to step out of our comfort zone, face our fears, and be at peace with what is.
We were married for 28 years, during which time we built a world class antique flute collection together. There are 2 cut leaded crystal flutes made by Claude Laurent in the collection. One of them is reported to have been owned by Napoleon Bonaparte. My husband and I separated three years ago.
Dirk is world reknown for his collection and instrument restoration abilities. My role as a co collector was limited to investing financially and supporting him in his hobby. Over the years, I may or may not have been included in his activities related to this pursuit. Nonetheless, his hobby impacted me and our family whether we were simply subjected to listening to him play the flute constantly in the house, or investing large sums of money. He has been involved with experts at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for many years. I met some of these people on occasion when they traveled to our homes.
He became involved with a new girlfriend in December of last year. He was cagey about telling me his plans with her, as if I cared what they were doing. Mostly, I didn’t care. But there was a Wednesday in December when I tried to reach him all day with a question about finances related to our business, and he was unreachable. He had mentioned that he next planned to see his girlfriend on Friday of that week.
When I was finally able to get my business question answered, I naturally asked why he was AWOL on that Wednesday. He said he had changed his plans from Friday to Wednesday, and that they had gone to “a museum”. It was a bit strange for him to be so vague which made me suspect he was up to something. I ran through a list of “museums” in our area; there were none that would make for a good date except for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Next I heard that we would be loaning our two crystal flutes to the Met for a year. It felt a little strange to have been left out of this transaction completely. Yet, it was not unheard of for him to go about “his” flute business without my input or participation as I have no expertise in the field.
I looked forward to the day when the musical intrument galleries would re-open with our flutes as part of the exhibits. I expected to be invited to some sort of opening.
On February 13th of this year we received a letter addressed to myself and my husband from the Met. It was an invitation to the grand re-opening of the musical instruments department. I was so excited as we had been invited to many events at the Met over the years, but never went. I thought this particular occasion warranted our attendance with our flutes being part of the exhibit.
I excitedly texted my husband that we were invited to this party on March 21st. His response was that he was going with his girlfriend and did I want to “tag along”? I believe I told him to fuck off, that she wasn’t invited, and they aren’t her flutes. Being dismissed and disrespected was par for the course of our long relationship.
I spoke to him in a few days about this, and suggested he do the right thing and bring his family (we have two sons, 18 and 20). He was resistant to this idea as it seemed he had been planning a romantic night with his girlfriend for months without his disabled wife and children. We fought about this. He questioned why I was suddenly interested in the flutes. The fact is, I had been his partner in this venture for about 30 years, but was flummoxed by the question.
He argued that it would be an imposition on the museum to add 2 more people. I emailed the Met and asked if it would be ok if we all attended, and they said it would. I forwarded the email to him. I sent another email detailing my “interest” in the flutes over the years as he questioned “since when are you interested in the flutes?” I reminded him about all of the trips we had been on together in search of flutes, all of his “flute people” I helped entertain over the years, how he excluded me from a trip to Italy related to the loan of an important flute from the collection, and suggested taking me to the Met would be small compensation for this. He would not relent.
I finally pinned him down about what his issue seemed to be. He said it felt “weird” to go with me as his wife since we’ve been separated so long. I thought it was “weird” that he wanted to go with someone he met in December.
Back and forth we went. I suggested to him that I might just show up and he thought that would be awkward. After a few weeks of deadlock, I started to wonder if I could possibly be dead wrong in my opinion. I made an appointment to see my therapist.
She and I figured out that I didn’t exactly want to attend with my husband, I just wanted to go. She suggested I grab a friend and go. My husband could be selfish and impatient when he went places with me because I limp and walk with a cane. He wouldn’t want to push me in a wheelchair at this event where he could be showing off. So I started making plans with my boyfriend to attend together. I RSVP’ed to the museum that I would be attending with my companion. I received a reply stating that they were delighted that my husband and I would be attending with my companion. There was some confusion here as I had been corresponding with them about attending as a family at first. This was tricky because my boyfriend has to work until end of day on weekdays and the event was scheduled for a Wednesday night.
March 21st was the first full day of spring in the New York area, and we were treated to our fourth nor’easter in the month of March that day. I was trying to plan to travel to New York by train with my boyfriend in anticipation of bad weather. He had taken the day off from work without pay so we could leave early enough to arrive in time. By late afternoon, it was snowing at the rate of 1–3 inches per hour. I left my plans open to cancellation at the last minute. Even if we did travel by train, I would still need to clean snow off my car and drive home in the snow late at night. I contacted the Met and let them know that my companion and I would not be able to make it.
By late afternoon on the 21st, I received an email from the Met that the event was rescheduled to the following night due to bad weather. My boyfriend would have to work the next day until late afternoon and wouldn’t be able to go.
My older son gets home from work by 3:00. My younger son usually starts work at 4:00 and works into the night. I asked my older son if he would like to drive me and go to this party together. He was enthusiastic and wanted to bring his girlfriend. I called my contact at the museum to make sure it was okay to come with my son and his girlfriend. Next, my younger son caught wind that I had arranged for his older brother and girlfriend to go with me, but was leaving him out. He texted his father about this injustice. His Dad called him and wanted to speak to me about it. I admitted that I thought his work schedule prohibited him from coming with us. His dad seemed indignant, as well. I told him I could try calling again to see if I could bring one more. I had not let on that I was planning to go at all to my husband, and now the kids had let the cat out of the bag. I arranged with the Met to bring both sons and a girlfriend at the last minute. This was more important than going to work. I was glad our sons were going to be able to have this experience. I don’t believe their father even mentioned it to them.
This scenario unexpectedly forced me to face confronting the uncomfortable reality that my husband was moving on. I was diving head first into uncharted waters. While he had met a few of my boyfriends since we split up, I had yet to be in the same place at the same time as him and a girlfriend. But the point here is that I really wanted to go to this event, irrespective of what their plans were. My therapist made clear that we are living as if we are divorced so his logic of not going together as a couple did make some sense. I wanted to attend a glamorous event at the Met with people who are important to me. Did I want to meet my husband’s girlfriend? Absolutely not. Did I want to make them uncomfortable? Yes, a little. Did I want to share the event with my sons? Definitely.
My sons had alerted their Dad that we were all cleared to attend by the museum late in the afternoon. I was quietly pleased we were springing ourselves on my husband and his date, particularly after he was so resistant to the idea of all of us going.
We borrowed a wheelchair from the museum upon arrival because they had alerted me that the galleries were a bit out of the way and suggested I request a wheelchair after I informed them I have a mobility challenge.
I have often wondered how my husband’s story to prospective dates goes about the end of our marriage. My story goes that I had a stroke and he coudn’t deal with being with someone with a disability anymore so he left. I’m sure he has his own spin he uses to tell this story. Now I would meet his latest partner who had heard only his version of the story from a seated position in a wheelchair.
I felt empowered by my decision to dive head first into what I knew would be an uncomfortable scene. I no longer want to be with my husband so in the end I was glad we didn’t go together. My therapist had pointed out that going forward it is likely I will have to attend events with him and whomever he is with at the time. There is no time like the present, I suppose.
I arrived in the Great Hall of the Met looking beautiful in a stylish dress and boots with minimal make up. My handsome young sons pushed my wheelchair; something their father had opted out of doing long ago. I felt confident about meeting the girlfriend. There is no competition between us because frankly, I don’t want to be with him, and very few women are in my league.
I felt like a queen being carried in on a glamorous litter by my dutiful servants. My husband approached us with his date. Our sons said hello to her as if they already knew about her. I graciously extended my hand and said it was nice to meet her. It was like ripping a band aid off; something that was no fun but had to be done sooner or later. I am quite game for facing awkward situations and fear. I have been through so much life and death and crushing loss that I am nearly fearless. Part of me felt great inside with the quiet confidence of a young woman who has survived a devastating stroke, lived with a disability, watched her husband quit, raised awesome sons, and presented her magnificent self to The Metropolitan Museum of Art.