Today, Sheri and I will have been together for 23 years. We had known each other for a couple of years before we started “going together,” but Aug. 8 was our first official outing.

We couldn’t call it a date. We were both 44 and hadn’t dated since we were in our teens; to call it a date was not possible. She was going through a divorce, and I had seen the end of a long-term relationship. Judy (not her real name, of course) and I mutually agreed the relationship was no longer working, and that it was probably more because of my behavior than hers. Fair enough.

So, Sheri and I started, and here we are 23 years down the road, still together and still extremely happy. After all this time, I do sometimes ask myself: “Why do you still like her?” Not love, you’ll notice, but why do I still “like” her? Two entirely different, yet valid, I think, questions.

I think there is some stipulation to loving someone, especially after a longish period of time. Sort of “in for a penny, in for a pound,” although that might be a little cold. But, liking someone. That’s entirely up to you.

So, why do I still like this amazing woman? Well, she’s beautiful. I still look across a room sometimes and think, “Wow! Who’s the chick with the brilliant smile?” and semi-blush when I realize it’s my wife. She is really smart. Incredibly loyal. Wait a minute … I’m making her sound like Lassie: “Go get Jim, Sheri. Go get him. He fell down the well. Go on, Sheri. Get him.”

And maybe there is a bit of that in it. But, she’s also good company, fun to be around, and generous with her heart. She is a great friend to her friends. Ask any of them and I’ll bet they say that about her.

Me? I know a lot of people. They are my friends, but I make that a more difficult proposition than it should be. Somebody says to me: “Jim, go get Toby. He fell in the well. Go get him.” I’m just gonna say, “Hey. He got himself in there, he can get himself out.” Or, more likely, “Sheri. Some jackass named Toby just fell down a well. Go get ‘im.”

We’ve been through an incredible amount of stuff in 23 years, but so have you. Right? If you’re going to take your marriage vows seriously, you are going to be faced with huge amounts of stuff that will, on occasion, seem insurmountable. And when you are, you have a choice. Go on and get over it together, or stop, thank each other for a nice time, and go your separate ways, leaving the huge amount of stuff where you found it.

For 23 years, Sheri and I have chosen to deal with the stuff, one pile at a time. Of course the toughest challenge right now is our roles as Man With Cancer and Wife of Man With Cancer. That is a tremendous amount of stuff to have to get over. And it’s really two different piles. I think I have the easier job. I’m ill, and I deal with it. I have to. I can’t say, “Well, maybe I’ll skip this one.” Not gonna happen. This is my life, and I need to do what it takes to keep living it.

Sheri, on the other hand, has to look at someone she loves suffer day after day, wishing she could do more to help, but knowing she can’t. There’s no well to pull me out of. I’m sick, and her love for me requires her to stay here day in and day out, when many days we know she couldn’t possibly feel like it.

She does take good care of herself, and that’s where her wonderful group of friends comes in. They go to the beach together, they get together and talk about stuff, they have coffee and doughnuts. They help each other. But at the end of they day, it’s Sheri’s best friend who is sick and only she can do much about it, after all.

She can’t even really get mad at me, poor guy with cancer. Well, actually now, she can — and does — become upset with me. I think it costs her emotionally to be angry with me, but she is willing to pay that particular price, and I’m very happy that she does.

So, 23 years after our first outing, here we are — Man With Cancer and Wife of Man With Cancer. It’s become a real study in the power of like. Audiences are hailing it on two continents. Or, maybe they aren’t. It doesn’t seem to phase Sheri and Jim, either way. They get to spend every day together, and, at that, 23 years doesn’t seem like anywhere near enough.

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.


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