In Sickness and in Health


To my husband Kevin,

As you know, on the day you turned 15, your 19-year old future wife underwent a kidney transplant. What you don’t know is that a few nights later, I was sitting in a hard plastic chair in a hallway under the dimmed fluorescent sun of the hospital sky. Defiantly slipperless, I was rereading my boyfriend’s letter by the streetlamp of a dark Toronto night.

That day, I learned a piece of information that I would tuck away into a far corner of my heart—a precious medical gem that would increase in value over the years. Somewhere in America, a wife had donated her kidney to her husband. The first non-related living donor transplant. Ever. Doctors attributed its success to their psychological bond. Against all scientific odds, the love they shared (and a handful of immunosuppressives) overpowered his body’s instinct to reject her gift. They were a perfect match.

In the comfort of that 1 am stretch, I placed my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend’s letter in my lap, away from my heart. Out the window, I watched the snowflakes drift down like crocheted tears. We were not a good match.

“Honey, why don’t you go to bed?” a passing nurse gently prodded.

That night, I wondered about the husband and wife whose names I never knew. What were the odds they were a match! And their love. Would I ever know a love like that? What did that kind of love look like?

When you and I got engaged, one of our friends asked me, “How do you know he is The One?”

I remember pausing for a second as your attributes flew through my mind on a cerebral Rolodex: funny, adventurous, talented, handsome, intelligent, liberal, sexy, loves animals. But none of these words encapsulated who you were. And then it came to me.

“He’s just Kevin.”

That was my answer in 1994, and my answer is no different today.

In this picture, we have just been pronounced husband and wife. Minutes earlier you held my hands upon the billowy folds of my ivory silk wedding gown and recited “…in sickness and in health...” and then you squeezed. It was the hand squeeze felt around the world—or for those not up on their Ibsen—the moment when everything in your young life changed. If you had known then what you know now, would you have turned around and walked away?

What does a 22 year-old boy and a 26-year old girl know about "'Til death do you part?” Over the last 21 years we have sustained marital sunshine and back-to-back storm. Sometimes the never-ending battering of our marriage seemed impossible to survive. Kidney transplant. Addiction. Rehab. Separation. Debt. Relapse. Relapse. Relapse. The specter of death stretching your elastic vows so thin that no one would have blamed you if you had let them break.

Including me.

There is no way to say sorry. To apologize for what I could not see—a blinding love so constant and pure I needed help to see it. On-my-knees-every-morning help. I did not know how to love you then, but I do now.

Are we a perfect match because your birthday and my first kidney transplant fall on the same day? Are we a perfect match because you gave me one of your kidneys? Or are we a perfect match because I am Henriette and you are Kevin.

Just Kevin.

You will hate this post. This ooey-gooey public offering of passion and penance. You will divert your eyes, make up a hashtag or answer in your pragmatic way when I ask, “Why did you stay?”

“Because I love you.”

And I love you.

I often wonder about that couple. Did the kidney reject? Did he die? Did their love survive?

I no longer wonder about ours. Somehow, 7665 days into our marriage, each laugh is lighter, each hug tighter and each day seems brighter than the last.

What are the odds?

Love forever,
Your wife.

Dammit lady. You squeeze my heart so tight I erupt in ugly sobs. I love this love. —Huie GoLightly
Omg! I have tears in my eyes. You are a beautiful writer! — Christy Carew Marshall
Beautiful. Your words bring tears to my eyes more often than you know. — Inger Anderson Scardapane
That was so gorgeous. My face right now, not...A tissue is needed as I wish you an anniversary against all odds. — Jennifer Bertrand Ziegler Lamm
The Shakespeare of Shadow Hills strikes again. Happy Anniversary you two. Get a room. (A non-hospital one preferably). — Tim Rasmussen
Hen, can I marry you so I can one day get a missive like this from you? Be still my heart, you gorgeous dancer of words! — Melissa DiMeglio