From deep within a cozy cocoon of sleep, the sound of coughing makes its way to my awareness.


He so rarely catches any of the colds going around that I am not used to hearing him cough.

Now I have to pee. My mouth is as dry as cracker dust a million miles from a glass of water. Then a short-but-sharp stab of pain in my eyes lets me know that mouth isn’t the only thing that is dry.

“Ok,” I think sleepily. “Three things: Pee, drink water, squirt eyes.”

Sitting up wearily, I remind myself to take care of my bodily needs like I take care of my beloved dogs when they awaken in the middle of the night. Kindly, and without resentment.

Jim and the meaning of the love

Jim looking on the mountains.

As I take care of the three needs that presented themselves a few minutes ago, I am aware that I don’t resent being awakened in the least.

My mind drifts back 37 years to a time when I had pneumonia, trying to sleep at 8 months pregnant with my fourth child.  Fits of coughing had torn an umbilical hernia in the center of my swollen belly, and I was miserable.

My husband at the time flipped over next to me in a burst of irritation.

“GOD!!!” he exclaimed. “Can you STOP coughing?!!”

Poor guy. Who knows how many nights in the long months-long saga of my bout with walking pneumonia he had already been kept awake? 

And every night, I hated the coughing, too -- not only because it kept us both awake, but because I hated getting yelled at…

I am relieved of this memory as another memory surfaces… a sweeter one.  

It is autumn, 2002.  I am lying in bed at a Drury Inn with Jim’s warm body wrapped around mine, feeling his warmth against my back. 

A sense of dread fills me.  A nagging cough is tickling the back of my throat, wanting out.

Just getting over a cold, I try to suppress it, desperate not to wake him. 

Will he be angry?  Irritated at being awakened?  I must not bother him!

Unable to hold back the cough, I creep out of bed and cross the room, shoving my face into the crook of my elbow, coughing as quietly as I can manage.  

A high-backed chair stands sentry in the corner of the room.  Curling up into the firmness of the chair, I pull my knees to my chest and hug them.  Whenever a coughing spasm surfaces, I press my mouth into the crook of my elbow. 

Maybe Jim won’t hear me.  Maybe my coughing won’t be the end of this wonderful relationship.  We had only been dating a few months, but things were already pretty serious.

The room is silent.  The darkness of the room reassures me as I set about my plan to spend the rest of the night hugging my knees in that chair.

Then I hear a rustled stirring.

“Where did you go?” Jim whispers softly from across the room.  

Allowing myself to remain hidden like a shadow in the safety of my corner, I gather my courage.

“I’m over here.  In the chair,” I whisper.

“Are you ok?” Jim asks gently.

Still fearing his wrath, which to be fair, I had never witnessed -- I attempt to explain.

“I’m coughing, and I don’t want to keep you awake.  I should stay over here.  My ex used to hate it when I kept him awake with my coughing.”

Jim’s soft rumbly voice reaches through the darkness like a comforting embrace.

“It doesn’t work like that,” he says as he lifts the covers invitingly, clearly wanting me to climb back into bed.

As I curl back into the fold of his arms, I don’t know what to think. 

Twenty-five years in my former marriage had created hard-and-fast rules and reactions, based on training I didn’t even realize I had taken on.  It happens to us all from time to time:  We apply our automated reactions and beliefs, brought forward from previous experiences, into new situations where those reactions no longer apply.

As light slowly dawned, I had a revelation.

I awoke to the realization that, for the first time in my life, the rules of the game are changing. 

Being with someone who truly loves me -- someone who has loved me from the moment he laid eyes on me -- would take some getting used to.

jim and lori

Lori and Jim with their warmest smile

I’ve had many coughs and colds since that moment, but Jim has always responded lovingly and with concern.

And now, back to the present moment…

Do I care that I am up in the middle of the night, writing this?

Not at all. It is the least I can do for this man who has given himself to me so totally.

Love has embodied itself. It is manifest. It is Jim.

Lori Williams Signature

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