Breen is the editorial cartoonist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Contact him by email at [email protected] or on Twitter, @sdutBreen.
Let’s start by acknowledging that many have had a more difficult 2021 than I have.
I haven’t lost my job. I didn’t spend time in the hospital. My children were in good health.
I’m a lucky guy, all things considered.
But I feel like I had a particularly bad 12 months. I lost my sister at a young age to melanoma. I have had a few minor but concerning health issues. I was anxious about the pandemic and the new policies, and I was stressed by the increase in gas and grocery bills.
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Again, millions of people are in a worse situation, I know, but this stuff was a lot to me. Fortunately, I had support.
Everyone treats things differently. Even though I tend to be a generally light person (I’m a cartoonist, after all), the world would have looked a lot darker in 2021 without my wife, Cathy.
I know the pandemic has strained many relationships, but it has made our marriage stronger. Sorry if that sounds corny, but it’s true. Sure, we’ve endured the occasional bickering and fighting, but overall we both agree that the time spent together between lockdowns and telecommuting has made our bond better. I find it quite unbelievable: not only did Cathy suffer from my close and prolonged closeness, but she had to put up with a slightly neglected and depressed version of me. What helped her? I think of compassion, of understanding and of wine. I probably would have wondered to go live in the treehouse by April.
There were reminders that I was a good and hardworking person. There were late night talks where I was allowed to let off steam and bemoan the unfairness of it all. There were hugs and assurances that everything was going to be okay. There was also a hard love. I have to admit some mornings I had a hard time getting out of bed. Most of these days, Cathy would come home from her morning run and vigorously pull up the blinds so that the sunlight blinded me like some sad vampire of sorts. “It’s time to get up,” she announced curtly before leaving the room.
I didn’t really appreciate comments like “It drives me crazy when you wear the same sweatshirt and pants two days in a row” or questions like “When was the last time you went to the gym? But I needed to hear that stuff. I knew it wasn’t nagging because it came from a place of care and concern.
Sometimes you need a kick in the butt as much as a hug.
I have learned that marriage is not an “I give 50 percent and you give 50 percent” arrangement. Sometimes the ratios are out of balance. If you see your other half sagging, you do what you can to support them and keep moving forward. You don’t do it out of gratitude, you do it out of love. Cathy doesn’t consider the help she gave me anything special, which makes her all the more so. Like I said, I’m a lucky guy.
Either way, let’s hope 2022 will be “for the best”. If not, I promise to at least change my sweatshirt and pants every day.