“Love conquers all,” Tina’s father, Professor Su, said, toasting us at our post-wedding meal. As one of the conquered, he would know. Parental opposition to our interracial marriage helped produce the twenty-year separation between our parting in June 1964 at Cornell and my marrying his daughter, Tina Su, in June 1984 in my apartment in Bedford Hills, NY. Twenty years lost.
The optimist is said to view as half-full the same glass that the pessimist views as half-empty. My glass and Tina’s, at our marriage’s beginning, were both nearly brimming. At forty-one and forty, respectively, we still had the energy to do what most people of that age do. Tina’s younger son, Phil, had accompanied her when her first marriage dissolved, and he was ours to bring up from age three. Tina’s elder son, Ted, had chosen to stay with his father, and it would be a decade before he reconciled, at age nineteen, with Tina and me. Tina found adequate fulfillment in being wife and mother, and my scientific career was going well. We had as friends those who were not put off by our mixed-race pairing—educated friends, some of them parents of Phil’s buddies.
As we had done at Cornell, Tina and I walked hand-in-hand, hither and yon, in the first few years of our marriage. If you looked closely, you noticed her steps were small and slow. Within ten years, she could walk no more. Her multiple sclerosis (MS), diagnosed several years before we married, had gradually taken her ability to walk. In the twentieth year of our marriage, an MS attack took away all movement below the neck, nearly costing her life as it was precipitated by an aspiration-caused pneumonia and systemic infection. She was left quadriplegic, ventilator-dependent, unable to take food or medicines by mouth. After a hundred-day battle in the intensive care unit of the local hospital, she was discharged with a grim prognosis. Our options were a gentle death in a hospice setting or a rugged fight to live, at home. Her choice, and mine, was home. With the help of our doctors and our in-home nurses, we have won that fight for eight years.
Our metaphorical glasses are no longer full. People value things largely by their usefulness and their scarcity; water is useful but plentiful, thus cheap; silver is useful but rare, thus expensive. Tina still enjoys her life, despite its limits. She loves and is loved. She remains interested in people, places, nature, music, ideas, family, friends, staff, neighbors, community, and the world.
At Tina’s urging, I have written a book about us, Ting and I: A Memoir of Love, Courage and Devotion [see amazon.com]. A love story, a tribute to Tina, a thank-you to all who have supported us, a how-to for at-home intensive care management, the book shows that even under our circumstances, life can be, as one product used to boast, “good to the last drop.”