About My Wife

I want people to know who my wife was, the brilliant woman whose intellect was far superior to mine but who sometimes concealed her superiority, to the extent she could, so I would not appear so obviously dim by comparison. I want people to know a little more about the extremely private woman who simply refused to have her inner-most thoughts dragged out of her, unlike her husband who randomly and wantonly opens up to strangers who stumbled across this blog. But I have to think long and hard about what I should or can reveal about the woman I’ve loved for so long. She valued her privacy, keeping many of her feelings and opinions and emotions and beliefs locked in a vault to which very, very few were given access. I respect her decisions to keep much of herself hidden.

The trappings of prestige meant nothing to her. Though she earned a Ph.D., she never flaunted it. It was extremely rare for her to mention she was a licensed psychologist or that she had an undergraduate degree in mathematics. Those educational credentials, in part, led her to gravitate toward research psychology, psychometrics, and statistics, areas in which she excelled. Those accomplishments did not define her; she would not let them.

Unlike so many people who define themselves by their professional roles, my wife refused to allow her value to be equated with her job. And she was not too proud to do work outside her “professional sphere” when necessary or appropriate. Years ago, not long after she was hired to do research into white collar productivity, the organization that hired her suddenly disbanded the entire department. My wife was quite particular about the kind of psychological research she wanted to do, which was quite specialized and limited in availability. So, instead of despairing of the absence of jobs locally in her field, she quickly learned a new field: geophysical mapping or coding or something like it; I could never quite understand it.  Then, a few years later, when I encouraged her to return to her first professional love, she found a job in Chicago. I followed her there when I found a job a few months later. She enjoyed that work, conducting research into correlations between measured aptitudes and job satisfaction and performance. But she readily followed me a few years later when I found a position that, after roughly a year in New York, took me back to Texas.

Later, when I formed a management company, she willingly took on the financial management role for both the company and our client organizations. The business was a team effort; it would not have survived without her dedication and long, long hours.

During all this “professional” time, though, she made a point of living a life separate from work whenever possible. We enjoyed weekend jaunts, day trips, film, theater, and cooking, among other joint endeavors. And she carved out time for herself, too. She was a voracious reader, wading through enormous volumes of books, from classics to thrillers and mysteries, especially mysteries with female protagonists. She watched television, allowing herself to get enmeshed in PBS Masterpiece Theatre series and foreign films while simultaneously watching “reality” shows that I found silly and wasteful of her intellect. She did not care a whit whether I approved of her television tastes. She was not one to be moved by the trappings of intellectual snobbery nor was she willing to be shamed by judgments based on that snobbery.  She was a real person, her own person; unmoved by the artifice of social convention.

This fiercely private woman was my foundation and my anchor for more than forty years. I cannot imagine how I will get by without her, but somehow I must. I wrote a poem, five years ago, that attempted to describe what we were together. I called it Armature.


You and I have lived this life for an eternity,
detritus of our dashed dreams serving as bricks
and the two of us as mortar, cobbling together
this fragile, monumental tower where we reside.

We have scuffed our emotions against sharp
sentimental objects so many times they have
shredded into strings like worn cotton,
as soft and ephemeral as clouds.

The scowls and snarls of daily battles
between us have become so comfortable
I know I could not live without them and
the easy fit between us they concede.

I would not last an instant without them or you,
sitting in your study behind a closed door, book in hand,
exploring fantasies and frustrations, by proxy, of writers
who know you without ever having met you.

I would crumple into the useless hulk I have always been
were you not there to inflate my emptiness into a
figure in which you somehow find substance,
a man only you, in your wisdom and courage, could love.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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6 Responses to About My Wife

  1. lizardek says:

    She sounds like such a lovely woman. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  2. Beautiful thoughts and poem. By your words, an extraordinary person.

  3. Meg Koziar says:

    Marilyn said it perfectly. Thank you so much for sharing what we never knew about Janine. Meg

  4. Marilyn Matzek says:

    Thank you so much John, for sharing the Janine with us that we never knew. Her intellect must have been amazing. No wonder she didn’t share her career with us. How many of us would have been able to converse with her about it? Your precious memories of her will keep her alive as long as you live.

  5. robin andrea says:

    I will always be grateful that we got to meet her, but understand fully that we did not know her. These words about your wife, who she was and always will be are profound and illuminating. A woman of such wisdom and dimensionality, such quiet and internal knowing… your love will last forever. I’m sure she knew this as well.

  6. Bev says:

    I always thought it so good to hear that you made time to go places, cook, and do other things together in spite of your busy lives. you both made the time for each other. It’s something that is a bit rare, but that is so meaningful and precious.

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