The First Lifelong Gift My Husband Gave Me Was Herpes

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woman in dark room

The first lifelong gift my husband gave me was herpes.

And so, I spent the last year getting divorced and hoarding Valtrex.

Every two months, my iCal reminder told me it was time to fill the tightly regulated prescription. As far as I can tell, this stinginess with medicine that helps people suffering from venereal disease is specifically a weird military thing. By all accounts, this stuff is handed out like candy to my herpes-civilian counterparts.

This method of drug bequeathing is on-brand for my history with government healthcare. A few years after my husband got a vasectomy, I went to my OB-GYN to ask to be put back on the birth control pill after having taken a two-year hiatus. I was refused because my husband’s inability to reproduce meant I apparently didn’t need it.

For over 23 years, I’ve never been without a supply of this blessed antiviral pill. Not just because the effect of the disease on my body was much more severe than it was on his, but because my husband refused to be labeled as someone with a sexually transmitted disease.

So I became our household Valtrex dealer.

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When he was first diagnosed with herpes, he was a young Sergeant. This meant his medical records now included his incurable genitals malady along with charts of up-to-date vaccines and proof of dental health. He didn’t want that designation, so he removed the paperwork from his records, and poof, gone. In the late ’90s, this was something that was done all the time by Marines.

The military records system was and probably still is antiquated, so with orders to each new duty station came a trip to the medical records office to collect the family’s entire history. These bulging, pressboard folders were a fussy, messy burden toted to every new military hospital.

In this process, my records had been lost and erased several times. And so, at each new base, I would don my "Team Marriage" jersey for the introductory meeting with my new primary care provider and mark the box that would inform them of my sore-laden genitals.

Being the sole caretaker of our marital herpes was yet another way for me to protect his reputation. It also made me his teammate. By single-handedly holding the STD responsibility, I could maintain our standing in the community. If he fell, I fell.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I remember everything being overshadowed by this disease. Typically, herpes is an individual annoyance, but when you’re growing another human that is to be delivered through your infected body, it becomes an urgent, serious issue.

If the timing is off, it’s no longer a personal irritation — it can be catastrophic to the little person you’ve so painstakingly grown. As the due date approached, I was carefully monitored because depending on what my body would do, I could harm my child. The alternative was to surgically open my womb in order to completely avoid the diseased parts.

But, I wanted to give birth the way I wanted to do it — vaginally, just as I had done with my first.

I wanted a new, beautiful story to wrap around my first delivery room memory, like decorative Saran Wrap, leaving the contents underneath visible, but adding a layer of something happier over top. I was sure this new layer of goodness could only be done through my birth canal.

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The STD gods shined down on my vagina twice, resulting in a healthy, slightly cone-shaped-headed baby.

About a year into our separation I realized, once divorced, I would no longer qualify for lifetime military healthcare. As luck would have it, the amount of time I served as an active duty wife was just a few months shy of qualifying me for this insurance jackpot. My husband came with an unlimited, lifetime supply of Valtrex. Without him, the dispensary was closed.

And that’s when my Valtrex hoarding habit started in earnest. Because soon I would no longer be able to go to the no-cost doctor who would provide the prescription to the pharmacy where I could get free drugs.

For all 20 years of our togetherness, I willingly — gratefully — carried the herpes designation. It made me a valuable partner.

But now that I’m retiring my "Team Marriage" jersey, the pill collecting is no longer STD-Stockton-to-Malone-type teamwork.

He’s had to learn to fend for himself in the harsh herpes world.

Maybe now, while he’s swallowing that blue, horse-sized pill, he can truly appreciate my efforts to protect our diseased team.

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The author has been a military spouse for over 20 years. She is sharing her story of becoming an active-duty Marine Corps wife, fully embracing the military lifestyle, and now her journey of unbecoming everything she’s been for the past two decades.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.