Copyright© 2016 by Joesephus
The next three months, until she got her heart were the things of nightmares. Looking back, at the time, I was so caught up in the drama of the wait that I wasn’t aware of the more important changes taking place in Cindy and in me. I assumed that once Cindy stopped fighting, she’d be given a 1B status, at the very worst a Status 2. It would mean a heart cath every four weeks, but I’d already helped her with one of those, and I no longer feared them. She wasn’t. She was a status 3! To make things worse, while she wasn’t an extremely hard match, she wasn’t a common one either.
I don’t know how the people who make the decisions about who gets a heart make their decisions, but it’s a good thing I don’t know who they are. I’m a big fan of the United Network of Organ Sharing down in Richmond now, but I wasn’t until she got her heart.
The first time I knew someone else got a heart that Cindy could have used, I wanted to commit murder. The man who got the heart, was very old, in his early 40s. Yeah, he was married and had two kids, but he was just an ordinary guy, with an ordinary job. I know he was sicker than Cindy, completely bedridden, but how could anyone pick him instead of Cindy?
Of course Cindy wasn’t in the least bothered, which just made it worse for me. By the time the next heart was available, Cindy was showing physical signs of failure. She had to give up one of her classes. A week later she had to cut back to working less than half time at Children’s. It was the first time I saw her cry about her condition, not for herself but for the kids she wouldn’t be able to spend time helping.
A week later she began to swell up, looking more like the Michelin Man than the woman I’d come to love. Seeing her like that was when I first thought I might love her. Not like I’d loved Lorelei, but more than I could ever love anyone else. I took her to the hospital that night and I had tears in my eyes. Tears of impotent rage. I was furious, Cindy was breathing rapidly and she was so very weak and she still wasn’t next on the list. Some socialite who’d given a few million dollars to the hospital was next.
To be fair, the woman was only a few years older than Cindy and she also had two very young children, and a husband who doted on her. She’d been in the hospital for a month because she’d been too weak for a transplant when the last heart was available.
God help me, one night as I saw how fragile and belabored Cindy looked in her bed, I actually wondered if I could commit murder. If it had been anyone but Cindy, I might have carried through. God might forgive me; Cindy would forgive me, but she’d never continue with me and I couldn’t face that.
Through all this time Cindy’s friends were there. The hospital had to set strict limits on how many visitors she could have a day and the rotation list was pages long. The only ones who were allowed to see her every day were me and her immediate family.
Oh, I suppose I should talk about when I met them. It was right after she was hospitalized. Cindy had listed her parents as her next of kin, but was surprised when they showed up. She hadn’t understood that the hospital would call them when she was admitted.
I’d never done the “meet the parents” thing. I guess it could have gone better but I don’t know how. I was at the nurse’s station checking on something when this handsome old couple approached me. The old man, he was 65, his wife was 62, held out his hand and said, “I’m Steve, Cindy’s Dad. I’ve been so anxious to meet the man who’s so important to my little angel.”
Before I could answer, the woman hugged me and “whispered, Cindy didn’t really want us to meet you yet, she didn’t think you were ready for that sort of thing, but I’m sure you understand that at a time like this we just can’t stay away.”
I blinked hard, Cindy, with all that she had going on was putting my feelings above even those of her parents. I was the most important person in her life and I think that was the bit of knowledge that broke the last of the chains I welded around my heart. I knew in that instant that I loved her. I wasn’t ready for marriage, but I loved her.
I met her big sister and her family a day later. I could see where Cindy got her gracious nature. Not only did they accept me as if I’d been a family member for years, but they were prepared to defer to my opinions on matters that concerned Cindy. In short they were treating me as they would her husband and it made me begin to seriously contemplate becoming that.
I raised the question the next time we were alone, and Cindy cried but shook her head the whole time. “Oh Chris, you know I want you as my husband more than I than I want anything on this Earth. I love you so much I have a hard time keeping Christ first in my life, but I won’t get married like this. There’s just too much emotional drama.”
Her hands were puffy and unnaturally cold when she pulled mine to her and caressed them with her cheek. “I want you to be the father of my babies, but that’s too important a decision for you to make now, or if it’s God’s will to let me come home now, for you to make without me. Sandy has promised to think about carrying one of my babies, but I don’t want you to volunteer for the daddy role if I’m not here. At least not until all the dust has settled and you know, not think, but know you’re ready willing and able to be a single father.
“Believe me, that’s not something I’d wish on anyone, and I’ll be fine if you don’t think you can. The only thing that would disappoint me is if you make a decision like that out of some sort of misguided obligation or emotionalism. Promise me you won’t do that, please Chris, promise.”
I didn’t, couldn’t, say a thing. I’d already made up my mind that I’d do whatever I could to see that Cindy had children, my children. I’d daydreamed about what being a single father would be like. I imagined myself as a noble/tragic figure ... the sort you might catch in the “movies for menses” that play constantly on women’s cable movie channels.
My reaction at the time was resentment that Cindy was going to try to deny me my noble gesture. Now, I shudder to think how I would have coped with all the demands of a newborn without a spouse to share the load. I sometimes think that that my face must be especially expressive, because Cindy read me like a book.
“Don’t worry, I’m okay with being called home, but I’m also sure that my jobs aren’t finished here yet. I’m also not going to hold you to your ‘deathbed promises.’ Facing death doesn’t scare me, but it has effectively cured me of any coquettish tendencies I might have had. No matter what happens, I don’t think I’ll ever have the stomach for all the little games couples play while they’re trying to decide on each other. I want you, and I know you’re not ready yet. You might never be ready, but when I get you, I want all of you...” She paused then said something that I’ll never forget. She modified what she’d said to, “I want all that your heart has to give! I won’t settle for anything less. Marriage takes complete commitment. Ours will take more than most. It won’t work if you won’t give everything you have to give me.”
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what she was saying, and just how true it was. My heart was damaged too, and it couldn’t be fixed with a transplant, it would never be whole again. I’ve never met anyone who has the sort of insight that Cindy displayed on a regular basis. If it wasn’t what I shared with Lorelei, it was as close as I think normal people could come ... except it was one-way. Choose your clichÃ©: I was as transparent as glass, she could read me like a book. Those were all true, but her thinking was on a different plane than mine. I could love her, but her understanding of me didn’t seem natural somehow.
I’ll never forget the night we got the call that she had a heart. I was still in her room, getting ready to leave for the night when a doctor practically burst through the door, “We have a match in New York! It’ll be here in about an hour and we need to start to get you ready. The team’s on its way and if you want to call anyone you’d better do it now!”
In the gentlest voice Cindy asked, “Do we know anything about my donor?”
The doctor swallowed hard, “A student at NYU, she was shot in the head in what appears to be a robbery. She was declared brain-dead twenty minutes ago. She’d filled out a donor card, and her family was adamant that her organs be donated.”
I tried not to let it show on my face but I was nervous, for unknown reasons, patients are more likely to reject a heart from a female donor than a male. It wasn’t a huge thing but I do remember wishing it had been a male student ... and I remember not really caring that much about the donor.
I saw a look of compassion on her face and Cindy asked, “Will I be able to contact them, before ... just so they know I share the pain of their loss and how grateful I am for the sacrifice their family is making?”
“Uh, we don’t encourage contact between donor and recipients, it’s a very emotional time and...”
“I’m going to write a note, Chris, I want you to make sure the family gets this, no matter what.”
While Cindy wrote her note, I called her mother and the two people I was supposed to notify for the now “official Cindy support team” telephone chain.
After waiting so long, it was like someone hit the fast forward on the DVD. In a little over an hour, they were ready to wheel Cindy out of her room. I panicked! The reality that that this might be the last time I saw her alive struck me with the physical force of a city bus. My legs wouldn’t support me and I crumpled into the chair beside her bed, holding her hand in a true death grip.
Cindy on the other hand was absolutely serene. Her Bishop was already on his way to the special waiting room. Everyone had bowed while he said a prayer, including several of the surgeons on the team. The only ones in the room were Cindy’s parents, the nurses who were going to transport the gurney and me. Cindy smiled and asked if she could have a minute alone with me. You could feel the reluctance of the nurses but they left without saying a word. Cindy’s parents kissed her, told her they loved her and left with unshed tears brimming in both sets of eyes.
Cindy squeezed my hand and raised herself on one elbow. “Chris, you have to know that I’m fine with whatever happens. My real concern is you. If I don’t come back, I know where I’ll be, and you need to be OK with that. But I also know that you’re not ready to be alone again yet.
“I want you to promise me that if I don’t wake up, you’ll spend time with your family. You haven’t given them a fair chance, you know. I haven’t pushed you because your pain is so deep and ... well, I knew how you’d react. I didn’t want to create any barriers to us. If I’m not here, you have to let them help you. They will you know...”
Even I could hear the pain in my voice when I croaked, “They chose her side...”
“You don’t know that, all you really know is that your father reacted with anger at the pain you caused. That’s a natural male reaction to pain, you know. You do know it, you do it yourself. Someone hurts you or someone you love and you get mad. It’s not a bad thing, even in today’s society. Righteous indignation has its place, but you need to give them a chance. They’re desperate to contact you, and will be here in a flash if you let them...”
“You’ve talked to them!” Forgetting where we were and why, I was shocked and angry!
Cindy just smiled that serene smile and as it does when I’m mad at her, it made me furious. Generally, a good portion of that anger was because I was pretty sure how our fights would end. If there’s anything that I could say negative about Cindy is that she won’t fight with me. I think sometimes couples need to fight just to clear the air. Cindy didn’t. She either listened and agreed with me, or by a process I never did understand she listened and I’d realize that I needed to apologize. It was maddening!
I’d asked her once why she never reacted the way most humans do when someone gets mad at them. I sort of figured it had something to do with her heart. Samuel Johnson once said,”Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” I figured she’d just decided to live each moment as if it were her last. Instead she’d caressed my check and said, “When I first decided that I was called to the ministry, I was pretty upset. I hadn’t been living the sort of life ministers are supposed to live, and didn’t want to. On top of that, I was what you might call a volatile personality. God promised to give me peace with my vocation. He has kept his promise, even if I haven’t been all that good about keeping mine. Besides, if something happened to you, I couldn’t stand for our last conversation to be a fight.”
That conversation was rattling around in the back of my mind, but I was determined this time. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to find me. “Cindy! You know...”
“I used your trick with the disposable cell phone, and no, they don’t have any idea where you are. We’ve had many long talks and I would never betray your confidence, but I couldn’t let people who love you, worry themselves sick over you. They’d hired detectives to find you, and my talking to them has actually given you more time.”
She paused and I saw pain on her face, “Was I wrong? Chris we all love you, please don’t be mad at me. I...”
I broke, “My God Cindy, how could I be mad at you for doing what you think is right. I’ll do it, I’ll see them, but you have to promise me you’ll go with me. I don’t want to see them alone.”
She smiled again, “What sort of girl do you think I am? I’ve been dying to be presented to the parents. I’ve even picked out a dress.”
One of the nurses poked her head in, “We can’t wait any longer. He can walk with you to the operating room if you’d like.”
We didn’t talk as they wheeled her down the hall and into an open elevator. I just held her hand. It wasn’t until later that I realized that she didn’t show any nervousness even when they opened the doors to the OR. I wasn’t allowed in but I saw the place and I felt the chill of that cold sterile place through the opened doors.
In that pause Cindy pulled me down and kissed me. It wasn’t a goodbye kiss; it was the sort of kiss that tented my pants.