Birthday, April 14, 2010


An image has come unbidden into my consciousness this week, and I’ve finally figured out why. I keep seeing Gale’s steel-blue eyes smiling at me from above a pristine white surgical mask. He is perched on the edge of his seat, next to my head, a trembling hand on my shoulder, periodically peering over the drape that prevents me from watching the hubbub of activity focused on my midsection. There is no pain, but only the sensation of hands moving across and inside my belly. Finally one last tug and a final thrust against my diaphragm, and Doctor Joe says, “ok, dad, what is it?” Gale proudly says “a boy,” and the entire surgical staff erupts into laughter. Even I knew weeks before that it was going to be a girl, but didn’t tell anyone. Gale quickly corrects himself – “a girl!” Fortunate for both of us, since there was one – and only one – name we could think of for our third child. Emily. The most beautiful name we could think of. (Even if it had been a boy, it probably would have been Emile.) Blue eyes, now brimming with tears, are twinkling with joy. We got our girl – a shining new daughter – on April 14, 1989.

Twenty-one years later, I look at the young woman we fondly called Sweet Pea, Princess, Emo, and Peanut, and see a survivor who has accomplished all that her dad would have wanted for her. On my way to visit her at school this evening, I recalled a conversation I had with her dad 15 years ago, when he was just beginning his journey into heart failure. He was not one who opened up easily to anyone, but he felt just overwhelmed enough to admit that the one thing that scared him the most was that he would not get to see how his children turned out. Tonight, I walked into Emily’s apartment, bearing a red rose and a bottle of champagne, just as she emerged from the shower. Her friends were busy blowing up balloons, stringing crepe paper, decorating a cake. She and I hugged, chatted for a few minutes, discussed plans for a family dinner, then we hugged again and I left. I felt a rush of sadness that Gale didn’t quite get to see how Emily “turned out,” but as I drove away in the darkness, a huge wave of contentment and relaxation washed over my entire body. Somewhere those bluest of blue eyes are again twinkling with joy and a failed heart, now whole and healed and pain-free, is swelling with pride.

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