I really don't enjoy when I hear folks spitting out hollow and over-relied-upon platitudes -- There's plenty of fish in the sea! -- to get a point across, especially when spoken as if it were wisdom. If Yoda saying something can't make it sound wise, then no one can.
I'm here now to undo one common piece of mental fecal matter that people spout like so much diarrhea. That is this: you never really know what you have until its gone. The reality is that there are a great many things in my life that I have and I know that couldn't possibly live without them, many of "them" being people. My writing lately has tended toward the darker side of my thoughts; so this evening, I think I'll explore something to put a smile on someone's face.
My girlfriend and I have been together for two-and-a-half years, since July of 2008. She came into my life at a critical time and by a stroke of what, I thought, was sheer luck. As I found out some time later, she and my younger cousin had actually been scheming to introduce us for a while. At the time we were introduced I had stabilized some months before and was able to do a lot of things without the aid of oxygen.
She and I met in my cousins' basement one evening after I dragged my Xbox over to play Call of Duty with him and some friends. It was very dark and the whole time she had some annoying pop song stuck in here head about bees and them buzzing away or something. Because it was dark, I couldn't make out much about her appearance. In the dark basement she looked Mexican or Spanish, when she is actually Filipino; but, no matter, she's terribly cute (literally, she uses it as a leverage, mostly against myself).
We went on our first date just a couple weeks later, both of us having had sufficient time to Facebook stalk the other (don't deny that you do it too). For that date, we went and watched Wall-E at the cinema, not the ideal first date, but we were laughing and flirting so much during the film that we didn't catch a humongous portion of it (and no moviegoers were harmed in making of our date, the theater was empty aside from three sniveling girls sitting a couple rows above us).
In the weeks following that date, it became clear that this might be something that I was committed to- a situation I hadn't found myself in for several years. At this point, I decided to lay out, as plainly as I possibly could, what I was going through with my health. It came to pass a few weeks later that I was to be evaluated for my transplant, and with that came the explanation to her that this transplant was our last resort if we were to save my life. It was either transplant or die. She nodded her head dutifully and just said, "OK."
Yeah right, I thought. She was only 18 when all of this was going on. She has ambitions she wants to fulfill, parties to go to, and a lot of other priorities other than waiting around for myself, who, it should be noted, was quickly losing his ability to care for himself. Showering was no longer an option, getting to places around town required the lugging of a portable oxygen tank, which to me was like carrying a bag of bricks. I saw no way that this girl was going to be sticking around to care for some adolescent geriatric.
I pulled her next to me one day and explained to her that I understood that being there for a person in my condition was a difficult thing to grapple with, for anyone, but especially for a teenage girl who just graduated high school. I told her that if (or rather, when) she ever wanted to walk out because it was too painful to watch me suffer as I was, she could go and I would never hold it against her.
I'm not sure at what point I came to accept that she was going to stay with me. The day of the surgery, as the medical team arrived to wheel me into the OR, I leaned back (this is all from her memory, as mine appears to have been wiped by the drugs and trauma of having my chest tore into and a couple of vital organs removed) and shouted to her that I loved her.
"I love you too!" she shouted back.
During my recovery, she was there often throughout my days and nights. She helped me do things that would have been unthinkable if I were healthy. But in positions of weakness, as a person after transplant is, we have no choice but to disregard typical social rules. During this time, she actually found out that I have a penis! And she even stood by to help me stand so I could wipe after pinching a loaf.
I was embarrassed that I had to have these people --nurses, my family, and now my girlfriend -- watching and aiding me in doing things which were more often than not very private and disgusting. The thought entered into my mind at one point that what I had with April was too good to be real. How could this girl have the nerve and the affection to stand by me so closely and devotedly in such a pitiful state? That, in itself didn't make sense. But things only got stranger to me from there.
Now, as it was then, I'm back to the self I was before my transplant -- huffing down oxygen, shuffling through the halls, sometimes having no choice but to accept that I can't walk on a particularly bad day and instead have to ride a wheelchair. In this time, having April near me has become so much more important. She brings me comfort in ways I couldn't fathom before she was in my life, and especially before I nearly lost it.
Sometimes, she and I will lay in bed with her head on my chest and my arms around her. We don't have to say much, but her body demands that I not let go. Sometimes, she'll just look at me with her bright eyes and tell me how cute or "sexy" she thinks I am, at the same time I'm wiping my snotty and boogery nose with some toilet paper (Don't judge me. It's more absorbent.) and struggling to breath through my cannula. How can she possibly think this is sexy, I think to myself!?
Even when my intestine was hanging out of my gut and my bowels were draining into a bag on my stomach, to her it didn't matter.
I still can't look at myself so forgivingly. I know I can't help the state that I'm in, but I feel, so often, to be without any worth. I don't work, I've scarcely been writing. The only income I have is by way of Social Security disability, and I'm on Medicaid. Despite this, she not only stands by me, but does so proudly and with love.
Josh Harmon covering Bob Dylan's "The Man in Me":