By: Janet Albaugh
The sun was shining on the sea
Shining with all it’s might
He did his very best to make
the billows smooth and bright.
And this was odd because it was
The middle of the night
The Walrus and the Carpenter were sitting in my car, near Sunset on a gravel pullout, facing the ocean. It was a pretty nice day for a shitty winter and the water was navy blue to the horizon, flecked with silvery mirrors. I tried to act calm and stare at the ocean but the mirrors hurt my eyes and the relentless bullet of traffic hurt my ears.
“I can drive up a little farther and try to find a nicer place,” I said.
“This place is fine,” Dennis answered.
“Okay, whatever you want. You are the birthday boy.”
Two hours earlier we were sitting in the familiar waiting room of livertransplant.com, as it says on their business card. A surgeon specializing in liver transplants was, we discovered, best able to attempt to remove a malignant tumor from the pancreas. And he did, six months earlier, not knowing that cells had seeded themselves in the small intestine and were on their way to closing the path of food and liquid. How cruel that Dennis would never have another meal or anything to drink.
We were sitting where we usually sat, near the coffee machine on the plaid sofa at the right-hand wall. In the center of the room was the reception office inside a wrap around desk, like the bar in Cheers. Phones rang, fax machines ticked, postage machines cranked, doing business as usual. Every five minutes, Anna, the one we knew best, with the curly orange hair, came through the exam corridor door and called someone’s name. At least 20 people were waiting and my husband was one. There was an odd absence of wheelchairs. Everyone seemed calm, quiet and polite for people who needed liver transplants. The sun over the hills of east LA was trying to come out and I smelled burned coffee. I glanced toward the machine and saw a tear below Dennis’ eye. I wondered if the tear was because this was where he was spending his birthday
We were there on a mission of frustration because, once again, his G-bag, the bag that caught the contents of his upper intestine, was oozing, or clogged or hanging by a literal thread or torn out. I had wondered for two years, where the tears were, where was the screaming and crying, the throwing things, the cursing of heaven. I did it all, but he didn’t. He just took it, all the pain, all the poison. He kept it somewhere or let it go in Buddha-like resignation, or Superbowl offense—hard to tell. Now, Anna called his name.
They changed the G-tube and re-stitched it, still half in and out of his body, and reattached the bag. They said it was all fine. We knew it was BS. We walked through the corridor, past the Cheers desk and waited for the elevator.
The pain started for me in a new sore place. If you put your chin on your chest and imagine you can see your skeleton, you’ll notice that the bottom of your rib cage is shaped like an inverted heart, the two sides meeting in the middle. It is at the cleavage that I felt cleft in two by an ax or a mace or a donkey’s hind legs. My intestines were shrinking and contorting so fiercely I had to do something.
“Let’s drive to the beach,” I said. “Want to do that? For your birthday?”
We were at the beach in 25 minutes because nothing was going to stop me from marking his last birthday with something. I had no gift, pa rump pa pump um. I had given all I possibly could. Couldn’t make myself write a poem.
So, we sat in this imperfect place and I tried to stare at the sun on the sea and be in the moment of blue water, flecks of light and my husband still beside me. He reached over and took my hand, colder than his, and rubbed it with his thumb. All our everything of time and emotion and love as wide and deep as the sea had come to a few strokes of the thumb. We didn’t know he would live only 11 more days. He was the walrus. I am the carpenter. Repairing.