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EPILOGUE

Claire

I have been someone different now for three weeks. It's not something you can tell by looking at me; it's not even something I can tell by looking at myself in the mirror. The only way I can describe it, and it's weird, so get ready, is like waves: they just crash over me and suddenly, even if

I'm surrounded by a dozen people, I'm lonely. Even if I'm doing everything

I want to, I start to cry.

My mother says that emotion doesn't get transplanted along with the heart, that I have to stop referring to it as his and start calling it mine. But that's pretty hard to do, especially when you add up all the stuff I have to take just to keep my cells from recognizing this intruder in my chest, like that old horror movie with the woman who has an alien inside her. Colace, Dulcolax, prednisone, Zantac, enalapril,

CellCept, Prograf, oxycodone, Keflex, magnesium oxide, nystatin, Valcyte.

It's a cocktail to keep my body fooled; it's anyone's guess how long this ruse might continue.

The way I see it, either my body wins and I reject the heart-or I win.

And become who he used to be.

My mother says that I'm going to work through all this, and that's why I have to take Celexa (oh, right, forgot that one) and talk to a shrink twice a week. I nod and pretend to believe her. She's so happy right now but it's the kind of happy that's like an ornament made of sugar: if you brush it the wrong way. it will go to pieces.

I'll tell you this much: it's so good to be home. And to not have a lightning bolt zapping me from inside three or four times a day. And to not pass out and wake up wondering what happened. And to walk up the stairs-upstairs!-without having to stop halfway, or be carried.

"Claire?" my mother calls. "Are you awake?"

Today, we have a visitor coming. It's a woman I haven't met, although apparently she's met me. She's the sister of the man who gave me his heart; she came to the hospital when I was totally out of it. I am so not looking forward to this. She'll probably break down and cry (I would if I were her) and stare at me with an eagle eye until she finds some shred of me that reminds her of her brother, or at least convinces herself she has.

"I'm coming," I say. I have been standing in front of the mirror for the past twenty minutes, without a shirt on. The scar, which is still healing, is the angriest red slash of a mouth. Every time I look at it, I imagine the things it might be yelling.

I resettle the bandage that I'm not supposed to peel off but do when my mother isn't there to see it. Then I shrug into a shirt and glance down at Dudley. "Hey, lazybones," I say. "Rise and shine."

The thing is, my dog doesn't move.

I stand there, staring, even though I know what's happened. My mother told me once, in her dump truck-load of fun facts about cardiac patients, that when you do a transplant the nerve that goes from the brain to the heart gets cut. Which means that it takes people like me longer to respond to situations that would normally freak us out. We need the adrenaline to kick in first.

You can hear this and think. Oh, how nice to stay calm.

Or you can hear this and think. Imagine what it would be like to have a brand-new heart, and be so slow to feel. front of the dog. I'm afraid to touch him. I have been too close to death;

I don't want to go there again.

By now the tears are here; they stream down my face and into my mouth. Loss always tastes like salt. I bend down over my old, sweet dog.

"Dudley," I say. "Come on." But when I scoop him up-put my ear against his rib cage-he's cold, stiff, not breathing.

"No," I whisper, and then I shout it so loud that my mother comes scrambling up the stairs like a storm.

She fills my doorway, wild-eyed. "Claire? What's wrong?"

I shake my head; I can't speak. Because, in my arms, the dog twitches. His heart starts beating again, beneath my own two hands.


AUTHOR'S NOTE:


For those wishing to learn more about the topics in this book, try these sites and texts, which were instrumental to me during this journey.


M | C HAEL | Change of heart | ABOUT THE DEATH PENALTY