I was a bit nonplussed by how the transplant clinic took the news when I named Lisa as my primary caregiver for the ultimate procedure. Naming such a person is a requirement for being in the Mayo Clinic program. Lisa and I aren’t married, not life partners in the traditional, or the non-traditional, sense. The clinic seemed to feel that “best friends and sisters-in law” might not be as stable a relationship as the usual spouses would be. It's absurd, of course. How many 32-year long marriages do you know? That's three times longer than my own marriage, longer than any other relationship outside my immediate family. My clinic of choice scored me low in the area of support. Puh-leez! Or rather puh-lisa! It is to laugh. I trust her with my health out of love, but also her eager curiosity about medical issues.
I'm not writing a book about our friendship to convince my transplant clinic otherwise, and not to belittle my strong friendships of a lesser duration, nor as a how-to manual on keeping a friend. If anything, it is a how-to on how to frighten the stew out of a friend. The minor signs of hepatic encephalopathy alone are enough to curl the toes of people with less fortitude.
Our story is one of surprise, a friendship that had no particular reason for enduring other than it did. Two vastly different people who took strength in common ground and who glide through middle-age hoping it may glide a little longer.
The first time that I approach a business, a restaurant supply company for drinking cups to stock the lemonade stand, I prepare myself. Materials in hand, I enter the dark building. I know what I want, because Janie knows what she wants: 100 sixteen-ounce clear, plastic cups, with lids and straws. . . . I walk in to an industrial-looking office and the woman sitting there rises up to greet me. The words are barely out of my mouth when I see her head shaking. "We give so much, she says--every school, the police, the churches, firemen, they come to us for cups." . . . .
I'm a quick learner. Joyce is compassionate, a people person. The kind who would give if she could. As I drive away, I can see the map of Brevard County, Florida, in my head--I see paths, arabesques, swooping-looping trails of footprints of the supplicants, all of us, seeking help with good things--literacy, medical needs, school bands, youth mission trips, food for the hungry, clothes for the needy, books for the prisoners, salvation for the worthy sea-turtle. My fellow beggars are so vivid in my mind, I'm surprised I don't run physically up against them at my next stop. I feel they are my brothers and sisters. I do not approach anyone else this day. Instead, I go to a thrift shop and find a pair of lemon-shaped earrings.