80 Miles

80 miles. 80 long, traffic-filled miles ahead of me. Breathe. Yes. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. This isn't working.

The call that I have been dreading for over ten years has come. “Andrew is dying. We don't know how much longer he has. Get here as quickly as you can.”

Was it my mother or my sister-in-law’s voice that I heard over the phone?

I am at the wrong end of the Long Island Expressway and my brother, my only sibling and dearest friend, is losing his long, hard-fought battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

What am I doing here in the "wrong" place?

I have to do something, what is it? Yes, I have to call Matt and Linda, my son and his wife. 

“Matt, this is mom, Andrew is dying. If you want to say ‘good-bye,’ now would be a good time to go to the hospital. Can I ask you a huge favor? I know that you are the only one who knows whether the baby (due any time now) is a boy or a girl…would you tell me so that I can let Andrew know?”

Of course, he tells me. Naomi will be the newest family member.

The traffic is not moving. I'm calling Martha. My sister-in-law will be able to hold the phone up to Andrew's ear so I can tell him about Naomi.

He hears the news and I tell him that I’ll be there as fast as I can… “Please wait a bit longer?” I plead.

At last, Memorial Sloan Kettering is up ahead. 

The car is parked, I'm running up the escalator and no one gives me a second look even though my face is streaked with dirt from the barn and tears are streaming down my face.

I'm at the door in the isolation unit. Nurses are standing there helping us with gowns and masks. A few of them have tears in their eyes. 

Matt arrives with Linda. She has finished medical school classes for the day and is now suiting up. No, she shouldn't be doing that. Naomi is due. But she's going to be a doctor; surely, she knows what she's doing.

We go in one at a time. Andrew has no voice, but his eyes are talking. He knows what's going on and he whispers to each of us.

Our California cousins are en-route to New York. Please, please wait for them. Richard is his best friend, and Barbi has bags filled with rose petals from her garden.

We wait. We talk. We cry. The transplant team arrives. They are talking softly to Andrew. The lead doctor is telling me that I gave Andrew perfectly matched stem cells.  He does not have cancer. Does it matter now?

Hours pass.

My cell phone is ringing. Who in the world would call me here? Now? 

It's Matt. Linda is having the baby. Now.

It should be a moment of joy. Why can't I feel anything?

I'm back in a car. It's a cab and we're speeding across town.

Naomi, Naomi, your Nana is coming.

I arrive after she's born. Linda's had a c-section, and her mother looks so happy. My ex-husband is grinning, and Matt is in another world. 

I'm holding Naomi and the tears won't stop. Am I happy or am I sad? Does it matter?

How long can I stay here? I have to go back across town. 

Andrew waits for Richard and Barbi. The rose petals surround him and he's fading slowly. No one is wearing a mask. We are holding one another up. 

Andrew dies.

I'm waiting for the fairy tale ending. 

It seems that if there is a God, he or she or it, has more in store for us. 

***

There's something wrong with Naomi. 

Linda knows. It's swath-pattern hemangioma. 

She's not even a year old. Months of drugs, labored breathing and finally emergency surgery… But at last, we can rest easy.

Naomi is magical. She doesn't know yet that she'll need laser and cosmetic surgery.  Right now, she's just like all the other little girls. Only she owns my heart.

Is the fairy tale going to start now? No.

One year and one day after Andrew died and Naomi was born, my father dies. 

He had Alzheimer's. He was home, and he knew who all of us were. 

Instead of saying “I don't know,” to questions that the research team at Columbia asked him, he figured out how to count backwards by 7 from 100 (subtract 10 and then add 3 to the new number). 

My dad was brilliant. He was brave. He was a gentleman. And he was gone.

I should have screamed. I should have cried. I should have collapsed. 

How many waves can you withstand before drowning?

Turns out that I didn't drown. I have mourned in my own way and silently moved on.

Naomi now has a baby brother, Elijah.

The holes in my heart will never close but I see the world from a new perspective.

***

How easy it is to see what really counts in life. I understand what it means to “live in the moment.” Money and jobs and position and power pale in comparison to those who we love. 

So, love each other like there may be no tomorrow. Treasure every moment, every breath.  Look back but do it without bitterness and anger. 

80 miles was so far away but now it's where I willingly go most days. There's this horse, Gstaad, he lives out there, and he's mine. I talk to him and he lets me bury my face in his fur on the tough days. It doesn't get much better than that.

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