I stood at her bedside, the morning after her double lung transplant,
and watched her sleep.
It would be at least another day or
two before she regained consciousness, so for those first few days
after the surgery there was nothing to do but watch
her sleep. We would go into her room in shifts:
leaving our 'outpost center' in the adjacent waiting room, in
groups of two or three, we would go down the hall and buzz ourselves
into the IC unit. At the door to her room -- under the watchful eye of
the surgical nurse on
duty -- we would wash our hands with disinfectent
soap and slip into a pair of purple plastic gloves, then cluster
quietly around her bedside to watch her swim in unconciousness, for a
few minutes at a time. As I stood there watching her, I was
bombarded by a thousand thoughts/feeling/emotions: love, worry,
nostalgia, guilt, relief, amazement, thankfulness. But there
was another, weirder thought process going on in *my* muddled head, as
I watched her sleep for those first couple of days.
All of a sudden, I couldn't
remember what color her eyes were.
Logically, I knew that this was temporary amnesia, born of worry and
fatigue. My mother's eyes were almost certainly
blue ... like my eyes, like my sister's, like my
But I wasn't 100% sure.
the afternoon passed, it became sort of an obsession with
me. Why couldn't I remember her eye color? While I sat in the
waiting room with my family, between trips to her room, I opened up the
laptop I'd brought along with me on the trip and flipped through old
family pictures in the photo album program. My brother Timothy
thought I was doing it simply to pass the time, and at one point he
scooted a chair over to the table where I was sitting and watched over
my shoulder. I showed him pictures of the Tots as
babies ... photos from our wedding, four years
ago ... scenic shots of the glorious 2,002 in 2002 bike
riding adventure. The whole time, of course, I was secretly
looking for one good clear, close-up shot of my mother's face.
Preferably in COLOR.
no such luck.
the second day after
her surgery, one of her eyes opened a little. She was still
unconscious -- still deeply pinned under by
anesthesia and medical trauma -- but the eye
opened, seemingly of its own accord. It was the pale, milky
blue of a newborn baby's eyes, before
they achieve their permanent color. Not particularly
definitive. I spoke to her, through the fog of her
unconsciousness ... calm, upbeat, unimportant
blather, intended to comfort and reassure us both. I told her
stories about David and The Tots. I described my flight to
TicTac, a few days earlier. ("They don't even give you peanuts
anymore," I said. "Now it's trail mix.")
I brought her up-to-date on the doings at The Dirt
Company. I was never sure if she could hear me ... later, she
told us that she hadn't heard anything: "I was
in a different world for those days," she said ... but speaking to her
seemed like the natural thing to do. As I spoke to
her, the half-open eye seemed to behold me with bemused
sure what color it was.
day -- Sunday, the day I was due to fly home to
California -- Jaymi and I were met with thrilling
news when we arrived at the hospital: Mom was awake! Fully
awake this time, too, not merely floating in that place between
consciousness and unconsciousness.
she was waiting to
I dashed down the hallway and initiated the familiar ritual of
washing/disinfecting/sliding into gloves ... then,
with a joyous heart, approached her bedside. She was
definitely awake! And her eyes -- her huge, gorgeous,
cornflower-blue eyes -- fastened on me tightly.
Mom," I said, and I
smiled at her.
smiled in return,
regarding me silently for a long moment before she spoke. Then
she blinked and opened her mouth, lips trembling
slightly. "You ... " she said, in a
tremulous voice, her eyes never leaving mine. She stopped for
a moment, licked her lips, swallowed hard.
... have the most
eyes," she said finally.
funny," I said to her. "I was just thinking the same thing
about YOU." And I reached over, across her hospital bed, and
took her hand.
to throw a rock?