It is nine o’clock in the evening and I am sitting in the dark. We lost electricity about three hours ago and is not expected back on for some time. The creek is unusually dark. The only sound comes from generators grinding out power for those who can not tolerate a respite from television and overhead lights. Otherwise things are as they were several hundred years ago. It is peaceful and natural and an ebony paradise. I can hear night birds and the chugging of a distant boat motor. A cool breeze is filtering in our open windows while just a shadow of moonlight drops through the clouds onto the water. You are just across the creek in the arms of your family, a unique knot of people who moved with you to our special place about three months ago. Your great-grandmother, Dama, is here and she and Tisha are in another room making sleeping arrangements under the faint light of a lantern. The conversation seems to involve overcoming the power outage and is all to complicated to go into right now. It is, as they say, beyond my pay grade. My computer is on battery power so we are able to spend this time together in the peaceful dark.
I think you are old enough now, over two, to know about certain medical conditions with which I have become afflicted over the years. At my age, I am 64 years older than you; problems of this nature are bound to arise. I don’t think that any of them are a serious threat. Of the greatest importance is my belief that they will not keep me from fishing or building boats and crabbing or being a thorn in my children’s collective sides or bringing the things I believe to be important to into the lives of you and your brother and sister. Now that you are a citizen of our beloved Reedville I intend to introduce you to everything here that is vital. That will include sunrise on the Bay at the pound nets, pulling pots, catching rockfish, tubing on the creek and meeting my friends the Watermen, the Boat Builders, the Farmers and others of similar significance. You have already shown a good deal of interest in the waterbound inhabitants of the water surrounding out dock and have been pulling crab pots for some time and have no reluctance in handling minnows and other fish.
However, back to my medical concerns. To put it plainly I am and have been having a heart problem. This particular issue is of the chronic and acute variety. It began with your grandmother Tisha about thirty-nine years ago. She walked into a faculty meeting at a high school where I was teaching and as she passed by she just took my heart with her as if it belonged to her in the first place. It was as brazen an act of theft as has ever been witnessed. I did not even know her at the time of the crime and later when I did get to know her she refused to admit to the larceny, made no move whatsoever to return my heart and to my dismay displayed no interest in discussing the subject. Believe me it is a shock to lose your heart and not easy to adjust to living without it. But when it is stolen you just do the best you can until you can get it back. In my case it seemed a long time before she relinquished it, years in fact. But I did finally retrieve it, sort of. I take credit there that I should not. I did not take it back so much as she allowed me to use it now and then. But not for long.
No sooner did I get some use of it than she gave birth to your mother. I did not anticipate a new and different medical problem but one arose immediately. That is to say your mother took more than my heart she also took my breath. Now please consider my situation. A man who has lost his heart is one thing, a man who has lost his heart and his breath is in dire straits. But this time, because of my previous experience with your grandmother Tisha, I recognized the condition. It was helpful to know that I could live without my heart but it was still extremely inconvenient to be constantly fighting for air. I must tell you that your mother was, to misuse a phrase, heartless about it all. She took my heart with no discernable concern and just kept it. For a very long time. But, I stayed the course so to speak and after several very rewarding years I found myself in possession, to some degree, of my own heart and was able to breathe without support.
But then……Tisha decided to give birth to your namesake, Mandy. And your Aunt Mandy just up and grabbed my newly replaced heart with her little hands like it had been hers from the start. So there I sat, once again a man without a heart; a man trying to get some air. It went on for years. Tisha had it, your mom had it, and your aunt Mandy had it. I thought I’d never get it back. But one day I found that I was in recovery. What happened, and I was and still am confused about this, was that I found that my heart could live in several places at one time. Plainly it had to. Strangely it could be with Tisha, with your mom and with Mandy and I could still use it whenever I needed it. I began to relax with the situation.
But then to my shocked dismay and astonishment it got more complicated and my poor heart got moved farther and wider than I could have imagined. It got spread all over the place.Your brother Chase was born. It got completely lost again, that is my heart did. That was a particularly difficult and confusing time heartwise.
Just when I found myself able to cope with those conditions your sister Tish arrived. Well that was not a picnic, let me tell you. I found myself going from pillar to post trying to find my heart. Tish was, well you know what she was. But she was also a grabber of hearts and she took mine without so much as a thank you or a fair thee well. But once again I became accustomed to the situation; that is I could see that there was a balancing act involved and I adjusted and found that I could lose my heart to the likes of someone as charming as Tish and still carry on. So, confident in that knowledge I determined to move forward as best I could. And I did, I did very well and my heart problems seemed to subside into a manageable and enjoyable confusion.
Or so I thought. But then you came dancing and prancing sideways into the mix. Now one would think that a man who is a veteran of these many heart transplants would have a hand up, would be prepared and able to deal with what should have been familiar to him. One would think that a 10% addition to the bill would not be overwhelming. One would think so. But in your case, one would be wrong. The hard facts are that you have brought about new dimensions and challenges in heart loss. To a man my age this is not an insignificant matter. I admit that my heart has expanded with the demands placed by earlier thieves but somehow those thefts when compared with your robbery seemed less extreme, less final and more likely to be treatable. You are, to use a medical term, more of an epidemic for which there is no known treatment. It is as if there are ten or twenty of you and each one coming with a new or different claim. Suffice to say it has been an overwhelming experience. One staggers at the shear number of ways in which you present your claims to my heart. On the other hand I have decided to end researching a cure. I have found that, having been forcibly required to entrust my heart to you, I am content with your management of it. In point of fact all evidence suggests you are an excellent and desirable custodian of it. This despite the fact that since you took my heart it has undergone a good deal of swelling and is likely to race with uncontrolled warmth when you are about. Nevertheless, at the cost of putting to fine a point I on the subject, I find that my heart is happy and is in very good hands. This is not to diminish the fact that I have now spent the majority of my life both heartless and breathless. So go ahead and keep my heart. It appears you will do so with or without my permission. Keep it as long as you wish but also keep in mind that for over nearly 40 years it has had a good deal of handling and use and should be treated accordingly.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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