Saturday, September 24, 2011

Living Donors

Thought it was about time to reveal some of what I was working on (and what was doing a number on me) this summer. It's an excerpt from the title story of my novel in short stories, Living Donors. Here's the copy about the collection and the story starts after the jump. 

Zadie is trying to remember a time before she feared dogs; her father, the last time he genuinely enjoyed a meal, and Debbie, the exact way she felt the day she looked into a mirrored ball and saw her future.

Living Donors traces interlocking stories through three generations of a new kind of family as they try, fail, and cross over their own boundaries in parenthood, joy, and satisfaction. On a kind of nomadic childhood, the thing that stays constant for Zadie is her bright inner world—a kind of compass that cannot be skewed. Despite neglect and jealousy from her mother and stepmother, Zadie navigates the channels towards adulthood in a style all her own. Zadie learns when to break allegiances and seek surrogate nurturing. With help from her father & friends, ancient stories from relatives, and her humorous imagination, Zadie finds a sense of home in the world of families who count her as their own. But at what cost?

Stories of hope, the loss of it, loyalty and violence, Living Donors looks towards the moments when the magic of youth can sour into shame, tragedy, or worse-- resignation. And the pound of flesh we owe to be a member of any family. 


      Stage Four, Type C Liver Cirrhosis

    Living Donor Partial Liver Transplant
                        A Guidebook

Any member of the family, parent, sibling, child, spouse or a volunteer can donate their liver. The criteria for a liver donation include:
 Being in good health
Having a blood type that matches or is compatible with the recipient
Having a charitable desire of donation without financial motivation
Being between 18 and 60 years old
Being of similar or bigger size than the recipient
Before one becomes a living donor, the donor must undergo testing to ensure that the individual is
physically fit. Sometimes CT scans or MRIs are done to image the liver. In most                                                                            cases, the work up is done in 2–3 weeks

Pros/Cons (as of January 4th, at Dad’s request)

Should Donate:
  • Mom lives (?)
  • I don’t really like alcohol
  • I don’t really play sports
  • Sympathy (candy, flowers, at least a year [two maybe?] of niceness from friends)
  • Karma

Should not donate:
  • Mom lives
  • Risk of infection
  • Scar forever
  • No semester abroad
  • What if I like alcohol one day?
  • What if I want to play sports one day?
  • What if I do it, and she still doesn’t stop drinking?

            Zadie was always on planes. She’d lived her life shuttling back and forth between her parents, her grandparents, her aunts, her uncles and any other port in the storm since her parents had split up when she was two.
            The way Zadie reasoned, airports, planes-- the entire process-- was like the universe’s holding pen/distribution system. They were the cathode ray tubes that zoomed you from one channel to the next.
            Something monumental was always looming on the landing end of a plane ride. A new life, a new school, a new family, a death of something or someone. When the planes dipped (and they always did) and everybody’s stomach dropped out—this was no accident. The universe made it that way. That was to let everyone know that something was always, always waiting to pounce on the other side of that flight. That’s also why they gave out free snacks on the way. To distract you. Small consolation.

            Zadie should have been back to start her spring semester of sophomore year, but she was going abroad (probably) so she wasn’t enrolled in any classes. Instead,  she’d been subpoenaed to her mother’s bedside. Not by her mother, of course. Even dying, Zadie knew Debbie wouldn’t stoop to ask for what she wanted from Zadie. Even if it meant her life.

            In fact, not one of those Buchanans had actually said in words what was expected of her. But Zadie knew. Living Organ Donation. LDLT.
            Her Dad had vetoed the idea from the moment it came up. And while Zadie was almost certain her answer would ‘no,’ she packed up all her skepticism along with her safety blanket copy of Jane Eyre, and collected her free plane ticket and her plane peanuts and boarded the pre-dawn flight to Portland, Oregon.
            “And what can I get you t’drink?” asked the flight attendant.
            “Diet coke,” said Zadie, before reconsidering. “Actually, can I get a grape juice?”    
            “Is cranberry okay?”
            Zadie rolled her eyes, but answered, “Yeah. That’s fine.”
            “Whoops, I’ll just run back to the station and get a fresh one for you.”
            Over the years Zadie had been flying, she watched her experience get downsized little by little: whole can of beverage down to just the cup, then half cup, then cup that was really exaggerating by marketing itself as a cup. This was really a cosmic scam, considering that, as the years had gone on, the detonation at the other end of the flights had gotten bigger and bigger.
            When the flight attendant passed her the shallow cup, the sides cracked and magenta juice rolled down the front of Zadie’s light blue sweatshirt.
            “Oh, oh, oh!” said the stewardess.
            A sleeping suited businessman grumbled at the noise and rolled in the other direction as he tried to burrow into his donut shaped flight pillow. Zadie felt vaguely jealous of this man with his sleep and his business trip.
            “Let me just clean that for you, ma’am.”
            As she struggled with the foil wrapping of a wet-nap, the flight attendant did her best to vamp with Zadie.
            “So… you still on Christmas break from school?”
            Zadie nodded.
            “Your college in Oregon? You headed back there now or is this a vacation?”
            “I don’t go to university in Oregon. I’m going to see my mother.”
            “Oh, that’s nice.”
            “No, actually. She wants part of my liver. Here, I’ll take that. Jus--just give it here.”
            The flight attendant’s eyes blinked rapidly as she processed the comment and handed over the wet-nap. Zadie just rolled over into the two empty seats next to her and tried to imagine her mother as bloated as the pictures in her pamphlets.
            Cirrhosis is from the Greek, meaning tawny, yellowish.
            That sounds like Autumn. Like a stroll through Central Park-- not the bloating pox that’s probably going to kill my mom.

            After she’d paid for her taxi and figured out which hospital wing to enter, Zadie saw all five of her mother’s siblings in the lounge. The only one she was actually speaking to at the moment, her mother’s older sister Mahriah, came running up to her as soon as she stepped off the elevator.
            “Thank God you’re here!” she cried, running across the room. A nurse instantly shushed her. Then Mahriah whispered, “I thought I was going to go crazy if I had to spend one more hour with this crew. You’re my anchor, Zay.”
            “Yeah, I’m here. I can’t believe they’re all here,” Zadie gestured to the sloppy, ill-slept mess of middle-aged Buchanans. “I can’t even believe you’re here. You hate her.”
            Mahriah’s expression fell. When she stopped smiling and her face got soft, Zadie could see the faint outlines of where she had had her makeup tattooed on by a plastic surgeon. It made it easier to tell how old she was.
            “Zadie Jean. I don’t want her to die. I want her to live… She can’t apologize if she’s dead. If she dies, she gets off the hook. ”
            From across the room, Zadie heard the shaky, nerve-grating voice of her mom’s twin, Deidre. “Mahryyyy, is she gonna take the tests or what?”
            Zadie crumpled her face at her least favorite family member. “Did you take the tests, Dee Dee? I mean, you’re her twin, allegedly. Although, ya know, sometimes I wonder about that. For all my mom’s faults, you would never say Debbie Buchanan was a coward. That is one confrontational bitch in there. Unlike you.”
            “Oh, I took the tests, you little brat!” Deidre finally turned around.
            Deidre said nothing.
            “They typed you out because you’re fat, didn’t they? Number one criteria: Must be in good health. That hasn’t been you in a long time.”
            “I don’t want to look at her anymore,” quavered Deidre. “I’m going to find Mawm!”
            Zadie’s uncle Glenn--the oldest-- just shrugged his shoulders as Deidre waddled off down the hallway.
            Mahriah exhaled.
            “Gosh, Zade. I don’t, uh, want to echo my airhead sister here— but, in this one case, um, she’s sort of right. Um, there’s actually not much time. And the tests can take a while.”
            “Well, I haven’t decided anything yet.”
            “We’re not saying you have to,” said Mahriah.
            “Who is this ‘we?’”
            “Ayyyyedunno, Zadie. Everybody. Else.”
            “We’ve been here for days,” said her Uncle John, looking dirty as always. “If you’re a match, Mark and me already decided… we’re outta here. Debbie still owes me like three thousand dollars. I don’t even care if she dies.”
            Uncle Mark, the baby of the six Buchanans, spoke without opening his eyes from his sprawled out position across three chairs. “Deb only owes you the three thou because I borrowed four thou from her.”
            He opened his eyes and sat up. “Well, from you, really, Zadie. She took it from your college account to get me to move out of you guys’s house.”
            “In 1990?” asked Zadie, shocked. “Twelve years ago? You people really know how to hold a grudge… And run out a credit line…”
            “Anyhoooooo,” said Mahriah, “You don’t have decide. But we don’t know if there’s even a decision to make unless you are match for all the diff--”
            “Yeah, yeah, I’ve done my homework. Can one of you get me the doc? I’d like to talk to someone…not in this gene pool.”
            Mahriah scurried off and returned a few minutes later with the silver-haired, fine-featured doctor. He looked too young to have a full head of perfect grey hair.

            “I’m Doctor Kennedy,” he said and smiled with big glinting white teeth. “I’m glad you’re here. I think a lot of people have been anxious for your arrival.”
            Mahriah leaned in very close to their conversation, nodding somberly. Zadie stared down at her aunt through squinted eyes.
            “Oh, don’t mind me,” said Mahriah. “Just pretend I’m not here.”
            Zadie looked up at the doctor and held his gaze. He clicked his pen a few rapid times and bit his lip.
            “Yes, well. Perhaps we should discuss your options confidentially? In my office?”
            Zadie nodded once. “Lead the way.”
            As she trailed him down the corridors, Zadie scanned the rooms. She wondered which of her many last names her mother was using these days. But then she saw it: Room 207, Buchanan. Maiden name.
            They were rounding the corner to another corridor when Zadie looked back and saw her Grandmother Jean emerge from the room with Deidre. When Jean saw Zadie, she waved both her tiny hands at her, wiggling all her fingers, the way she always did when Zadie was little. (“This is how fairies wave hello… they sprinkle their fairy dust on you!”) Then Jean shooed Zadie to keep going with the doctor, and pushed a truculent Deidre in the direction of the lounge.
             Dr. Kennedy closed the door and Zadie took a seat in one of the two movie director’s chairs in front of his desk. They were tall, and Zadie felt precariously perched over the desk. She could see his photo frames, filled with Multnomah Falls and Mt Hood in the background; Dr. Kennedy in the foreground with his trusty yellow lab. There were Stanford things. A paperweight. A mug.
            As if the doctor could sense her discomfort, he explained, “I’m originally from Cali. I wanted to be a director once upon a time. Suppose I still keep a few reminders of that around.”       
            Zadie shook her head. “No, no. Just not used to feeling tall, that’s all. And Stanford. They’re sort of our mortal enemy…” She pointed to her own college sweatshirt and the doctor smiled.
            He hesitated on the left side of his desk and then came back around to the other director’s chair. He picked up the chair, turned it, and replanted it on the ground so deliberately, it made Zadie laugh. She turned her chair too.
            “So. Zadie.”
            “That’s me.”
            “Right. I obviously don’t know you, but… I feel like I do. From your family and, you just seem sharp. I think you know how bad the situation is for it to even get to this point….”
            “…organ donor no-man’s-land, you mean?”
            “Right. She’s not even eligible for a donor list. She maintains that she only has ‘a cocktail here and there.’ But her liver says otherwise, and I bet you would too. And even if she were eligible? She doesn’t have long enough. Her only option is LDLT: Living Donor—”
            “Liver Transplant,” She overlapped him. “I read.”
            “Good. Then you know it’s crucial that you are one: over the age of eighteen?”
            “I’m nineteen.”
            “And that you are one hundred percent willing, of your own volition…”
            “Of ‘charitable disposition’?”
            “It’s badly worded. But yes. And, now… I know… that your family has sort of leaned on you to do this.”
            “Like the mob?”
            He laughed. “I watch too much Sopranos.”
            “Well, here’s the thing, Doctor. You’re not  far off there with your mafia reference. But none of them have actually asked me for anything. More importantly, She hasn’t asked me.”
            Dr. Kennedy nodded.
            “Right. Zadie? Please listen to me. While I am your mother’s doctor, and while I cannot ethically recommend you do any one thing over another, I want to tell you that I am the person you can trust to…represent the reality of this situation to you.”
            “I trust you. Very trust-y. That’s me.”
            He held her gaze so long it made her squirm.
            “All about it.”
            “You sure about that?” he asked.
            “If I ask your advice, will you give it to me?”
            “Yes I will.”
            “Should I give it to her?”
            “Probably not.”
            Zadie nodded. He clicked his pen a few more times.
            “But it may be a moot point once we get test results. And yours shouldn’t take as long as the others.”
            “So, I should take tests?”
            “Yes. Whatever you decide in the end, it starts with finding out if you’re a suitable grafting candidate. It’s more than just blood type. For your own conscience, I think you’d be better off.”
            “Okay. Take me to the tests.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Why Stop Now?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...