Happy place

Sitting in the surgical room, waiting for a minor outpatient procedure, I try to redirect my sense of dread by listening to the nurses chatting:

“The knees, they’re the most unforgiving body part.”

“How about the uterus? The uterus is a vindictive organ. You mess with it and it’s going to fight back.”

Immediately I am looking all over the room for something to write with: The uterus is a vindictive organ –! That’s got to be one of the best lines I’ve heard in my entire life. Profound and very possibly inarguable . . . .

But pens apparently aren’t needed in the surgical room, as I can’t see one anywhere, and even if I did, I can’t get to it, I’m hooked to an IV, and besides, here comes a nurse, still talking: “The liver, now, it has a great sense of humor, but the uterus has absolutely none. —How ya doin’?”

She’s addressing me. “Oh!” I say, still etching the dialogue into my brain in a desperate attempt to preserve it. “I’m, um, good.”

—What does she mean, the liver has a great sense of humor? Because it’s able to regenerate? Or is there some other reason? What can that possibly be?

“So, you know you’ll get propofol, right, and this will all be over in a jif,” she says cheerily, busying herself with the tubes and such.

—Propofol. Isn’t that what killed Michael Jackson?

I am just about to ask when the anesthesiologist comes in and says, “All right, let’s do this.”

I want to say, Hang on a second, I really need to know about the liver’s sense of humor, when the anesthesiologist says in a low, silken voice:

“Do you have a happy place?”

I so know what THIS is. Get me talking about something happy so I’ll go under peacefully. A completely obvious ploy.

I don’t want to be put under, I don’t want to talk about my happy place, I want to know about the liver’s sense of humor before I wear myself out wondering about it.

But the moment’s upon me and suddenly this question about my happy place makes me want to cry.

See, I think my happy place is a little like Heaven, and if I start talking about it—will I wake up?

No need to fight. Just embrace it, says my own voice in my own head. At least, I think it’s my own voice.

So I say, “Yes, I have one.”

“Tell me about it,” says the silken voice, as warm as a blanket.

I sigh. “My grandparents’ home.”

“Where’s that?” asks the liver-humor nurse.

“In Beaufort County, out in the country. Some people say at the end of the world.”

“Why were you happy there?” coos the anesthesiologist.

“Well, because they were there. My grandparents. I always wanted to be with them.”

And they always wanted me, I think, but I don’t say it aloud. I can see them, faintly, as I speak. Standing out in the yard, watching for my arrival. One or the other or both, every time they knew I was coming. Watching, waiting.

“What was it like there?”

I’m not sure who asked this.

I can see it as I speak, as if through a window in my mind. The blue sky, the trees. Grandma’s azaleas, the camellia bush, the orchard, Granddaddy’s garden, the old hen house. I am not sleepy, yet. Maybe I can fight this, a bit . . .

“I grew up in the city and in the summers I’d go stay with my grandparents. I loved the country. It was a little paradise . . .”

It was love personified, love-infused, love written in the veins of every leaf, in every blade of grass, in the black earth itself that gave back so abundantly of what was given,  love echoing in every birdsong, in the vibration of every cicada, love painted on the iridescent bodies of dragonflies in a place more alive than any other I have ever known.

“Time to wake up, now,” says a gentle voice in my ear.

Grandma? Is it morning, already?

I’m so sleepy, still.

“Here you go. It’s all over, and everything is fine. You did great.”

It’s the liver-humor nurse.

I’m dressed, wheeled out to the car, buckled in beside my husband who’s driving, and well on my way home before I realize:

I STILL don’t know why the liver has a great sense of humor.

Thinking fast

Fish

Image: 甘 泉 CC BY

A carnival came to town when my older son was three. The highlight of this event, you might surmise, was our elephant ride. If you ever plan to ride a real, albeit relatively small elephant, here are some tips: Be prepared to rock precariously from side to side. Hold on with your knees. Wear jeans, because elephants have unexpected long black hairs that stick straight up to pierce your legs. I felt quite exotic, but, alas, it was not the pachyderm that made the boy’s day.  He was completely captivated by the silver goldfish he won all by himself, playing ring toss.

On the way home, envisioning an inadvertent water bomb disaster involving the plastic baggie and the sidewalk, my husband said, “Son, let me carry the fish for you.”

Our boy, who was walking an inch  or so taller, puffed his little chest out. “I won’t drop it!”

“So, what are you going to name your fish?” I asked, trying not to hover.

“Flipper!” Oh, the power of television syndication. The boy held the bag up to his face, beaming. “Hey, Flipper!”

Transferring Flipper from the bag to a large jar was tantamount to a birth: “Be careful! Don’t let him fall!” Our boy watched with big eyes, nearly holding his breath, as I poured his prized possession into a new living space.

We placed the jar on the living room mantel. I explained: “Fish are not supposed to be carried around. They need a safe place. Flipper will be fine here and you can look at him all you want to.”

The boy seemed content with this arrangement. “All right.”

For the next day or two, he could be found in the living room at random moments, staring up at his fish. I listened from the hallway: “Hey, Flipper! Are you hungry? Do you like swimming in your jar? This is your new home!”

Then: “I love you, Flipper.”

Flipper was the first thing he looked for in the mornings and after his naps. He was taking a long nap later in the week when his dad and I had to leave for a dinner meeting. I prepped the babysitter: “He will want to check on Flipper when he wakes up. The boy loves that fish.”

The babysitter chuckled. “That’s so cute!”

The dinner meeting ran longer than expected. Knowing our son would be in bed for the night, my husband and I entered the house quietly. The babysitter met us at the door, wringing her hands:

“Let me just tell you that as soon as you left, I went to see that fish. He didn’t look so great. I tapped on the jar to see if he would move, but no. A floater. Totally dead. I thought ‘What am I going to do? I gotta get him out of here before the boy notices!’ So I flushed him. I figured I’d think of something to say later. Then your son woke up. He said he needed to use the bathroom so I took him. Just as he was finishing the last few drops, he points at the toilet and goes: ‘Is that Flipper in there?’ Heaven help me! I didn’t know the fish hadn’t gone down! I had to think fast. I said, ‘Wow, look at that! You just peed a fish!'”

Exactly what we told the boy about the absence of Flipper and his jar on the mantel is lost in time; all we remember now is the ingenious save – of the moment, if not of the poor fish.

Reflect: When has thinking fast served you well? When have you switched gears in the middle of something to rescue the moment?