Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deep Peace

It was the week before my surgery. I had been home from New York for three days when my mom and I decided to go to the beach. We packed up the Volvo with towels, water bottles, and sandwiches, and drove up the 101 freeway to Ventura.

We spread out our blankets on the empty beach, next to the rock pile so Mom could rest her back against the heated boulders. I got up and walked towards the water. Mom shivered as I rose. “Brrr, won’t it be cold?”

I shrugged. I was going to swim. I was going to use my body before God knew what was about to happen to it.

The water rushed at my ankles, and a wave rolled in against my thighs, and I stepped forward until the cold was swirling around my stomach. And then I plunged under, kicking my legs, I took a breath of warm air and then pumped my arms against the coming waves until I got past the break. When the water calmed, I turned over onto my back and floated, rocking with the surf, the sun beating on my belly and chest.

As I made my way back to shore, I scanned the beach for my mom. I wasn't wearing my glasses, and it was hard to see her, but then I spotted a form of person by the rocks right in front of me. Standing up in the foamy water, I laughed and did an overly dramatic mime of me looking for someone, and then pointed my finger right her and laughed out loud again. Like, hey, I didn’t see you, but you’re right there!

I walked out of the water and towards the sand, and realized I was pointing at a stranger.

* * *

We arose early, before the sun. My parents were sitting in the front seats of the car, and I was in the back, twisting my hair with my fingers, taking deep, long breaths.

“Are you okay?” my dad asked.

I nodded.

The nurse called my name, and I gave my parents a quick glance before following her from the waiting room and into the back. The surgeon emerged wearing scrubs. He was holding a black sharpie in his hand. “I need to mark you up, okay?”

I unbuttoned my pants and pulled one side down my thigh. He wrote something on my skin with the pen.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

He was bright eyed, his hair still wet from the shower; I was his first operation of the day. I imagined he had gone for a run that morning. I wondered if he knew what it was like to never be able to run again.

“Ready,” I said.

The nurse lead me to the bathroom where I was to change into a robe, place my clothes into a plastic bag, and pee into a cup. “We have to make sure you’re not pregnant,” she explained, smiling.

Once I was changed they led me into another room. The anesthesiologist was there, along with two other assistant surgeons. They were also wearing scrubs and hats like shower caps. They asked me if I’d eaten anything that day, Are you quite sure? Nothing? They asked me if I'd had anesthesia before, Yes, tooth surgery. While they were asking me, there was a woman lying on a bed nearby sobbing, Oh my god, oh my god, I can’t take it. Please, I can’t stand it. My heart rate, which was being read by a monitor to my left, sped up. That won’t be you, the surgeons said.

They asked me to sign the dotted line, the one saying I would authorize an amputation if the need arose, and they walked me into the operation room where they told me to lie back on the table, Wow, you’re tall, where they pricked me with needles until they found a good vein, where I could hear my heartbeat suddenly fill the room, quick and sharp, You must be cold, they said. My legs were shaking. They put something over my face. And the room went black.

There is a Celtic prayer —
Deep peace of the running waves to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace.

(Image from

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