Someone in this crowd is wearing our daughter s heart. I imagined Douglas thinking those words. We were holding hands, wife and husband, here at this outdoor picnic arranged to honor donor and recipient families. Earlier, there had been a ballgame between the medical staff and the organ staff, with recipients part of each team to show that they were good as new. There d been a fine Texas barbeque (the first we d had in years), pork loin, chicken legs, lean beef, to show that recipients could eat with hearty appetites. Soon there would be awards, speeches, the lighting of the torch.
Our marriage was breaking to bits against the shoals of this group of coastal folks who meant nothing but kindness. How could a marriage be buffeted to bits as if against a coral reef even while we bent toward one another, clasping warm palms together (the heat also a stranger to us), weighted by the anchor of twenty-five years?
To say that there was a difference in our point of view was to say the obvious, to say nothing really. For me, it wasn t a matter of the death of our daughter Bethany, or the decision to give some of what could be salvaged from what remained of her when she was gone. That I would deal with as I was able. It was Douglas's joy, his hope, his belief that it was his daughter's heart which was beating in someone's chest. That she still was, that twenty-two-year-old girl, woman, our lovely strong-legged runner. Had it been someone else, someone not Douglas, the man I thought I knew through and through, skin to flesh to very bone, my Douglas, I could possibly have taken it as metaphor, as a way of seeing a baton being passed. The baton itself is not the runner, yet it is part of the race.
...I held on to him, in reflex, as if not to let him swim away into the clusters of nervous, near-delirious family units, those who had given and those who had taken away. Chests opened from throat to navel on both sides, body parts traded much the way children in their treehouse press cut wrists together, mingling blood, swearing lifetime connection.
Don't find him or her, I begged in the silence of my own mind. Don't. Fail to make contact. Let our recipient have decided to go away, to go fishing on Padre Island, to go see a film, now that she's able to be up and about, so many movies missed, or to go bowling, now that he can lift his big black ball again...
Douglas, wandering the crowd, suddenly bounded forward, like a puppy sniffing a trail. Someone had beckoned to him, an elderly-looking black man dressed in a black suit, white shirt, a bright red tie with a red heart smack in the middle of it. A red hanky waving from the chest pocket. I didn't follow but stood, watching as my husband bent down -- the man with the red handkerchief was small, frail -- tears coursing down his face. My Douglas, weeping as he had not at news of the wreck....
...Douglas sat rubbing his streaming eyes. The preacher wiped streaks from his cheeks, then slapped a hand on Douglas's back. Douglas fumbled in both pockets, found his handkerchief. He turned and met my eyes, then turned away.
Grief cut a canyon there was no crossing.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Footprints by Shelby Hearon. . Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.