A few months ago, when Cecil’s transplant coordinator said ‘Get ready to go,’ Cecil’s challenge was to get medically prepared. Mine was to put in place a series of logistics and a network of support. I had ten days to find a place for Cecil’s two-month outpatient recuperation in Charlottesville, and the same stretch of time in which to pull together a team of caregivers to cover him day and night.
I would have to work except on weekends, so I’d need to recruit others. I put out the call to family and friends. We would need about ten people who could leave their jobs and families, fly to Virginia (at their own expense) and give us a week. During that week, each caregiver would likely have to pile out in the middle of the night en route to the E.R. and to sit for hours at a time in the hospital, wearing a gown, mask and gloves. Before his or her week was over, each would feel like Stepin Fetchit, and each would come to exemplify the term bedraggled. I didn’t expect many to raise their hands.
Within a day, about twenty people had committed to the task – unconditionally – just, ‘Count me in.’ A couple of them put together a Facebook Group, so details of Cecil’s transplant and recovery could be posted for those who wanted to know. Almost immediately there were some fifty members. That number kept growing. The outpouring of concern and support was almost contagious. I watched Cecil's quest for health blossom into a community of people who banded together in a common experience. Many of these people had never met. Their lives had no cross-connection, but they had come together to nurture someone through a life and death experience. The community put down a network of roots and took on a life of its own.
Beneath all this was a sense of family, an ability to form relationships and to care for others beyond caring for themselves. What makes people feel such a connection? I need look no further than to Buzzy and Ricky Ray to answer that question.
Buzzy came into the family at my baby shower, when I was six months pregnant with Kirstyn. I can’t remember now how he became The One – or even how he became a ‘he’ – but, from the beginning, this scrawny little bear, non-descript in every respect, was Kirstyn’s main guy. When she ran down the hall to our room in the middle of the night to escape those scary things that come to visit every young child, Buzzy came with her. One night, she forgot him, and bravely retraced her steps to save him, before she would save herself.
We spoke of Buzzy as though he were another child of the family. No one questioned this; he was one of us. When we packed for a trip, Buzzy wasn’t laid out as a thing to remember. He was somehow at the door with the rest of us, ready to go.
At my sister’s for Christmas one year, her pit bull got ahold of Buzzy and worked him over. The whole family was in mourning. I had to do something. I sewed a button where his eye used to be and crocheted him a new mouth. Cosmetic surgery here and there made the rest of it go away and Buzzy had been saved. The pall of disaster lifted.
Eight months into my pregnancy with Dru, Cecil, Kirstyn and I went to Bald Head Island. No cars were allowed; we traveled about in golf carts. At the end of our week, we stood on the pier waiting to board ship back to the mainland.
‘Where’s Buzzy?’ Kirstyn cried out, with just minutes to go. Panic set in immediately.
“What do you mean, Where’s Buzzy? Don’t you have him?”
“No, he’s not here,” came the sickening words. Another passenger chimed in that he had seen a stuffed bear lying in the road on his way to the pier.
Lying in the road? We jumped into a golf cart and raced back. I was at the wheel…45 pounds to the good; hair flying wildly in the breeze; pushing the cart to its limit and damning it for going no faster. A mile into the woods and around a bend, a slight something appeared in the lane ahead. Was that Buzzy? Oh God, please, let it be him. As we came closer, there he was, splayed in the middle of the dirt like common road kill. The three of us leaped from the cart in unison and scooped him up, cuddling and soothing him against the injury. We stood in relieved silence for a minute, and then raced back to the boat.
Just before Dru was born, we found Ricky Ray at the bottom of a bin of stuffed animals in a baby store. We knew instantly he would be the Other One: he looked just like Buzzy.
Again with the escapes down the hall in the middle of the night and the family trips. We now had four children instead of two.
One day it was time to wash Ricky Ray. Dru would not relinquish his little friend easily. What would the washing entail? Would it hurt? How long would it take? I explained the process as we stood together by the washing machine.
“No,” Dru clutched Ricky to his chest. “He will hit his head.” So, I put Ricky into a pillow case and described how that would protect him from all the tumbling. As I tied a knot to secure him in, Dru cried out in horror, “He can’t breathe! He can’t breathe!” I quickly untied the knot and placed the bundle into the washer.
Every year at Christmas, the kids came down the stairs to see what Santa had brought. The four of them, Kirstyn and Buzzy, Dru and Ricky Ray, paused on the landing so we could take a picture. Then the four of them sat about the living room as we opened presents and enjoyed the beauty of life and love shared over time.
All these years later…Buzzy is 26 and Ricky Ray is 21…they are simply a part of our family. Buzzy went off to college with Kirstyn, and lives with her now in Boston. Ricky Ray is entering his third year at UVA’s School of Engineering. When Dru went off for his first year, Ricky Ray sat on top of the bags to be loaded.
“So, you’re bringing Ricky Ray?” I asked, thinking of a teenage boy’s quest for manliness, and the curse of pranks or teasing. Dru looked at me like I was some kind of nut. “Of course,” he said. Where Dru goes, so goes Ricky Ray.
Dru is a strapping young man now who worked at Microsoft last summer and will research cutting edge technology for a professor in the fall. This summer, he is traveling in Asia. He moved out of his dorm for the summer and came to the cottage, where Cecil is recuperating. “Mom, will you keep Ricky Ray while I’m gone,” he asked, as he handed me the bear. “I don’t want to bring him cuz something could happen to him in China.”
“Sure, I said, as I tossed Ricky into my weekend bag.”
Dru bristled. “Don’t throw him in the suitcase.”
“Oh, sorry.” What was I thinking? I placed Ricky Ray on the bed.
We learn to love from a young age. We look around us and we emulate what we see. It doesn’t matter if the ones you love are black or white, or made of cotton, bonds come to people who have learned how to form them, and been given the opportunity to do so. These are the threads that make life powerful. We are not here to mark time. Rocks do that. Human beings feel things. That’s what makes us different.
And that’s why, this summer, I will be sleeping with a dingy white bear, curling around him with love unquestioned, conjuring up the years we have spent together.