Open heart

By Donna Jacobs Sife

Yesterday doctors opened my father’s chest and breast bone, reached into his body and held his heart in their hands. There it lay beating before them, as they gazed upon the ungazable. They cut his heart open and removed the valve that was blocking his flow of blood, and replaced it with the valve of a pig. We made many jokes about his unkosher heart in the buildup before the Big Day.

We went to see him last night, having prepared ourselves for what we would see. "There will be lots of tubes" we told each other, "and he will be very pale". But nothing quite prepares you for the sight of your beloved in a state of coma, on life support. He looked so vulnerable, so unfamiliar. We held his hand, and whispered that we loved him in his ear, and left. We walked across the park to the car silently, holding eachother’s hands tightly, four abreast, marching against the cold wind, an army - linked by common blood and full hearts.

Across the road, I noticed that my car door was open. "Look," I said to my sister, "mum must have forgotten to close the door." But as my eyes began to focus I thought I saw someone sitting in the passenger seat. Disengaging from the others I ran across the road, and saw that indeed, a man was sitting in my car. "Hey!" I shouted, crisp and sharp. He jumped out, like a wild foraging animal, disturbed by the sudden appearance of man. "Sorry, sorry, sorry" he babbled. "I was so desperate. Here," he said, taking my hand, "take it back". Two five-cent pieces and a ten cent piece rolled into my hand.

He was quite beautiful really, my age, with a torn thin checked shirt and tight black jeans. His immediate contrition touched me. Instinctively my fingers tightened on his and I felt the trembling and knew that it was more than cold, it was also the disease of withdrawal. "Its ok," I said to him, "I understand." I understood that he was cold and in pain. I understood that he was so sorry that life had brought him to this moment. His eyes, hooded with shame, held mine. So vulnerable, so familiar. For a moment, the world stopped spinning and all that existed were two pairs of human eyes holding each other. Gazing upon what is so often ungazable, in these cold streets of Sydney. For a moment he let me hold his heart in my hands, and I knew that nothing separated us..  His pain was mine. His shame was mine. My fingers loosened their soft grip and as he slipped away, we smiled. Turning back, rather tenderly, almost fatherly he said "lock your car in future."

Last night they gave my father morphine to numb the pain. The man from the street was probably was in some seedy place, administering to himself to numb his own pain. My father is fighting to regain life, to mend his heart; not so different from that man. Both are soldiers on the front line. The doctors removed the blockage in my father’s heart, and somehow I can’t help but feel that this man and I did something similar for eachother. Something that dwells in the mystery of a moment, when two people allow themselves to be seen by the other.

Last night, as I drove away, I saw that man standing at the lights. I noticed he was standing tall with his head up against the lightpole, looking at the stars. I knew how he felt, my heart was hopeful too. I beeped. We waved.

That was when I knew it was going to be alright.