There is a fine line between exposing one’s self and showing off an appendix scar. I think I could be guilty of both as I unbuttoned my jeans and showed everyone the four-inch red incision line on my first day back to school. There was a certain sense of pride that I had survived not only surgery, but an infection. Not that I understood the implication of either. I was the only one in my grade missing an organ, and that made me quasi-famous.
I did not lie, but neither did I correct the wild rumors. Someone asked me if my guts exploded and I just held up my hand and told them I couldn’t really talk about it. A girl from another grade said she heard I had died and was brought back to life. I shrugged mysteriously and moved through the lunch line. Suddenly there were new faces at my lunch table and they all wanted to know what it felt like to be sliced open. I didn’t bother mentioning I was asleep.
Having surgery did slow me down. Since they apparently used super glue to close my incision, I was afraid for months it would suddenly open to expose a gaping hole where my appendix had once been. I was afraid to go down the slide, ride my bike or climb on the monkey bars. I begged off jumping off sheds until I was certain I wouldn’t explode on impact.
It was during this hey day as a school celebrity, Dylan began noticing me. He carried my lunch tray to my table. He sat across from me and told me lame jokes. He drug me behind the first grade trailer and asked to see my scar up close. With a finger he gently touched the still tender wound and smiled at me. My knees felt weak and I could barely speak, but I remember making an equally lame joke. He laughed and my heart sang. I sat in the classroom fantasizing about the beautiful flaxen hair children we would make. My near death experience had convinced him what he had been missing.
Apparently, near death experiences aren’t nearly as interesting as a new girl in school. How quickly I fell off my pedestal when the dark haired girl from the Navajo Reservation was suddenly thrust into our classroom. She wore beaded bracelets and pulled her shiny black hair with leather ponytails. She told stories of powwows and her traditional beliefs. My organ pickling in a jar in some hospital was suddenly deemed not as worthy. I watched as Dylan pulled on her ponytail and whatever daydreams of our life together were gone. Apparently shiny new objects attracted him.
Dejected, I found solace with Daniel who had visited me in the hospital and brought me lifesavers. He rode me on his bike and avoided potholes and bumps to keep my remaining organs intact. He held up barbed wire fences so I could crawl under rather than over. He stole heavy gold bracelets from his mother and slide them on my arms. We would sit for hours on the edge of ditches they were building for underground utilities for the new houses being built. Sometimes we would talk about general things or sometimes we would just sit and say nothing. I didn’t know it then, but he understood me.
I came home one evening at my curfew of dusk. It didn’t matter where we were, we just had to be home before dark. As a kid living in the mountains, you didn’t bother arguing with that logic. Just as the sun began to set, the howling of the coyotes and wolves began, and you wanted to be inside. My father was home early from work and I thought this meant he had lost his job. My stomach seized at the thought of living in something smaller than the tin can we called home.
Instead, he announced he had bought us a house. Well, actually a plot of land they would be building a house on. Three bedrooms he said excitedly and we will have two bathrooms. My mind was on overdrive with the possibilities. No more sharing a room with my sister! No more arguing over bathroom time! No more being trapped in a container so foggy with smoke we could barely see out the windows.
The best news, it was close to where we lived so I could still ride my bike to visit Daniel. We would have our own yard and the Arizona equivalent of grass which was a dirty yard with sporadic tufts of weeds. I remember my mother smiling and laughing for the first time in what felt like years. She was happy to get out of the prison van too. A brand new house, not in our wildest dreams did we ever think that was possible. I was already picking out paint colors for my room.
I excitedly told Daniel about the move and he frowned. I wasn’t going to be that far away, but we could no longer just walk across the street to see each other. I would have neighbors and would probably be riding bikes with them. He was angry at me for allowing myself to be moved. As he stormed away in a huff, I stood there on the dirt road feeling confused. How could someone be happy and sad at the same time? My child mind couldn’t wrap itself around that. Why did something have to be taken away in order to gain something else?
I cried myself to sleep that night, not sure if it was out of joy or sadness.