I’m standing in a hospital room, looking out a window and down on the green tops of firs. I can see a railroad track snaking off into the distance, leading nowhere in particular, at least from my vantage point.
“I woke up and thought I was in Molalla.” The sound of my brother’s voice bouncing off the walls startles me. He is talking in his sleep. Why Molalla of all places? I ask myself. Molalla is a small timber town in the Cascade Range of western Oregon. I suppose one might go there for something, but to wake up and find yourself in Molalla, peculiar. Because my brother, Charles Ovie Stapleton, has just had open-heart surgery, I attribute this to disorientation. He is 71 years old. His heart was clogged. Why do these things happen?
We are so fragile, and yet, a small man with gray hair sawed through my brother’s sternum, pulled the ribcage apart to get to his heart, rerouted the vessels, and closed him up. His heart never stopped beating.
Charles lies there, a position he really hates. He is always on the move. Things need to be done that only he can do, maintenance of his land, wood carving, beautification of his home, golf games to win, etc.
I watch his breath; it’s shallow and heavy. I can do nothing but wait for him to wake up and hopefully know I’m here. I look at the scar, or rather what will become a scar; a thin red line traveling down his chest looking somewhat like two quilt pieces sewn together, the kind of patched quilts he used to lie under as a child. I think about scars, and how we are scared by life in all sorts of ways.
I once carried a scar from this brother. I was six years old, he was 23. Charles was away at school in Wyoming. Occasionally he would come home for a weekend, hitchhiking through the night to surprise us. It was 1955 and dangerous or not, he did it anyway. My would mother worry about what could have happened to him…and fuss a bit…but she was extremely happy when he made it home safely. She always wanted her little chickens back in the roost.
On this day I was playing with a beautiful black baby doll mom bought me. Charles arrives unexpectedly, and without even a hello, he grabs the doll and shouts out loud about how I wasn’t supposed to play with girl toys. I already knew at six, nurturing was not gender specific. The doll vanished. I am now 53 and I’ve never seen that doll since. What made the scar deeper, was the fact that my mother didn’t say a thing, she let him rule. Ah, her boys could do no wrong, even me, later in life. I have long since forgiven my brother, and the scar has healed.
I think of all the moments of traveling, all the moments spent just trying to get somewhere that my brother and I have both have endured, and know that whatever has brought us to this moment, his heart is strong. He has chosen to live. This in itself marks my place on the earth. I am free of shame. It’s all still tucked in there, moments of unusual beauty and moments of extreme pain.
I look out the window and watch as a train goes by loaded with timber. Whose home will be built? What child will be kept warm by its heat? How many animals were misplaced when it fell? How many brothers and sons of brothers will benefit from the majesty of its life? The cycle of all of this is mind numbing.
He wakes up. “Hey Brother,” he says. “How long you been here?” I answer, and he seems pleased. He asks about my job. I tell him everything. He smiles. He needs to move, so I call for a nurse. The nurse comes in and we move him up into a more comfortable position. “I’m cold,” he says softly. So I cover him with warm blankets and he eases down, into safety, like a small boy. The quilt image flashes in front of me.
We talk a little bit more, mostly about the state of the world. He tells me he needs to sleep. As I’m putting on my coat, he extends his hand. We shake. He holds my hand for a long minute, looks at me and says, “Things will be different now.” His eyes are deep. He seems to look right into me. I agree with him. With a kiss on the head, and a gentle, “I love you” he’s asleep and I’m gone.
Driving home I drift into thoughts of childhood again. I never played with Charles. We never ran through the mountains or rode bicycles together. We never walked the train tracks of Haymond to anywhere. Once, I missed that brotherly connection. Held resentment. Not now. He loves me in his fashion, and I am fortunate. I will return to his side. If he needs me, I’ll be there. Even if he doesn’t, I’m holding on.
And if he wants to go to Molalla, I’ll take him.