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Very few people have donated their organs. Very few people have even considered it, for to consider organ donation is to consider death. It is to acknowledge that there will come a time when the eyes will close, the lungs breathe for the last time, and the heart stop.
Very few patients have ever considered that the kidney, heart, or other organ inside of their bodies belonged to someone else first. Someone whose eyes lit up in laughter, whose smile made a mother dream, and whose touch made gave others comfort. Someone who planned for their heart after it would stop beating.
But his did not stop.
My name is Emily Ann Joseph, and I was born with a hole in my heart. When I was fifteen years old, I had a heart transplant. I never even thought of it as I healed. I never realized that somebody else’s heart was beating in my chest.
All I knew was that his name was Brady Thompson. All I knew was that because of me, his heart did not stop beating. I cared for nothing more until tragedy touched my life.
She was on her way home from a business trip in San Diego. I can still hear her, joy saturated in her voice, saying “I’ll be with you in three hours, Emmy. I love you.”
Three hours later I received a call. The plane had careened to the ground and been engulfed in an explosion of flames. My mother was dead.
I cried for three days straight.
I’ll be with you in three hours, Emmy.
I shut my door, closed my blinds, and hid from the world. I could not stop looking at her photograph on my nightstand, of her gracefully arched neck, the delicate rose in her tresses, the soft expression of love in her eyes.
I love you.
Her name was Ann Louisa Joseph, and I am proud to have hers as my middle name. I used to be so proud of it that as I would write my name on my homework, I would sign it Emily Ann Joseph. For almost a year after her death I only wrote Emily.
My mother was beautiful, and I have been told I have her eyes. Every day as I look in the mirror, I see her blue eyes staring back at me. Every day my own eyes, the pure sight of them, would bring back painful memories. It got to the point that I duct-taped a quilt over my mirror to help me forget.
I was too much like my mother. My laugh resembled hers, my eyes belonged to her, and even my middle name was hers. I almost caused myself grief constantly, daily reminding myself of her through simple things like laughing, signing my name, and glancing in a mirror.
That was when, in the middle of my grief, my father mentioned something of her donating her organs, primarily her heart. And that was when I realized that the child who now had my mother’s heart knew nothing of her. He did not know of her children, her little rose garden, the way she would love every living thing, right down to catching spiders in jars and letting them out of the house rather than kill them. He had never seen her eyes shining like evening stars from behind the curtain of her dark tresses every time her hair would fall on her face. He had never traced her wrinkles with his fingers, or laid his head on her lap and felt her stroke his hair, or heard her softly singing about Jesus.
He probably did not even know her name. And yet, he was carrying her heart.
Then I suddenly realized that I was carrying someone’s heart. And all I knew was that his name was Brady Thompson.
Suddenly I wanted to know everything about him. I wanted to know what thoughts had been on his mind, what emotions had flickered through his heart, my heart, when he slept at night.
I called the hospital and asked for information. I even Googled his name until I finally had an address.
Then I drove my little car to his home and turned down his driveway. A thousand thoughts of what his house could have looked like flashed through my mind on the way. I imagined a beautiful, red brick home in the suburbs.
But when I turned down a lane overshadowed with tall, sturdy oaks and pines, I knew I had been wrong. The lane, as I thought it was, was actually his driveway, and it was almost a mile long. It twisted and curved through the serene forest. Through the leafy branches I glimpsed patches of azure sky, and I knew I was in for more than I had bargained for.
His house was perched on the top of a green hill. The tiny white cottage seemed so small and insignificant in the middle of the massive forest.
The white paint was peeling from the steps that my shoes touched as I walked onto the porch. Two rockers sat out front, and a glass of iced tea with a lemon wedge was on a coffee table in between them, as if it had just been hurriedly set down as the owner rushed to answer the phone.
I lifted my finger to press the doorbell until I realized there was no doorbell. I would have knocked, but the front door was open, and all that constricted me from the little living room was a patch of screen on the swinging door. I somehow felt like I was intruding. Who was I, barging up here and peering through their door just because I had Brady’s heart? I scolded myself for being so foolish and was about to leave when suddenly a voice called me from within.
A middle-aged woman rushed to the door and held it wide open, even though I was a stranger. Her graying hair had a windy, hurried look about it and her jeans had grass stains on them. I instantly identified her as a mother. She smiled warmly, and I instantly felt the ice between us melt.
“Well, hello there. Come on in. I was just enjoying some iced tea. But the phone rang and then the toddler woke up from her nap and . . .” She suddenly stopped, realizing I probably was not interested in her life. “Well, I’m sure you’ve had days like this one.”
I smiled and, without trying to seem like a stalker, stared intently at every corner of the living room. A big, cushy couch was at one wall of the small room, and a large TV was at the other. Above the couch hung a family portrait and I eagerly studied each face. There was the mother, next to her a chubby man with a mustache that I assumed to be the father, and his hand was on the broad shoulder of a young man with a shy smile. Next to him was a little girl, and next to her a boy.
I suddenly realized that my hostess was looking at me, a look of kind curiosity as to why I knocked on her door and then stared at her house.
And suddenly, I did not know what to say. I looked around me at the little vase of flowers, the messy children’s drawings taped to the wall with a mother’s care, and the smiling family, and I was speechless. Suddenly my heart ached for her loss. I did not know who, but I knew somebody in that little family portrait was not here anymore, and I knew how it felt. My eyes began to fill involuntarily with tears at the memory of my mother, until I caught this woman looking at me so lovingly, so tenderly that it broke my heart- and Brady’s.
“Do you know Brady Thompson?” I blurted. She started; she looked at me for a long moment in surprise, and then nodded slowly. She crossed the room to the portrait and reached out her hand.
I almost impulsively squeezed my eyes shut. I was so afraid to know which one it was, for they all looked so wonderful. The man looked stern and strict, but there was a faint smile under his bushy mustache, and his eyes twinkled merrily. His rough hand, calloused from manual labor, looked surprisingly soft as he gently stroked his wife’s shoulder. Was he Brady? Had she lost her husband, her beloved?
My eyes shifted to the oldest boy. He had a shy smile, and his brown eyes peered from his dark, shaggy bangs. He looked typical, like every other boy his age, yet not so ordinary at all. There was something of him that whispered of love- the involuntary way his arm went protectively against his younger sister, the tilt of his head to the left, as if trying to catch his mother whisper to his father; or the way he seemed to stare one down, demanding perfect honesty, but at the same time seeming as if he would love one no matter what the truth held. Was he Brady? Had she lost her oldest son, her pride and joy?
I glanced at the little boy. He looked like his father, but his grin was goofy, and his hair was shaved close to his scalp. I could imagine him sticking a frog down his sister’s back, or giggling as his mother tickled him. Was this Brady? Had she lost a laughing, smiling boy, her baby?
All this ran through my head as I watched her hand reach toward the picture. It landed on a face and gently stroked it.
It was the teenage boy. His heart beat a little faster in my chest, his eyes stared me down, ripping away every inch of cool reserve and cold politeness I had tried to arm myself with. He glimpsed into the very depths of my soul, and I felt completely vulnerable.
“My name is Cathy,” she said suddenly, her hand still on his face, “and this is my son, Brady Thompson.” Cathy turned and viewed me. “I haven’t seen you before, dear. Did you know him?”
The words choked in my throat. “I-I don’t know him. But I want to. That’s why I’m here.”
Her gray eyes filled with grief at that statement. He frown lines deepened, and she sighed.
“I’m sorry, but he died a year ago in an accident.” Her voice quivered, and she paused to regain control of herself.
Cathy jerked her head toward me in confusion. Her mouth opened in question, until her eyes traveled down my pale throat to the low hem of my lacy blouse. She froze and her eyes widened. A red scar snaked its way from below my blouse to just below my collar bone. Cathy looked at me, bewildered. Suddenly she walked up to me and put her hand on my heart.
I stood there and felt her fingers tremble as she felt the beat of her son’s heart. Cathy looked at me in silence, and suddenly said, “Is this Brady’s heart?”
My eyes filled with tears all over again as I nodded. I felt awful, seeing a woman who loved her son enough to just want to feel his heart beat. Had I ever loved my mother enough? Would I have been willing to walk up to a stranger and feel his heart, just to be near to the one part of my mother that was still alive?
My vision was blurred, but I felt her hand leave my chest. I saw her figure walking away from me. I blinked and let the tears spill down my cheeks, clearing my eyesight. Cathy now stood in front of a hallway. Her face was pale but determined, and she beckoned to me. I followed her down the hall and through a door on the left.
I froze on the doorstep. The walls were black; pure, midnight black, but from floor to ceiling they were plastered with sketches of faces. Children smiled at me through the dark charcoal lines, old men’s wrinkles sagged around their watery eyes, and women looked upon me through the eyes of an artist. The dark walls made the sketches stand out. A low bed was covered with a brown comforter on one side, and on the dresser was a large photograph of him. He looked over his shoulder and smiled warmly now, and though his brown eyes still stared me down, they were full of love and kindness. Hardened wax was splattered next to a few candles, and two dried white roses were tied with a ribbon in front of his picture.
But the thing that captured my attention the most was the great Bible open upon the bed. Sunshine slanted across a verse outlined in pencil. I leaned toward the verse, wondering what had possessed Brady to choose that certain one . . .
“He loved people.” I jumped at Cathy’s sudden speech and moved away from the Bible, still feeling like an intruder.
She stood in front of the wall of sketches, looking at each one as if it was a portrait of Brady. “Any person he saw who seemed unique, or even different from the rest, he drew. But mostly he drew those he loved.” She softly touched a sketch of his little sister, her pale curls gathered at the nape of her neck in a bow. “And he loved a great many people. Brady was easily attached to people. He loved his little brother and sister dearly.”
I stared at his picture as soon as Cathy’s back was turned. He stared fearlessly back.
“Did he have friends?” I asked weakly, wanting so badly to know how much he was missed.
My lower lip trembled at the thought of so many of his friends kneeling by his casket. I knew then, I just knew, that he was missed horribly. I knew that there were probably a dozen or two people out there who felt the same way I did.
“He made friends quickly. He was so bold, so forward and honest, that people gravitated toward him. He cared for people so much that it would sadden him when someone else was sad. He could feel his friend’s emotions as keenly as if they were his own.”
I stood before a sketch of a girl, her head resting hopelessly in her hands and her face twisted with grief. Dark, bold strokes shadowed her face, and a shining tear ran down her cheek.
“Brady had a way of reading people. He could see easily when others struggled, and he was confident enough to point the problem out. Because of this he saved a great many people.”
I bristled at the word. “Saved? From what?”
“From themselves. From their own mistakes.” Cathy looked at me. “From Hell.”
I had heard this before. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose three days later to save people from going to Hell. And if they prayed a little prayer then they would go to heaven, blah, blah, blah.
Cathy seemed to notice how uncomfortable I was and dropped the subject.
A telescope stood by the window. I ran my fingers along it, making trails in the dust.
“Brady loved to look at the stars. He loved Science and Astronomy, too.” I smiled at the glow in the dark star stickers glued to the ceiling. I could see eight-year old Brady standing on a chair, eagerly gluing them to the drywall.
A notebook sat on his bed. I gasped as I saw his writing; I followed his strokes with one finger, tracing his words.
Is there a purpose for each life? Are we just random products of nature, marching like robots through our meaningless lives, or is there more? Do we each have certain talents and abilities for a reason? Do certain people have certain jobs to do, certain goals to fulfill before we die? Is there a purpose for each life, even if it’s just saving one other life?
A pang shot through my chest and I closed my eyes against the tears. I could not help but notice the irony of his last sentence. He had saved my life.
“He used to draw a certain face very often,” Cathy continued, unaware of my tears, “she seemed to be the face he would draw when he had no one else with him.”
I sniffled and fought the feelings as I examined the sketch she pointed to. A girl with dark tresses and a delicate face stared back at me. Her soft eyes saw me, yet also saw beyond me, like she had been drawn while daydreaming. And as I looked, I felt as if a bucket of cold water had been dumped over my shoulders.
It was me.
There was no denying it. Her beautiful face was the exact replica of mine, from the sharp chin, to the black hair, to my mother’s eyes. I stared at it in shock, then slowly stepped back and, after looking at the wall as a whole, realized my face appeared the most. There were ones of me laughing, dancing, crying, and even sleeping dotted and hidden throughout the maze of faces.
“I don’t think he even saw this girl. It was just someone he imagined, or maybe even dreamed to life.”
Is there a purpose for each life, even if it’s just saving one other life?
There was a purpose. There had to be. Brady’s heart thumped faster inside of me, and I knew that it had not been coincidence that he had dreamed of me. I knew it had not been coincidence that he had died. I knew that it had not been coincidence that I now carried his heart.
And I knew it had to have something to do with that Bible.
As I stepped into the sunshine and read the marked verse, I smiled.
For His life was given a ransom for many.
I hugged Cathy and thanked her. I took one of the sketches he drew of me and one of the white roses. As I was stepping off the porch, I suddenly whirled around and faced Cathy. She sat rocking peacefully on the porch, her unfinished iced tea in her hand.
For some reason, my name kept pounding through my head, but mostly my middle name, my mother’s name.
“Cathy,” I said breathlessly “what was Brady’s middle name?”
She smiled sweetly. “Ransom. Brady Ransom Thompson.”