For several months now, I assumed someone had stolen the CD case from my car. It looks like a silver waffle iron. People almost always chuckle when they see it. A girl once used it as a mirror to fix her hair. Maybe someone really needed cooking supplies, I thought, as I searched through both of my family’s vehicles. I was resigned to the fact I would never see it again.
It was actually a gift from my brother during the Christmas of 1998. Grant bought a Playstation and a few games for me, including Tomb Raider with its busty, red-headed heroine Laura Croft. It predicted my future as I fought dinosaurs among ancient Egyptian remains.
But on Sunday, I took Jasmine to the farm, and while I was outside exploring ruins and mining rocks—with the help of Wes’ imagination—I happened to remember I had borrowed my mother’s Ford Explorer for a while. In the divider of the front seat, I found my CD case. It had originally been meant for Playstation games like Resident Evil and Doom. I learned to play chess on that Playstation. I found the case more useful for music. This weekend, I rediscovered it—no one had stolen it, I had simply forgotten.
While retrieving the silver case, I noticed papers stapled and folded underneath. It was information about kidney transplants. I had always assumed my father had not been a candidate for a graft, because of his age and his health condition. When I got back to the house, I asked my mother about the paperwork in her Explorer.
“It was just some documents they gave him,” my mother said. “He didn’t want to go through another operation.”
She implied my father did not take the information the doctors sent home with him seriously. I doubt he did. But I also know he watched his oldest son almost die from surgery, and succumb to complications from it a few years later. If any man could have taken a surgery, it was my father. The papers said the amount of time spent on dialysis would count toward time on the waiting list for a kidney. By the day he passed last October, my father had been on dialysis longer than any patient at Wayne County Hospital, in its ward across from Walden Park.
I do not believe he was not willing or not capable of undergoing another surgery. I believe, instead, he chose not to take a kidney from someone else—from someone who needed it more. For one thing, he thought he had received more time than he deserved after Vietnam. Fifty years was good enough. It was almost 50 years after his best friend in the army died of a sucking chest wound not far from my father’s position, a machinegunner shot in the lungs. The author of the nonfiction military book West to Cambodia, recreating the night for a rapt American public, made a bad pun about PFC Glen Young dying too young. While my father could not make Charlie Company’s reunion last May, Young’s ammo carrier, John Washington, could not make it for a different reason—because of the things he remembered. In death, my father was past that.
I also do not think my father rejecting a kidney was suicide. His grandchildren kept him going back to dialysis. They helped him stay hooked to the machine for almost seven years. He wanted to watch them grow up for as long as possible. Rejecting the kidney was a matter of honor, like not dodging the draft, though he did not necessarily believe war would solve many problems. Guns used and stored responsibly would not hurt anyone, but guns were not going to save anyone, either, overseas or at home. Though not overtly religious, he understood salvation better than some men who consider themselves holy. Maybe it was because he was not afraid to die.
It is odd how we come to discovery. We are not always searching for it, actively, at least, but it comes to us, anyway—an apt description of Grace, which is my daughter Jasmine’s middle name. My son Grant’s middle name is Emerson, after the great American transcendental philosopher and writer. My son Jason’s middle name is Wes, which like his grandfather, he uses as his real name. He is Wes, not Jason. He is not me.
My father, Wes, chose not to undergo a kidney transplant so that someone else could live, instead. I cannot be certain, of course, but it is the best conclusion, the most reasonable explanation. Unlike the fearful in power—one draft-dodging politician, who allowed another young man to die in his place in Vietnam, chose to undergo a heart transplant though he was in poor health and over 70 years old. I won’t elaborate upon this other man’s political persuasion, because it is the refuse of opinion, and political science is a myth, anyway, and unimportant to my point. He is full of self and fear. My father’s actions went beyond pride—accepting someone’s hand-me-down kidney would not have been beneath him—and further toward honor, the true meaning of sacrifice, and selflessness when it counts most.