80 MILES


 Image: Jayne Silberman

Image: Jayne Silberman

I understand what it means to live in the moment. Treasure every moment, every breath. Look back, but do it without bitterness and anger.
— Beth Polazzo

80 miles. 80 long, traffic-filled miles ahead of me.  Breathe. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. This isn't working.

"Andrew is dying. Get here as quickly as you can." 

I am at the wrong end of the Long Island Expressway. My brother, my only sibling and dearest friend, is losing his decade-long battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

I’m in the wrong place.

I have to call Matt and Linda, my son and his wife. 

"Matt, this is mom; if you want to say goodbye to Andrew, now is the time. Is the baby a boy or a girl? I know it’s a secret, but let’s tell Andrew.”

When she is born, Naomi will be our newest family member.

The traffic is not moving. I'm calling my sister-in-law; she’ll be able to hold the phone up to Andrew's ear, and I say, “Naomi.”

“I'll be there as fast as I can … Please wait a bit longer?"

At last, Memorial Sloan Kettering. 

The car is parked, I'm running up the escalator, and no one gives me a second look even though my face is streaked with dirt from the barn and tears are streaming down my face.

I'm at the door in the isolation unit. Nurses are helping us with gowns and masks. A few of them have tears in their eyes. 

Matt arrives with Linda. 

We go in one at a time. Andrew has no voice, but his eyes are talking. 

Our cousins from California are on a plane. They’re carrying rose petals from their garden.

We wait. We talk. We cry. The transplant team arrives. They talk softly to Andrew. 

A doctor tells me that I gave Andrew perfectly matched stem cells. He does not have cancer. 

Does it matter now?

Matt and Linda leave.

Hours pass.

My cellphone is ringing. Who in the world would call me here? Now? 

It's Matt. Linda is in labor.

It should be a moment of joy. Why can't I feel anything?

I'm back in a car. It's a cab. I’m speeding across town.

I arrive after Naomi is born. 

I'm holding her, and the tears won't stop. Am I happy, or am I sad? Does it matter?

I have to go back across town. 

Andrew waits for Richard and Barbi. The rose petals surround him, and he's fading slowly. No one is wearing a mask. 

Andrew dies.

If there is a God, he or she or it has more in store for us. 

There's something wrong with Naomi. 

Linda knows; she’s a doctor.

Soon, Naomi will need emergency surgery. But, right now, she's just like all the other babies. 

Is the fairy tale going to start now? No.

One year and one day after Andrew died and Naomi was born, my father dies. 

He had dementia.

My dad was brilliant. He was brave. And he was gone.

How many waves can you withstand before drowning?

One year and five months later, my mother dies after heart valve surgery.

Again, I’m in the wrong place. The surgeon will wait until I arrive.

Mom, a few hours ago we were laughing. How can you be dead?

I am going under.

I didn't drown. 

I have mourned in my own way and silently moved on.

The holes in my heart will never close, but I see the world differently.

So love each other like there may be no tomorrow. 

80 miles was so far away, but now it's where I willingly go most days. There's this horse of mine, Gstaad, who lives out there. I talk to him and bury my face in his fur on the tough days.

Beth shares her Brooklyn brownstone with long-time companion, Howard, and three feral cats.  She is Chairman of The Polazzo Group (providing edit, ghost writing, and media consulting expertise).  After leaving corporate life (Newsweek, The NY Times, and Dow Jones), Beth commutes those 80 miles daily to ride her dressage horse, Gstaad.  


Words: Beth Polazzo