Today is the birthday of Fateh, a college student from Chicago who received his second bone marrow transplant in Seattle in May 2001–he and my husband Greg transplanted on the same day, and his parents and I joked about our “twins” throughout the entire process. Fateh was his parents’ only child, the much-loved son of two college professors. We ate meals together, rode shuttles, sat in waiting rooms, and (occasionally on weekends when the pharmacy was closed might have) shared a nausea pill or two.
Sometimes, we got on one another’s last nerve, I’m sure. But mostly, we were glad to have a partner on the journey, someone in lockstep with us–mucositis ending at the same time, food tasting good at the same time, etc.
We were in this terrible thing together.
But Fateh, sadly, is gone now; our comrades who are surviving are few: Susan, Jerry, Rick, and Greg. And as one of such a small number, I try to remember important dates, send cards, and check in. So, almost every year, I call Arzu, Fateh’s mom, at least twice: on his birthday, and on the day he died.
And we have the same conversation.
I have never before been in a relationship where there is so much sameness; always, his friends have just left–because Fateh was that way: he lit up a room, was funny and dry, spoke with authority–and his friends, even after all these years, go to his parents’ on his birthday. So the news from Chicago always begins with a rundown on the lives of these people I will never meet, Arzu’s surrogate sons. They have children. They are married–or divorced. (Tonight: “Two have divorced their wives–and Fateh was the best man in each of their weddings!”) Life is going on. There is news of relatives that we met while they visited in Seattle, precious Kum-Kum, a calm and beautiful woman who was a pool of tranquility for her sister and me, now about to be a grandmother. Her son’s wife is expecting. This is all very matter-of-fact.
And finally, how is Greg? The girls? Are we well, and happy? That is good. It is good that Greg is alive. He had so much to live for.“My son’s life had never truly begun. But he is remembered, by his friends and by you.”
My girls are shrieking with laughter in the back room, and I know she hears what she does not have.Then, revisited: did they do all they could? Was going to Seattle the best thing? Were they wrong not to return at the first sign of problems? There was that other boy, also Indian; they did go back to Seattle, and still, he died. “He lingered two years first, then died.” Surely death was coming at any rate; the fact that I can now name only four survivors shows that, really, Fateh’s chances were slim from the start.
At Christmas, they will send us a check: $101.00 for the girls. Why that amount, I’m unsure. With it, I buy angels. And maybe, when my girls are grandmothers, they can show their grandchildren these angels, and tell them the story of their father, Greg, a white man who had a one in six million perfect match on the National Bone Marrow Transplant Registry and his friend, the Indian-American who had no one.
No perfect match. No great-grandchildren.
Only two very sad parents, having annual chats with their friend from Georgia–the friend who had everything.