Monday, March 4, 2013

Heart to Heart

You know plain enough there's somethin' beyond this world; the doors stand wide open.
      - Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories


She was just a high-school kid, living with her aunt in Queens, New York, when she met him, Shawn Reid remembers. Delroy – or “Bunny,” as everybody called him – was a track star from Montego Bay, Jamaica. But he had friends in Connecticut, where her mom was living, so they had that in common.

 “We became friends.” Reid, who works in a correctional facility in Suffield, Connecticut, speaks very earnestly. “You know when they say you meet your soul mate? He was mine.”

They married in 1988. Four years later, Bunny and some friends headed down to Louisiana for some guy time. “We used to do ‘girl trips’ and ‘boy trips,’” she says, “and this particular trip was his turn to go away. He was the one driving the car. They got into a car accident and hit a pole. He was the only one who got hurt and eventually died from it. Nobody else got hurt – not even a broken arm or leg or anything.”

Curiously enough, the autopsy also revealed something that Bunny hadn’t even been aware of: an enlarged heart.

Shawn, who was seven months pregnant when the tragedy took place, dragged herself home after the funeral. She went straight to bed, only to find that she had a visitor….Bunny. “I don’t care what nobody said, I remember him coming in that room and touching my hand and telling me everything is going to be O. K. I felt his presence – I smelt him and everything. And you know how you sleep but you know what’s going on around you? I felt him telling me everything is going to be O. K.”

But Reid could be excused for thinking that her husband’s spirit wasn’t the best oracle out there. The very next week, Tia, the baby girl she’d been carrying, was born prematurely and died twenty minutes later. The child had developed a heart problem in utero; and if things weren’t bad enough, so did Reid. “It happens in one out of 2,500 pregnancies that you develop a heart problem,” she explains. “That whole month is like a blur. I couldn’t even tell you the day, the month, or anything….My aunt passed away that same month. It was a horrible, horrible month.”

Things didn’t turn around right away either. Reid’s body just broke down: she had a stroke in 1996 and then, two years later, found herself in need of a heart transplant. When she was admitted to the hospital, she was “so full of water that they told me if they didn’t get the water off, I had only two more weeks to live. So, when I got there, I was so out of it, you could say I was, like, comatose.”

She remembers lying in that hospital bed, connected to tubes and being vaguely aware of her family’s voices in the background. And then, suddenly – it really was like an out-of-the-body experience, she says -- there she was, talking to Bunny again.

 “He’s telling me, ‘It’s not time – go back.’ I’m listening to him like ‘I’m just sick of all this.’ And he’s saying, ‘Go on back – just go on back. Everything is O. K.’ He was telling me how he was taking care of my daughter – that my aunt was helping him.” His eyes never left her face. “He looked happy and still looked good.” The fact that he was still watching over her, just the way he had when he was alive, was “a comfort.”

When he told her about Tia, her response was instinctive: “‘Let me see her – I want to see her.’ And I remember that was the end of the conversation, with him telling me everything was all right. But I never got a chance to see her. I always wondered why, you know…always wondered what she looked like.” Reid sighs. “I’ll see her when I get there – I’ll see her when I get there.”

 Reid adjusted to life with a new heart and was able to go back to work in 2000. Her finances turned around, and she met somebody new. And over time, she got rid of Bunny’s things. But she still has that sense of him being around “all the time. You know, we used to do a lot of traveling back and forth to New York. And if I go by something that we would talk about, then a smile will come on my face because I can hear him saying, ‘Remember that? The things we used to do?’ Because we used to talk all the time. He was my best friend.”