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Outbound, 7:30 p.m.

By Bethany Johnston

My poetry was awful
but you made me send it anyway.
And when Mr. Collins wrote back
I could tell he wasn't impressed,
but you shook with joy.

You always wanted me to write.
Holiday chatter, the smell of coffee bubbling,
and small clicks of rumikube tiles
heralded the coming rain.
A thunderhead of embroidered denim.
Sun showers of journals and books.
Neatly gift wrapped and signed: with love, Carol & Eve.

From your seat at the card table
you would lean into me
and speak over the sound of compressed air:
What made Uncle Joe hate the Cowboys?
What made Grandma tick,
beneath that scalp of poodle-hair,
behind the clear blue heirlooms set in her head like gems? 

Well, you said,
you knew.
Or at least had your theories.
The Family Shrink.
And incidentally, a shark-shrink, too.

The field trips, I loved our field trips.
You, me, and the double-wide,
scooting through the parking lot at Barnes & Noble,
towards the grand adventures ahead
between the walls of books. 

I'd like to see your face
without all the plastic jewelry,
your frame without the walker,
your mind un-bled,
with sight and capacity restored. 

Would your contended wisdom permit me?
Might I draw back the years
when your breath was borne in tanks,
when you dragged your life behind you on wheels
and drown them in some dark, black oblivion? 

If I could,
were you here today as you are now,
I'd hardly recognize you 
if it weren't for the way you'd lean to your right,
and explain to my mother
the current chemistry of my brain,
in this strange mix of grief and joy.

We were thankful for small mercies.
For the evening hours at the station
where we hugged you goodbye
and we put you on the train,
and watched your outline, yellow in the curtained window,
fade into the dusk. 

But it wasn’t before you pulled the whole train over
and made the conductor wait.
After all, you never wanted to go on a Monday.
You always preferred to travel on Tuesdays.

And that morning I saw raindrops in Texas
for the first time in months,
as if you broke free into the clouds
and attempted to end the drought
by the sheer force of your stubborn will.

Note: Bethany wrote and read this poem at her aunt’s memorial in 2011. Carol Lewis, M.D., a 1971 UTSW grad, was one of only 10 women in her class. She died from ILD when she took herself off the ventilator at 7:30 one evening in September. Bethany had to fly in from her interview at UTHSCSA to make the farewell party at St. Paul. They gave her two minutes after removing the ventilator, but true to form she stuck around for almost 12 more hours. In the poem, the “double-wide” was what she affectionately called the special, extra-large cart that held not one, but two oxygen tanks. She had a ruptured AVM in 1989, and UTSW neurosurgeon Duke Samson, M.D., saved her life. She was still a force of nature, but Bethany’s been told she was even more brilliant before the bleed.

Bethany Johnston, M.D., Class of 2017, is an MS2 who loves a good story, soccer, and anything punny.