I remember the evening of the bicentennial quite clearly. As I walked to Addie's for a coke, a group of boys that I had seen around beckoned me in to play with some cool new toy they had procured. A kid with sandy hair and glasses enthusiastically greeted me and ushered me in to play. I had seen him before and believed him to be Addie's kid. We played and had a wonderful summer eve watching the fireworks as the cool salty breeze came in from the Gulf. The moment etched itself into my memory as the nation celebrated two hundred years of freedom. And that summer, I felt very free indeed.
Just a few months later, at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, I had my first liver biopsy. I remember the doctors gave me a butt-shot to put me to sleep before the procedure. It did not work as thought, so in an effort to stay on schedule they proceeded with the procedure anyway. I have a very vivid and horrific memory of these men holding me down to a table as they removed what appeared to be a small vienna sausage form my abdomen. It was indescribably painful. The trauma of seeing part of my body removed while awake effectively ended my innocence at that very moment and set me on the very journey that continued until very recently. Of course, in grand fashion, the medicine finally worked after the surgery and I slept for sixteen hours. Afterwards my Uncle Howie took me to Red Lobster and let me pick out my very own crustacean friend to take home.
In the following months, my first major surgery. I spent two more months recovering in that hospital as my body adjusted to life without a spleen. I went on to have a normal and happy childhood, albeit an unhealthy one. I conquered every challenge I took on. I became the Student Council President, was voted Prom King and Mr. WHS, and received scores of scholarships and awards. In college, my illness manifested itself once again as I found myself coughing up blood one morning. I died. I came back. I traveled. I married. I traveled more. I fell ill again. I watched as a head injury slowly and violently took my father from us. I found God again. I received the gift of life through a liver transplant. A month later, my elation at having overcome death ended as my wife asked for a divorce. I grieved. I mourned the loss in my life. And I found love again. But the tragedy, the deepening sadness, the knowledge that I was forever scarred by life, still sat heavy with me these past months.
During all this time, my Uncle Howie, a WWII submarine vet, had been living his life in the same place all these years. He had lost my Aunt Edith over ten years ago, and now approaching 90, he had settled in to a quiet life in Lake Jackson with his dog Ebby. After my dad's passing, my mom began to spend more time with the man who had raised her as his own when her own father passed at age thirty, coughing up blood just as I had many years later. She stayed with Howie for months on end, and last summer I visited once again as we all journeyed down to Quintana Beach to catch a bevy of Whiting for a quick shore lunch.
We returned to Addie's this weekend. She's still there, older and more tired, as she regaled us with tales of drunken patrons from the previous weekend. I surveyed the old bar and thought of the thousands of tales of old salty longshoremen and oil riggers who must have sat on those barstools, gazing down at the formica bar, drunk on cold beer, as the salt air of the bay whipped in behind their backs.