March 13, 2020, is one of those dates that had us teetering on the precipice of an uncertain future. A date that cleaves time into before and after. We can recall the details of the day: how we felt, what we were doing. What we canceled.
In New Jersey, the news grew increasingly grim. The deserted parking lots and desolate roads escalated my anxiety but also caused me to do what Julia Cameron said: “We need to bridge our sense of loneliness and disconnection with a sense of community and continuity even if we must manufacture it from our time on the Web and our use of calling cards to connect long distance. We must 'log on' somewhere, and if it is only in cyberspace, that is still far better than nowhere at all.”
Little did I know that logging on would take me on an unexpected journey.
Being connected to people via a keyboard was not new to me. I already had a close-knit band of fellow moms who had adopted from China in 2000. We met on a huge internet support group and eventually splintered into smaller communities based on when our paperwork went to China. Ours went in September 1999. The Sep99ers shared pre-travel information and ultimately graduated to sleep advice, potty-training tips, and fond memories of going to the bathroom alone. Until one day we woke up and we were talking about college and what comes after. We’ve been together for over twenty-three years.
Some of us Sep99ers at our first ever reunion in July 2021.
So it was no great leap for me to join the video writing dates with the Women's Fiction Writers Association. At the start of the pandemic, some members began meeting daily on Zoom to write, turning a solitary activity into a group one that created a vibrant, creative energy. We’d state our intentions, then work with cameras on or off. At the end of the sessions, we chatted, and that’s when I learned that Kelly, one of my fellow writers, had Polycystic Kidney Disease and was expecting to be placed on the kidney transplant list.
I started to listen for her updates and follow her on social media. One day, when I was on a twelve-hour drive to visit my dad, and my oldest daughter was at the wheel, I opened Facebook and Kelly had posted: “You know how you sometimes (in pre-Covid days) you would ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar, or a couple of lemons off their tree?” she wrote. “Well, I need the equivalent of a human charger. I need a kidney.”
On a whim, and with a desire to do something even if it would never come to pass, I clicked on her link. I spent at least fifteen minutes filling out a detailed questionnaire about my health. Then I hit submit.
Surprisingly, I passed the first screening. And the next. Eleven months slipped by, filled with exams and scans. I shared more bodily fluid with lab techs than I ever thought possible. One morning, I went into the hospital carrying a bucket of urine I had collected over twenty-four hours and then had eighteen vials of blood drawn. I felt like Rocky Balboa: battered but triumphant. We had setbacks, which were frustrating for me, but crushing for Kelly. I was rejected at one point, then reinstated. Delayed by more tests. It was a longer and bumpier road than I expected. But it finally came together twelve months and two weeks after I applied, and two years and two weeks since the pandemic led me to Kelly. My husband drove me to my hospital in New Jersey while Kelly waited in California for my kidney to be flown to her. I hoped it got an aisle seat.
It didn’t dawn on me until a month ago that the day I applied to be her donor was March 13, 2021—a year to the day after the world came to a halt. I had, indeed, gone on a journey I had never envisioned.
Almost six months to the day after our surgeries, Kelly and I met in person for the first time in Albuquerque at a WFWA retreat. We instantly felt the bond this crazy journey had forged. She does have a literal piece of me inside her, after all! Nearly one year later, we are both doing quite well.
Humans are made for community. For connection. You don’t have to give a kidney, but you can always reach out.
Kelly (right) and me (with her dear departed service dog, Bronte) meet in Albuquerque in September 2022.