Birthday Boy (Sneak Peek from Chapter 6: Acetaminophen)


June 2010: Kevin handed me the three tablets of Cell Cept. Hand shaking, he watched me swallow them with a small sip of juice. I sighed against the bed grateful for the tender way he was attending to me. The lamp cast a triangular shaft of light over us. Under the room’s strangely romantic glow, we relaxed into our roles: nurse and patient.

“I know this is Cyclosporine,” he said, presenting me with the last pill.

Cyclosporine is an older immunosuppressive, a gelatin tablet encased in a tin-foil-esque packet. It cannot be exposed to air until you are ready to take it. Kevin popped the backside of the bubble and removed the enormous pill. Its chemical smell wafted out and our eyes locked.

“It still smells like skunk,” he said, offering half a smile. I knew what he was thinking.

In 1991, When I was 23 and Kevin was 18, I agreed to have dinner with him in the Toronto home he shared with four other roommates. After an endearing dinner of pasta from a mix and instant pudding from a package, we moved downstairs to his basement bedroom. I always carried my meds with me whenever I suspected I might not make it home. Swallowing my pills, I tossed the Cyclosporine packet into the empty bag that lined his garbage can. I suppressed a grin. Had he recently changed the trashcan for little ol’ me?

Jammed together in his twin bed, we talked long into the night. Kevin lay with his back pressed up against the wood-paneled wall, his arms wrapped around me. I faced outward, scrutinizing a room dotted with all the markers of a young man who had just left home: flannel sheets, a battered poster of a Broadway show, and a Tupperware box containing sheet music, and ceramics his Mum had painted.

He held me with a confidence that belied his age. Every square inch of his body pressed against mine, and yet he made no move to kiss me. Should I turn in towards him? Should I try to kiss him? His breath was hot and sweet against my neck, as we meandered through an all-nighter of learning firsts. We giggled. We sang. My skin blazed with the desire to be touched, but he made no move.

“Are you comfortable?” he asked.

I wasn’t really. The way we were positioned it was impossible for me to relax and fall asleep, but I didn’t want him to let me go. Plunged into a pool of feelings so fresh I could barely breathe. How could a 19-year old boy make me feel so safe?

With any other boy, I would have turned towards him and taken what I wanted, but what Kevin offered was enough. Holding me with such certainty it now feels like that was the moment he stepped into his lifelong role. Three and a half years later, the words “to have and to hold” would be mere formality.

19 years later, he was even more handsome. He had certainly aged, having lost all his hair, and at age 38, his skin already had a roughness about it. But he was a man who had arrived. The way he passed me my pills and the washcloth. Assuming control of what his arms had promised on our first date:

I will take care of you.

In Pillness and in Health Chapter 6: Acetaminophen pg. 81

Happy Birthday Kevin! Shari reconnected me to you just to hear this story. I am having the most ugly cry in a long time. It’s not pretty. But who cares, hearing a love story like that makes me believe in life and love. Gotta go, I really need an entire Entemans pound cake to collect myself now. —Peter Zinko
I so love your writing, and just get carried away each and every time I read your words.

— Lesley Traynor Smith
Wow! 1st of all, this story! And 2nd, this beautifully written retelling is just amazing!

— Norm Lewis