"What's up dudes!" Pat clamors in the door, with a Yankees cap and McNabb jersey on. My godfather has always had that New York Sinatra-esque moxy, to come in a room and light up the mood. "Scott!" I hear from behind him. I know that cheery voice is my godmother Beth's. She's one of the most caring people I know. The only time I've seen her mad is when I used to call her "Mrs. Ginefra." Ironic since I now see her as my second mom. It's the first time my brother and I have seen them since the early fall, and we all embrace. Behind their parents, Marco and Jesse sift through the mix, smiling ear to ear. We smile right back. It's been so long since we've seen our family. My two god-brothers are sporting midnight green and look ready. "Let's go, Eagles," we all say.
Life is full of inconsistencies. Change is a natural, uncomfortable and, at times, scary thing. It is the structure that keeps us sane. The stabilities that keep us moving. Whether it be your parents, your siblings, your religion; we all need something that resonates an aura of peace and comfort and allows you to be you. For me, it's always been the time my family and the Ginefras get to spend together. Every Sunday, we see each other. We talk, we re-connect and we watch the Philadelphia Eagles. Whether a winning season or losing, dramatic or dull, I look forward to these Sundays and what they propagate. The comfortability. The relaxation. The tranquil midnight green.
We all sit down and talk about how everything is. The days always start with formulaic small-talk. It's an unavoidable minor speed-bump in an otherwise flawless day. We ease into it. "Is Vick going to keep it together, you think?" "Maybe Asante will make some tackles today." It doesn't seem like productive conversation. That's because it's not. But we're talking about nothing and everything.
We joke and reminisce about old memories. We laugh about our crazy superstitions. I get teased that I have to knock on wood every time Pat says, "Super Bowl, baby." We smile at the time we forced our moms to sit in the other room because the feng shui of the room was off, which most definitely was affecting the outcome of the game. "Fourth and 26" happened that day, so I have no regrets about that.
Football has always been a way to bridge the gap between people. It's a conversation starter at the water fountain for co-workers. It's something to talk to the guys about at the bar. For the Ginefras and the Himeleins, football has been what's kept us so close. The changes in our lives may become evident through the development of our personalities, but the consistencies of family remain. I've watched Jesse, now 18, develop through the years. From the puppy-dog cute stage when he couldn't pronounce my name and settled on "Snot," to the macho days of weight-lifting and Muscle Milk. He's had his phases, and so have I. But nothing ever truly changes between us. We still cried together after the 2004 Super Bowl loss. We still text live updates to one another when we can't watch the games at school. Blood's still thicker than water. And we both still bleed green.
The game starts. We watch, but still converse. My mom brings in wings for everyone to eat. We're into the game, but we aren't anal about analysis of specific plays. That's what Joe Buck is for (just kidding). Our conversations range from the reasons that Quintin Mikell looks like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to the reasons that we miss Brian Dawkins so much. We all relax.
The good thing about constants is they aren't expected to end. A long-term girlfriend is never going to just cheat on you. A career job is never expected to end with an abrupt firing. And your 23-year-old godbrother is never expected to die because of liver disease. It doesn't equate.
But sometimes, that's life. We all knew Marco had a rare liver disease. It had been looming for eight years. I didn't pay it much attention growing up. Not because I didn't care, but that's just who Marco was. He didn't allow me to pay attention. He kept his suffering under wraps because he didn't want to be the center of attention. He has always been the quiet structure of our social situations. Ever since I can remember. He was the organizer of poker games when we were little kids. He set up football games when we were in middle school. Now, he's the commissioner of our fantasy football league. He's the immovable rock of our group. And no one expects an immovable rock to just blow away.
By 2010, the pernicious disease was getting the best of Marco. He looked pale and emaciated on game days. We didn't talk about it, but we all noticed. Games lost their allure. The euphoric joy of Sunday nights after Eagles wins and Cowboys losses was replaced by thoughts of life's uncertainty and unavoidable doubts. My perfect consistency was falling apart.
Doctors told Marco over the summer he needed to start looking for a live donor or there could be fatal results. Pat, Beth and Jesse couldn't help because they didn't fit the age requirement. Neither did I. Not knowing was the hardest part of it all. Then came Garren.
The game reaches half time. The score is tied. Pat bitches about head coach Andy Reid's poor game management. He chimes that he should have been gone years ago...yada yada yada. That's why we love him. Beth and my mom go off to prepare more finger foods. Jesse, Marco, Russell and I go down to the basement to avoid the commotion. The enclosed backdrop is redolent of old memories. The walls in the room are still dented from the countless games of "Mad Dog" we used to play. I can't remember the exact rules but it typically would end with us making too much noise and a mom rushing down the stairs just in time to see a violent, mid-air tackle. "Game over, guys!" Judging by the brutal nature of that game, those stoppages probably saved our lives.
Garren is a guy that I've never met. He's a family man. He went to Penn State. Beth used to work with his wife, and that's how he found out about everything. That's all I know. I know nothing about him, but yet, I know everything about him. When I received a call from my mom last fall, I found out everything I would ever need to know about Garren Nowicki. I recognized a defining gesture that would resound more to me than any small-talk introduction ever could. "He's giving Marco a part of his liver," my mom said. He was giving him the gift of life.
And maybe that's why I'm writing this. Not because I want to describe Garren to all of you. I can't realistically do that. But I want Garren to know what he's given back to me. You saved Marco, Garren, and really, you saved us all. You gave Marco back his liver, and you let me keep my soul. You allowed me my consistency.
I still have my quirky, lovable godfather. I get my sweet, magnanimous godmother. I still have Jesse, the unique kid-brother who's wise beyond his years. And I still have Marco. The rock. The one who unites us all. Maybe that's something to think about come this Thanksgiving break. Don't be concerned with who you are watching on the big-screen HDTV football game, Instead think of the people you are watching it with. What's really important?
We come back to the living room just in time for the second half. We don't care much, to be honest. It's Nov. 27, 2011, and the season's all but over for the struggling Eagles. In the grand scheme of things, that's not important. We walk in on our parents talking about how Marco's luncheon celebration went the other day. It's been one year since he and Garren went under the knife, and he looks fantastic. But what of Garren? Beth tells me that he and his family actually should be stopping by the house at some point to watch the game with us. The Ginefras and the Nowickis have grown very close the past year. The transplanted liver has become a bonding force for them, just like the Eagles have been for us all these years. Then there's a knock at the door. "There's Garren!" Beth says. I clear out a spot next to me on the couch. Screw feng shui, Garren's seat is saved.