In my family, I’m the liver. I absorb everyone’s toxins. This allows the rest of them to be happy-go-lucky eccentrics because I’m there to process their detritus. To detoxify, I exercise, meditate, write, and spend a lot of time in therapy. It works. I’m a good liver and don’t mind the role.
Recently, when I mentioned my status as the liver to one of my more polite friends she suggested that maybe I could be an ear instead. “After all, it means you’re a good listener.” I think when I said the word “liver,” she pictured something unpleasant like cirrhosis. Or maybe the grey, foul-looking lump she finds wedged into the chicken cavity that she always throws out. I think this made her uncomfortable. She said, “Really you can be something else.” I assured her, “I’m okay being the liver.”
The other night at a small dinner with friends I went public that I’m the liver. They all looked a little shocked. We’d been having a civilized conversation about poetry, politics, and aging and then I forced them to think about their organs. I asked them what body part they thought they were in their family. We started with my husband. Someone suggested he might be a penis. That seemed like an honor—something he could feel proud of. He declined. He said, “I’m a stomach. I love food.” I struggled with this but then remembered the recent news about the importance of the microbiome and how the healthy bacteria that colonize it can help prolong our life. I felt pleased. Yes, he could be a stomach. One of my friends, a scientist, suggested this meant we were compatible because the stomach and the liver are nestled side by side in the digestive system. This felt reassuring.
We continued around the table. I learned one friend was a heart, another, lungs. Another friend suggested he was disposable so was probably an appendix. It is always top of the list when you google Useless Body Parts. I really like this guy so tried to convince him to upgrade to a spleen or a gall bladder.
We arrived at our last friend at the table who earlier had been wrestling with some of the racist comments made recently by a Republican candidate for president about Muslim immigrants, of which my friend is one. He said, “I’m definitely a rectum.” I didn’t know what to make of this. He’s a real jokester, too, like my friend, the appendix. He’s probably the smartest of the bunch, so I tried to persuade him to be a brain. We all tried talking him out of being a rectum. He insisted.
I don’t know. If I wasn’t a liver, I might have let my friend’s comment pass. Just assuming he was kidding…right? But because I’m a liver, I took it in and have been processing it ever since.