I had only said, “Babies in the hospital…” but got no further.
"My son was hit by a car when he was four," exclaimed the man at the wood mill in that proud, defiant way that foretold the miraculous punchline. "And the doctors at the hospital said 'Unplug him because he’ll never live!' and we said 'No way hosay! We LOVE our son and he’s a FIGHTER and he’s going to BEAT this!' And so we didn’t! And he graduated last year! And he’s a hockey star. So there you go. Everything will be okay."
I stood there with a length of kiln-dried hackmatack in my hands, flooring for the three-kid addition we’d broken ground on the day I’d gone into labour, absorbing each word in the same way they tell you to chew each bite of food twenty times, to slow down, to be aware.
Sado-masochistically contemplating love and fighting spirit and flawed medical opinion a couple of short weeks after having unplugged my son.
I drive a minivan, look in the rearview mirror at the definition of unnecessary, at Liam’s gaping void. With the third row permanently folded down the back is like a cube van knee-deep in runaway groceries and spare-diaper flotsam and half-eaten, fossilized snack remnants that all roll from port to starboard like rats on an 1812 battleship.
In a couple of weeks we take Ben in for his first NICU followup clinic in four months: physio, nephrology, nutritionists, developmental testing. And since we’re there already, we’ve been given a meeting with a neonatologist to review Liam’s autopsy report.
Autopsy. A file or a binder or a stack of papers that quantifies the spent flesh and blood of my baby. Just how extensive was the mush of his brain? How full of shrapnel was he, exactly, from the explosion of my placenta? Or as I hear it in fitful sleep: We were wrong. He didn’t have hydrocephalus and the bleed was correcting itself and you wouldn’t have had to suction out his airway every day and we told you he was dying on life support but as it turns out, his lungs weren’t collapsing after all. Oops.
The day we got the call that he was failing after the brain surgery, a kind neonatologist told us, “Don’t ever think of this as a decision, whatever you do. This is not your decision. Liam is telling us it is his time, and we are helping you to support him. We need to make him comfortable now, as much as we can.”
And so the nurses peeled away every sensor, unplugged each wire, freed him for the first time in his life. You’re supposed to help your kid. You’re not supposed to take away the machine that helps him to breathe. You’re not supposed to do nothing but wait for his heart to stop.
As we passed dildos and pervy movies over the heads of our babies she looked at me straight in the eyes and quietly asked How are you doing? in that loaded, I-care-to-hear-the-answer way not many people tend to. After a stunned moment I said to her I don’t know. I really have no idea how I’m doing and I’ve been pondering the question ever since.
I don’t cry every day, but that’s only if you count body-wracking sobs like Evan’s when he doesn’t get Kit-Kat for breakfast. If you count the times when my face drips in silent sheets like a shower curtain and I stare into space for ten minutes straight, well, then maybe it is every day. Maybe I’m not doing so well.
The suggestion of anti-depressants gets tossed around from time to time which I hear as The way you feel is not appropriate, and must be fixed, because you cannot be sad for the dead and useful for the living at the same time. But I am not a zombie. Or if I am, I am a high-functioning zombie.
I play with Evan and nuzzle with Ben and smile and tickle and cook and socialize and work and make money. But what makes me want to scream is imagining myself chemically numbed and sipping fragrant tea with one pinkie finger in the air, chirping neatly, “Oh, yes, 2007 was our annus horribilus, because our son died you know, and what’s done is done, and this is the dignified way, because tears make the rest of the world squeamish. We are Moving On.”
I am a spelunker hearing a faint mewing from the depths of a bottomless cave as the rest of the crew says We’re running out of time, we have to climb out now and I’m arguing We’re forgetting about him, and I can’t leave him here and everyone else says Baby? What baby? and I’m panicking in the dirt as they pull me away, reaching for something soft and familiar in the dark, for a very small baby boy, because he needs me, and he is lost.