I have shared so much with you. So, why now, do I hesitate? What of real horror? What of real pain and suffering? Do you know of what I speak? Have you felt loss so real it feels surreal. Have you cried until the well has run dry and then realized there’s still blood left to be shed? I have. Come, take a walk with me.
Dates and time are of little consequence here. I will tell you that this happened long enough ago for the sting to have dulled, but not long enough to be forgotten… To be forgotten? I’m sure that day will never come.
Late one evening, while I was cooking dinner, my wife began complaining of a pain in her lower abdomen. You don’t know my wife, so let me explain: She never complains. No matter how bad the pain gets, she takes it like a champ and moves right along. Rarely will she even take a single Tylenol to help waylay her discomfort. So, that night, I knew with a deep sense of dread that something was wrong. I just didn’t know what.
Chelle—in case you don’t know my wife’s name—has a very real hatred for hospitals. Especially emergency rooms. After dealing with an alcoholic father for most of her life, who’s had multiple meetings with death’s doorstep, ERs and Chelle mix like oil and water. But, this time, she didn’t even try to fight me. Once again, that sense of impending doom throttled me. I found it hard to breathe.
The good news came first. The staff rushed her in, asked her the standard trauma questions, then immediately gave her a piss quiz. Guess what? We were pregnant. A night that seemed to be going in a terrible direction suddenly didn’t seem so bad. We were elated. I was going to be a father again. At the time, Autumn was a year old, and I couldn’t think of anything better than giving her a brother to grow up with. Yes, I knew in my heart it was a boy, just like I knew Autumn would be a girl. Years later, when my son, Chris, was born, I called his sex, too. I’m good like that.
A nice young woman came in to take Chelle to ultrasound. Giddy with the possibility of another child, but still hurting too much to fully enjoy it, Chelle lay upon a cold, plastic-cushioned table and gripped my hand in hers. She watched me, not the monitor. I will always remember the look on her face. That smile said, “we’re pregnant,” but her eye’s told a different side of the story: “And something’s wrong.” The ultrasound took longer than it should have. We’d just been through this a year ago with Autumn. It’s a pretty speedy process, really. These techs know where to look. Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Chelle and I were in that little ultrasound room for an eternity. Time passed languidly. Clocks stopped. Seemed Father Time knew something we did not.
My wife and I were pregnant for fifteen minutes. That’s how long we knew before we found out that our son would never see the world, nor would we ever see him. They called it “ectopic.” They called it a “tubal.” They could have just said something went fucking wrong for all the sense those other words meant to me. In plain speak, my son was killing my wife. And we’d have to kill him to save her. I know that sounds harsh, but I’m a straight-up, honest dude, and that’s how I saw it. There are no niceties here, no pandering. Feel my pain, or stop reading.
We cried. Oh, for the love of everything in this goddamn world, did we cry. But even that, was stolen from us; our time together cut short by the necessity of surgery. They needed to cut my unborn child from his mother. And I was made to wait while it happened.
I will forever be indebted and grateful to my mother for showing up. She cared for Autumn while I waded through shit I didn’t have the stones to deal with. I left my mother alone with Autumn in the waiting room and went outside for a smoke. What I remember most is a trash can; one of the sort that’s concrete on the outside, covered in that exterior to hide the unsightly tin receptacle on the inside. That’s what hospitals are good at; hiding the ugly; pay no attention to what happens behind the curtain. Fuck you, oh lazy, uncaring Wizard of Oz.
I felt hopeless and helpless, alone for the first time in many years. I couldn’t be with Chelle, I couldn’t save my son, I couldn’t even be around my daughter because she reminded me of success in the midst of failure. Some random guy came walking up to me and asked me for a smoke. I told him to fuck off. He looked at me, wised to the fact that I was not going to take a rebuttable lightly, and moved along. I’m sure I would have killed him had he said anything more. Then, where would I be? But in a situation like that, you don’t think, you only react. Life meant little to me at that point, and his was miniscule in comparison to what I was losing.
At some point in time, I realized I was punching that concrete trash can with everything I had. And I mean, I was leaning into every swing, bloodying my knuckles up something proper. I’m surprised I didn’t break my hand. I looked at that blood, my blood, and thought about Jason. I’d named him at some point; though, as with my assault on the trash receptacle, I don’t recall when.
I dreamt while fully aware, while fully conscious. This was no daydream, but a stark visual. Jason looked like me; had my cheeks, my brown hair and short cupid’s bow. Chelle’s attributes stopped with his eye lashes, so long and lavish that I just hoped he wouldn’t be picked on. I held his hand during our walk together to his first day of kindergarten. I pushed him while he pedaled his first bike, taking to it like a pro on the first try. We studied math problems, wrote English papers, and discussed a certain girl he might ask to go steady with him. I watched him grab the tassel on his cap and swing it to the opposite side, graduating with honors. College lead to a job he loved and a family he cherished. Grandkids surrounded me, laughing and playing, enjoying my company, while Jason and his wife sat smiling at the kitchen table.
I threw up all over my shoes.
I saw the same visions when Autumn was born. They set her under the heat, cleaned her up, and finally let me in to greet my new baby. I reached down into the warmer and without hesitation, she grabbed my finger. The floodgates opened and I was reduced to a whimpering mess. We had created this beautiful, wondrous child. God was real.
Then, God died. Jason would never know me, would never get the chance that Autumn had been given. I didn’t hate my daughter, in fact, my love for her is what kept me pressing forward after everything was said and done. But I’d lost a piece of myself somewhere in that damnable hospital, with its cold walls and unconcerned paint scheme. Somewhere, deep within the bowels of that institution, resided a monster I meant to slay. Only I couldn’t find him. So I went back to reality and fought myself instead.
Over the years, I’ve come to ask many questions. What of God? What of a soul? Could Jason’s ethereal presence have been forwarded into Chris’ body? Could Chris be the child I was meant to have so many years back? What if he is? Moreover, what if he isn’t? You know what? It doesn’t matter. I loved Jason, though I never got the chance to know him and in the same breath, I love Autumn and Chris.
What I have come to terms with, is this: Life moves on, with or without you. So, what of horror? I can tell you I’ve dealt it on occasion, and somehow, I always win. What of pain and suffering? We all go through it and it always helps to share. Why now? Because I finally have the words to do my lost child justice.
There is hope in loss. There is light in the darkness. But there comes a time when we all must say our farewells.
Daddy loves you, Jason. Goodbye.