This is a short story, in 790 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, the second one sent to me by Kim Barker.
I used to look at other women all the time. Well, the pregnant ones, and those with babies. Friends told me it didn’t matter. I could make something of my life. We had a double income, and free time. Nothing to hold us back. We could go on vacation, stay up late, sleep in at weekends. Kids weren’t everything.
Steve’s mom suggested we got a dog, or maybe a cat. Perhaps both.
Easy to say when you already have kids.
Easy to say when you are six months pregnant, and showing the scan photos around.
Easy to say when you fall pregnant any time you’re not ‘careful’.
Easy to say when you have three kids, and think maybe a fourth would round things up nicely.
I stopped visiting friends who had babies.
I stopped going to my sister’s house when she was expecting.
I stopped looking in stores that sold baby goods.
I stopped looking at the windows of toy stores.
When it finally happened, nobody was glad. Steve’s mom said I was too old, and my parents were sure either me or the baby would die.
Even Steve was worried. I had known him for over twenty years. I could tell.
So I was forty. So what? It was the twenty-first century, and I lived close to the best hospital in California.
And I fooled them all. No complications, no bad results from the amnio. Healthy mom, healthy baby. But just in case, I opted for a C-section anyway.
Nathan Robert was a revelation. He had my eyes, and Steve’s nose. Yet still nobody seemed to be happy for me. They were waiting, waiting for it to turn bad, like they were wishing it on us. Even Steve looked like he was waiting.
I got mad at him for that.
Then I got mad at him again when he denied it.
After we brought Nathan home, Steve came in one day carrying a big soft toy. It was a monkey, with a cute face, and legs that you could pose. It was too big for little Nathan, but I would sit him next to the toy on the couch, and love how small he looked next to it.
Development. They have charts. They expect this to happen by that age, and that to happen by this age. He wasn’t deaf, and his vision was fine. But he was late to crawling, and then he didn’t crawl much. When he was even later to walking, they started with the tests and scans.
When you go in to see a specialist and his smile is too wide, and too set on his face, that’s when you should worry.
He started talking about a possible diagnosis, and my head went fuzzy. It was as if I was under water, and he was speaking from the surface. I got most of it. As much as I wanted to hear anyway. Epilepsy for sure, and Autism. Not just any Autism. Level three, and severe. It couldn’t be much worse, he said, that smile hardly fading.
I told him we would cope. Whatever it took.
We tried, we really did. He had said something about fits, but not how many, and how bad they might be. As well as the minute by minute struggle of dealing with his hysteria and aggression as he got older, there was the constant concern over the fits and seizures. It put a strain on both of us, then it put a strain on that twenty- five year marriage too.
No chance I would ever give up. I went to support groups. I read anything I could get about the condition. I met up with other families who were living the same nightmare, and I worked at it. I worked real hard at it. I stopped being me, stopped being a wife to Steve, and just became a thing who cared for her son, and fought the evil inside her boy’s head.
Then one day, Nathan managed two words. He said ‘Juice’, and I knew what he wanted, even though it sounded like ‘Goosh’. Then when I was sitting on the floor with him, he looked up at the couch and said ‘Mumm-Kay’. I knew right away it was ‘Monkey’. He had heard us say it a thousand times. I was so happy, I cried. Steve cried too. In fact, he sobbed.
But Nathan never did manage to say ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’, or anything else before the final seizure that took him from us forever.
Steve didn’t stick around long after that. I couldn’t blame him, and I no longer cared. I downsized, but insisted on keeping the couch.
And the Mumm-Kay.