Sometimes, when your fuzzy hair stands up in all the right places, you look like him—you really look like him.
And, sometimes, when you chuckle that half-smile of a grin that makes your eyes squint round and thin, I swear I see him—I really see him.
I caught a glimmer of a sparkle in your eye today as you rolled to your side, happily kicking your feet (as every baby should), and it made me reminisce about the accomplishments that you, a breathing thing with only four months of living under your belt, have achieved this far.
Four months. The number rings a bell. Four months. The memory comes crashing in. Four months—that’s how old he was, too.
The year was 1987, and that’s how old he was when they’d stuck him with a needle, slapped on some cotton to cover the hole, then sent him home. With a bandaid wrapped over the top, all the while a poison boiled and brewed beneath the surface of his skin. That’s how old he was when his life and breath foamed at the mouth, his four-month-old baby bones rattling like a stretch of railroad tracks shouldering the weight of freight trains more than what their frames could bear.
Four months—that’s how old you were when the serum stole your soul. When it sucked dry every dream Mom and Dad had for you, every high hope the rest of us had for our big brother. That’s how old you were, and that’s how old you’ve stayed. All these years, half a brain—dead. The other half, shooting explosions into gray matter the same way lightening shoots up the skeleton of innocent trees—damaged.
I’ve always been deathly afraid of this moment, of the moment when I’d hold my own man-child. Rock him, sing lullabies to him, hush him to sleep. Only to look into his face and see yours. Only for his drool to stick against my skin like yours did. Only for his hollering cry to send me to cower and cover my ears for fear that his cry might sound like yours did that day, the day They Killed You, But Didn’t Kill You.
I’d always wondered how your two stories would bleed into one another, or intersect to say the least. If I would be able to separate my future son’s story from yours, and yours from his.
But the truth is your memory rests in every corner of our lives and I cannot push or wish it out. And I don’t think that I ever could or should. Your voice joins the chorus of ours when we read aloud the words from all the children’s books you love. That face of yours in the photo of you with the black and white tuxedo, and the wispy hair, and the bowtie (just so slightly crooked) slips across my mind when I hear him giggle—when he makes a face like yours.
Your name rolls off my tongue sometimes, when I mean to say his. I talk to him with the same words, the same vocabulary that I created and spoke for you.
And I don’t mean to bend or twist your story. I do not mean to assign your suffering to another’s life, or to even subject my son to a horror that was not and is not his own.
But, the very parts of you that died too soon live on in the existence of my very own baby boy, my son. And so it is that my son, four months old, will walk and crawl and think and breathe and live in the ways that you were never able to. And there is a part of me that celebrates for him but that grieves your lost opportunities, too.
Sometimes, you do not need a person to pat you on the back and smile. Sometimes you need a person that will dress in black with you and send balloons like prayers into the sky, saying, “We are sad to miss that part about him, too,” and saying, “They might have killed part of him, but they did not kill all of him.”
So when the baby starts to walk, I will think of you and imagine your first steps, too. When he suddenly utters his first words like paint splattered across the face of white canvas, I will hear you. I will hear your first words run off like a babbling brook, too.
And everyday he lives I will think about you. I will think about how you may not walk and talk like he someday will, but how crazy grateful I am that you have breath in your lungs and how they couldn’t take that from you.
Thank God they didn’t take that too.