My wife was always…into the unusual, you could say. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. If it wasn’t some lamp or art piece made out of chopped up pieces of Barbie dolls, then it was probably a replica mummified cat made out of plaster. Our bedroom was a storage room of regrets and times I had often said, “Yes, honey, that’s great” only to shudder later that night as I stared at her newest purchase, wide-eyed, unsleeping and scared as fuck that it possibly moved. (Yes, I swear, whatever that thing is, it moved…)
Aside from her passionate love for the strange and downright disturbing, she was always an amazing person and eventually mother. My family didn’t necessarily approve of Glenda’s weird tactics, but they accepted her as much as they could coming from the most Conservative family known to man. I know it ached them to accept some of the things they saw and heard come out of her mouth, her eccentric tattoos while I had none, and the fact that she was a diehard Atheist. That was just Glenda and those were her ways.
I knew we were truly in for a new adventure the day I heard her screaming my name happily from the bathroom, rounded the corner, and saw her with her pants still around her ankles and the E.P.T. in her hand. She waved the wand around like it carried some type of unforeseen magic and cast a spell on my life that I would never forget. Just a few months later, we found out we were having a little girl.
We named her Morgan in advance, since I wouldn’t agree to Morticia, her favorite television personality. We knew that Morgan was probably going to be right like her mother and I sat in stunned silence as Glenda brought home some of the most peculiar little outfits for our baby girl decked in skulls and frilly, black tutus, or just plain strange patterns of polka dots and stripes and all sorts of crazy fabrics tousled in a mess. She spent a fortune at boutiques across town. She was going to be a good mother.
At 20 weeks, we found out that Morgan was a little different than we had initially expected. A good indicator of this was the look on the ultrasound technician’s face as she scanned us for the third time that pregnancy and nearly dropped the wand out of her hand. “Well, that is certainly a need for concern…”
“What? What is it?” Glenda and I practically asked in unison, squinting to get a better view of the screen.
“I’m going to send you for some tests, I believe. It’s no need to worry just yet but I suspect that the baby may be a bit underdeveloped and we always try to rule out the worst…”
“Sir, we just want to rule out Down’s Syndrome.”
Glenda and I exchanged worried expressions that didn’t rub off of our faces for hours to come. We were succumbed to the power of the unknowing, wondering if our little girl was a healthy, viable pregnancy and what options we had if she wasn’t. We discussed it for days and then weeks as a sort of precaution, meanwhile, she attended every test known to man to make sure that it wasn’t what we initially feared. I kept thinking, Well if it isn’t that, then what is it? Something about our little girl was missing, incomplete, according to what they had seen. And then one day we got a call, and we got the results.
Glenda’s face fell as she thanked them and hung up.
Morgan was a victim of Down’s Syndrome.
After many trips to the doctor to be by my wife’s side, I watched her transform from an eager and ready parent to one who had regrets and guilt in her soul. Glenda wasn’t herself anymore; didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to react when people complimented her on her belly or her gorgeous glow. I still found every aspect of my wife appealing and put no blame on either of us – how were we supposed to know? How were we to prevent it? No, in the end this was nobody’s fault, just some random work of nature that didn’t do what it was supposed to.
The doctors told us a various amount of times that we could terminate the pregnancy before it was too late and you better believe we discussed it vigorously. We discussed the bills…we discussed the meaning of life…how she would never have what other kids would have…we discussed that there was always an option to try again even at the risk of heartbreak. Glenda would shake her head and tell me there was just no other way. She fell in love with her little girl. Her oddity.
By the 30th week of pregnancy, I felt like Morgan needed a break. She was pulling out hairs metaphorically speaking, and her love for all things she typically felt passion for was fading. I had been saving up for the baby like a fiend and withdrew $500 from my personal bank account and handed it to my wife. She sat there, stunned, staring at me like I was a demon. “What’s this?”
“This?” I asked, waving the money at her. “Oh, this is nothing. This is just something I feel you need to treat yourself with for once. I know it seems impossible but just stop thinking about the baby for one second and come back home with a new prize. Show me the Glenda I used to know. The one who would bring home all sorts of weird things to decorate the house with. Get something weird, you weird lady.”
After a few laughs and feeling like things could possibly get back to normal, Glenda nodded and gave in. I could tell she was reluctant but she felt like she needed to feed some appetite deep within me that shouted out our lives needed to gain some control. After a promise to check out some of the antique shops in the area, she was off in our truck and I was hoping she would take to making a day out of it.
Later that evening, I heard the crackle of our old pick-up pulling up into the driveway and I hopped out of bed (not only to look like I had been doing something, but to greet her at the door like the puppy of a husband I was). Glenda came in empty-handed and I attempted to look around her, expecting to see some insane and creepy installment sitting on the floor, but there was nothing. She handed me a wad of money with a look on her face I couldn’t quite read.
“You didn’t get anything?”
I looked down at the bills she had handed me – all tens, just five of them. She had spent all but $50 after all.
“Well, what did you get?!” I asked, elated by the newest buy and not even knowing what it could possibly be. I was excited for my wife and excited that she took the chance to spoil herself even with the grim news we had received only weeks prior that seemed to control her very life.
“Come out to the truck,” she waved me on, and I obeyed.
As we made our way out into the driveway, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was some huge, lumbering beast of a steel machine laying in the back of the truck bed, staring at me like some behemoth that said, That’s right, I’m coming in that house, so you better find room for me. I stared at my wife who was beaming proudly at me like she had found the pick of the litter, a treasure and a goldmine of opportunity. She spread her arms like an eagle ready to take off in flight and gaped at me, expecting some reaction from me, any reaction.
“You don’t know what it is!” she said as a statement rather as a question.
“No, no, honey. You definitely lost me on that one. What the hell is it? It’s huge.”
“You don’t like it,” she half-whimpered, all hope lost on her sad face.
“Oh, no, that’s not it. I just want to know what it is and where we’re going to put it…”
“I thought it would make such an awesome storage cabinet for in the house!” she exclaimed, smile returning at my statement of acceptance. “It’s a cremation machine! It’s from the early 1900s.”
“A…cremation machine?” I asked as my heart flew up in my chest, though I never lead on.
“A cremation machine!” she repeated. “From a real crematorium. Isn’t it the best?!”
“Oh, it’s wonderful dear…just wonderful.” My hands became clammy as she turned to the lumbering machine strapped to the back of the truck, somehow mesmerized by this item of death. Her strangest and most gruesome buy so far.
Five weeks later, Morgan made her appearance a bit early. Not in a hospital, not even in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. No, she wanted to make her appearance in the bathtub, nearly scaring the living shit out of both my wife and me and making it the most unique birth we knew we would ever experience. Everything happened so quickly and, before we knew it, we were in the hospital and they were asking to keep her a few days for proper testing.
The beautiful look on her face when she was born…Down’s Syndrome or not, that was our little girl and she was every bit of perfection. We had read up for weeks on how to handle her when she came along and as our first child, it was sure to bring us a lot of sleepless nights and struggles. But I knew just looking at my wife and the deep pride on her face, we would be doing every little bit of this together. And never apart…never divided.
We took Morgan home after a few days and learned what life is like for parents with a child who has a disability. Sure, she was our first child so the learning was a given, but this experience was one that I knew would be quite the treacherous journey from the start. And after a few days I had to unfortunately make the trip back to work and Morgan still wasn’t getting the sleep we had expected a normal baby to get and was keeping my wife awake until extreme hours.
The day I went back she nearly begged and pleaded with her eyes but gave off a “I can do this” attitude to my face. I whispered in her ear, “Please, just stay calm…sleep when the baby sleeps and if you need any help you know to call me. Anything, any emergency. I will be there in minutes.”
I saw my wife nodding as I returned to work, thinking about them all damn day in a nervous wreck.
When I returned that night, 7 on the dot, the lights were off inside the house and everything looked pitch black from the outside. I rushed to put on my jacket and whipped inside the house after jamming in the keys possibly a little too hard. Morgan was screaming her head off in that way she did when she wanted something to eat and I didn’t hear the usual tending hums of my wife slaving away at a bottle or trying to console her by rocking her and singing. I quickly made my way to the stairs so I could run up and retrieve my daughter, thinking Glenda was possibly in the bathroom or something. But as I was about to do so, I caught a glint of something moving in the room over, pitch black on the bottom floor. I clicked on the lights and shuddered.
“Glenda?” I asked, voice trembling, unsure of what was happening. I thought, for a split second, maybe she was taking a mommy moment and catching a breather. But in a pitch-black room on the bottom floor of the house, by that damned creepy machine?
Glenda whipped around to face me, spell suddenly broken. “I’m sorry, honey, I didn’t even hear you come in. Whoops…Morgan is crying.”
“Dear, what were you doing down here in the living room?” I asked. “I could hear Morgan crying the moment I hit the porch steps and that was a full two minutes ago. Is everything okay?”
“Yeah, I think so…” she drifted off for a second. “I thought I heard a sound coming from this thing. I know that’s crazy because it’s obviously out of commission.” She laughed to herself and patted the behemoth with a hand as if it were some tame animal. “I guess I’m just losing it, ya know? Rough first day but we made it through!” She flashed me a stellar pair of fingers in a ‘thumbs up’ and smiled that usual smile of hers.
Things went typically and happily for the next few days as I continued the work grind and came home at decent hours to perfect meals made by my perfect wife and a perfect, happy baby babbling at the other end of the table or even sleeping on some occasions. Things seemed back to normal.
On Saturday, I woke up to an empty bed and was surprised to not hear the sounds of my daughter waking from a nap or needing something to eat. In fact, I was quite stunned, as we hadn’t woken once for Morgan throughout the night. Fearing something may be wrong, I stumbled out of bed to go retrieve my daughter when I realized Glenda wasn’t in bed. I was alone in our bedroom. Had she heard Morgan crying and I hadn’t? If so, she was already handling this parent thing better than I was. I even told her to wake me and sleep in if Morgan was crying and here I was, alone in the bedroom, and…
There was a murmuring coming from downstairs. I recognized the sound as that of a Jacuzzi tub. A slight engine purr. A dryer machine. Something foreign yet familiar, and mechanical.
I flew down the stairs taking two at a time and I saw my wife sitting at the bottom of the stairs, rocking back and forth, her hands running through her hair and pulling with all their might. I gasped and put my robe around her, sitting with her on the last step and attempting to pry her chin up so we could meet eye-to-eye. When she finally did, hers were bloodshot, drained, like those that had seen something terrible.
The cremation machine was alive and purring, a rotten smell emanating from its insides as it clicked and churned away like an oven out of control.
I don’t visit my wife in the psychiatric ward. I don’t feel like I owe anything to her, as she took well…everything from me. I guess that’s cruel as I’m the one stable thing she always had in her life and I’m sure she’s looking for some comfort wherever she is now, but I can’t face her. I always ask myself about these types of people after they have the breakdown. Were there warning signs? Why did they have the children if they didn’t want them? I can answer these questions with a simple, “Well, it didn’t seem like the warning signs were there but maybe I wasn’t at tentative enough and really owed her more” and, “Well, why did she? I know I loved Morgan but maybe she didn’t love her enough for all her issues and future problems to come.” Down’s Syndrome is a terrible toll and a terrible thing to plague a child. But I loved my little girl and would have fought for her.
I saw her ashes spew out the other end that day and as soon as the machine stopped its trembling, I hit the floor and screamed until the police arrived. I don’t remember much after that. I remember going to the hospital for evaluation and getting back on my feet while my wife never recovered.
But it’s funny… they marked me sane, and her insane. But every night I’m the one who has to hear that damned machine click on, even though I know it isn’t plugged in. And I’m the one who won’t remove it from the house no matter what others tell me about its bad memories and needing to get through this hump in my life.
I know it wants me to join Morgan, and I don’t know what’s holding me back anymore these days, if you want the full truth.