Somebody’s gotta wear a pretty skirt
Somebody’s gotta be the one to flirt
Somebody’s gotta wanna hold his hand
So God made girls…
The melody of the bubbly country song faded in and out of my hearing as my husband drove 90 miles an hour down the highway. Although I found the lyrics somewhat sexist, what did I know, maybe that WAS why God made girls. But he also made them for another purpose, as evidenced by my looming belly, prepared to burst. Just a few days before my due date, too.
It was funny, as we pulled up to the ER, I had a sudden moment of panic. I didn’t want to have this baby. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a child – my husband and I had been trying for two years before I finally conceived. It wasn’t that I was afraid of the pain promised in the next few hours – that I could live through. It’s just that I finally felt as though I’d gotten used to the feeling of being pregnant. There was something beautifully intimate about growing another little human inside of you. Now that that human was (probably) less than 24 hours away from being placed in my arms, I was terror-stricken.
But a few hours later, I was holding my sweet baby Nathan for the very first time, and my heart was so swollen with joy I thought it would pull apart at the seams. Everything about him was perfect: from his pale blue eyes to his tiny curled toes to the shrill little pierce of his first cries. My perfect little baby.
Joey and I were ecstatic to bring our little Nathan home for the first time. We had our own house that was little more than a tiny cottage just outside the edge of town, blue with white trim. I daydreamed excitedly about Nathan taking his first steps down the cement walkway leading to the house. Joey babbled on and on about teaching him to swim in the little creek a few minutes from our backyard. We both talked endlessly about future birthdays, play dates, picnics, and adventures.
Thinking back now, I can definitely say that these were the best few weeks of my life.
I won’t pretend that I wasn’t stressed out. Having a new baby was really tough. Joey and I rarely got any sleep anymore. One of us was always out of bed, either soothing or changing Nathan, or both. I was high strung and tense about the littlest things. Did Nathan’s forehead feel too hot? Did his crying sound different today than usual? Why didn’t he drink as much milk today as he did yesterday?
As Joey went back to work, things slowly got worse and worse. I began to think that I was a terrible mom, unable to care for my own son. I felt as though I did nothing right by him. Every time he cried, it was as though he was accusing me of my own incompetence. There was nothing in the world I loved more than my baby boy, and he hated me.
Nathan hated me.
It was around this time – when Nathan was about four months old – that I began having this strange nightmare.
I would wake up in the middle of the night to go check on Nathan in his crib. As I approached his door, there would be a red glow coming from his room, accompanied by a quiet crackling. As I rushed into his room, I’d see his cradle up in flames. His skin would be draped over the side of the cradle, singed and smoking. Standing in front of the cradle was a grotesque, bug-like creature, with spindly praying-mantis legs and a sleek black body, long sweeping antennae and a set of pinchers dripping with venom. The disgusting thing would look at me, and then, to my horror, it would crawl inside Nathan’s skin. Once it had slipped inside my son, Nathan would turn to me. He would look utterly normal, except for the bulging black orbs where his eyes should be.
And he would scuttle like a spider across the floor towards me…
I’d always wake up at that point, drenched in sweat. I could swear each and every time I woke up, I saw that black creature scuttling away just out of my vision. I’d go check on Nathan, but he was never harmed or in danger.
Soon, I was barely sleeping at all. Between the nightmares and Nathan’s nightly crying, I could only sleep one, maybe two hours max. I could feel my liveliness draining away. Joey’s comforting arms around me when he slept brought no relief – if only he could see what a terrible mother I was, he would hate me too. What mother can have such nightmares about her own child?
I was a bad mother.
Six months in. The nightmares were growing more frequent. Before, I would get them maybe once a week. Now it was every night.
One day, I noticed something.
As I bounced Nathan up and down on my lap, tears in my eyes at his hollow giggles, thinking about how disappointed he must continually be in his own mother, I looked into his eyes and realized: there was nothing there.
I’d always believed that humans have souls. I could almost see Joey’s when I looked into his eyes. There was something so terribly human, so terribly beautiful, so terribly alive when you looked at them. I could see his soul looking back at mine.
But Nathan? Nathan’s eyes were empty.
I stared into them long and hard, even as he started crying for milk. I continued to stare, unable to draw my gaze from his. I wanted to see something, anything that hinted that my son was human, was living, was a product of God and his parent’s love. Instead I saw…nothing. Emptiness. Waste.
Before I realized it, I’d been staring at Nathan for more than two hours. He’d soiled himself and had been crying non-stop. I quickly changed him and put him to bed, completely forgetting that I should feed him. I walked out of his room in a daze, ignoring his cries.
My perfect little baby boy didn’t have a soul.
For a few days, I mused over what to do, even though I already knew what had to be done. The nightmares had begun to make sense. The evil creature wearing my son’s skin. My son’s soulless eyes. The scuttling thing I kept seeing out the corners of my own eyes. I knew he wasn’t right. I knew he was bad.
Nathan was bad.
So I waited until Joey went to work one morning and I filled a bath. I couldn’t bear to do it with a knife. Even if Nathan was bad, even if he was evil, he was still my Nathan. And I was still his mother, his bad mother. We were both bad. Maybe I didn’t have a soul either. Maybe I’d lost it giving birth to Nathan. Maybe we were both destined for hell.
So I decided we’d go together.
It didn’t take long. I held Nathan under the water until his little limbs started flailing. He felt like a butterfly, jerking around in my hand. Eventually he grew still and sank to the bottom.
My heart was ripped to shreds as I grabbed a knife from the kitchen and yanked it up my arm, opening my artery. I tried to open the other arm, too, but I was losing blood fast and couldn’t manage it. I wished I had left a note for Joey, but maybe it was better this way. He would know I was a bad mom, but he didn’t have to know that Nathan was bad, too.
After a few moments I blacked out.
I woke up in the hospital bed, my left arm stitched up and my skin was a few shades lighter than it should have been and I felt weak. I had survived. But why?
I kept my eyes closed as I heard murmuring around me. I tried to make out what they were saying.
“…a nervous breakdown brought on by postpartum depression. PPD is fairly common, but this sort of reaction…”
My mind began to clear, as though I’d been caught in a haze.
I think, in the end, crazy people are lucky. Because if you’re crazy, you’ll never know. And no matter what terrible things they do, they can’t be blamed, can they? Because in their reality, whatever they do makes perfect sense.
But at that moment, everything jolted back into perspective and I became aware of what I had done, what I had truly done. A few months of stress, a few weeks of PPD, and a sheer moment of insanity. I had drowned Nathan. I had killed my own son. I had held him under the water of my own free will and I’d watched him suck it into his lungs.
After I heard the doctor and Joey leave the room, I slipped out of the restraints they’d put on my wrists. They hadn’t pulled them tight enough, probably because they’d thought I’d be too weak to struggle much.
But I am strong enough for this one last act.
So, Joey, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for what I’ve done. Don’t forgive me, it wouldn’t be right to Nathan. I hope I suffer for this sin I’ve committed. I’m going now. I’ve already opened the window. At least this view can be the last thing that I see before I find myself in hell.
Goodbye, Joey. I’m sorry.