Everyone always tells me, “You’ll make a great daddy someday.” Because I can make any crying baby smile. Get all big-eyed and happy. I got the gift of gab for toddlers. The human form of a pacifier. For other people’s at least.
A couple months back, my wife delivered our first child. A baby girl. No more than half the size of one of those shake-weights you see on those As Seen on TV commercials, cut in-between touchdowns on RedZone. Little thing. A pre-me the doctor said. On scale comparable to a hand of bananas.
My wife, she didn’t make it. The OB-GYN called it Eclampsia. A rare thing that’s caused by problems with the blood vessels that connect the placenta. I don’t even know what a placenta is. I just tell everyone the baby killed her. Little thing. A real-life example of the lord giveth and the lord taketh. But I haven’t sat in a pew in years.
I got this baby now. A baby girl. And that’s all I got. Just the baby and me. Little thing, it hasn’t stopped crying since I brought it home. My late wife going into labor was such a surprise, I didn’t even have a car seat yet. And after she died, it must’ve just leapt out of my brain that I would still need one, even if my wife wasn’t going to be around anymore. So when it was time to pick up the little critter from the hospital, the nurse with her sagged eyelids just transferred the kid over to me without checking for proper transportation. I left the parking lot just one-arming the steering wheel while holding it in the crook of my arm. I could barely keep my eyes on the road, so precious and unalive she looked. Hard not to be enveloped about it. Little thing under my wing. So cute and silent with swollen eyes like an allergy to dog hair. Every time I looked up, I’d jerk the steering wheel to keep the truck out of the ditch on the single lane road home. My alignment’s all off. Made the baby’s head bobble like a ping-pong ball in a solo cup. After that it just kept wailing like an Aretha Franklin song.
For weeks after, I tried all my tricks to get the little thing to shut up – the Shoosh Bounce, recording a sob track and playing it back. I’d rock it like a ship at sea, making all the roaring and crashing sounds waves make, walking around the newly vacant house for what felt like full-length Tarantino films, and still, without a moment of clarity. Everyone always tells me that I’m pretty resilient, like a rubber band or a body of water, but lately, this little thing, the thing that killed my wife, I feel like it’s coming for me, too.
Last night I couldn’t even get a dream up and running. Having only slept in little spurts the length of a Sonic Reducer set, my mind was on autopilot. Little thing can’t keep her mouth shut. There’s no alternating shifts when you’re widowed. I’d lay in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin-hairs, listening to the coliced whine seep through the seams of my closed bedroom door. Irritable and whiny myself, the noise was like some sort of torture. I slipped from the sheets and moped over to the crib in the other room. I could hardly see the little worm squirm standing over the lip of the cradle. It took a while before I felt I could do anything helpful.
But today, I feel like such a failure. Walking around the living room in drag breasts trying to get this kid to suck on a nipple. It’s embarrassing. I gotta draw the shades to prevent a neighbor from seeing and assume I’m some kind of hermaphrodite. An article posted on some single-daddy forum says babies tend to feel the softness of the prosthetic boob with their little fingers, and it calms them. But not mine. Nada. Little thing is shrilling like a house full of fire alarms. Little throat so red and swollen, like it’s ready to split like an overwatered tomato. And how would you explain something like that to Child Protective Services? Who do you talk to when the only solution you can come up with is to stick your finger down its throat to plug up the noise? It’s been nothing but Drown In My Own Tears with this one, and all I’m trying to be is Dr. Feelgood.
Smudging the old gal on my shoulder, I get a little bounce going. I let out a couple hush-hushes and there-theres. Smacking it on its little back like a good high-five, trying to get a burp. Maybe a little harder than I should’ve, I admit. Little thing made a sound like being shoved from behind by a kid in school who doesn’t like you, or a fender bender. It’s true what they say, you know. Sometimes you don’t realize your own strength until you come face to face with weakness.
So, since the feeding wasn’t working, and the baby wasn’t burping, I took her to the nursery and left her army-crawling on the floor. Closed the door and walked to the refrigerator to grab a couple PBRs. The big cup match between Liverpool and Manchester City was about to start, and I could use a bit of respite after all this parental effort.
I cracked the tab on a can, and quickly sipped at the oozing foam overflowing from the mouth. A little bit dripped from the bottom. A wet splat on my fake breastfeeding tits. It ran down the middle between the rose-colored nipples, sigh. My wife. I’m thick with the sense of tumescence.
On TV, before the first whistle to start the game, they cut to Pastor Stevens – a fat man of the good word with a big vibrant voice – proselytizing for a local house of God. Without any context, he starts hitting verse after verse as if he were Dylan Thomas or a modern William Blake. His navy blazer and silk tie catching the glaze from the overhead lighting. Even his face looks plastic and shiny. Tight like stretched cellophane, or the skin of a dolphin. He licks his thumb and sticks the gold lined pages. Flipping through book after book of his old-timey anthology when he finally settles on a testament, a hero.
Then he says it. Like some Christian Satori, it hits me, he says, “Luke chapter seventeen, verse two. And Luke says, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about her neck, and she cast into the sea, than that she should offend any one of these little ones to stumble.”
I’m no disciple, but this is like some direct revelation or something. I may be building this up in my brain, but Pastor Stevens’ jowls giggle, “If your brother and sister sins against you, REBUKE THEM!” and he’s gotta mean just my baby, the one that killed my spouse. Who else could he be hinting at?
Sitting on the couch wringing out the dampness of my palms across the knees of my jeans, the little thing in the other room hits a pitch like an air-raid siren. My little sinner. Already doomed to the pits of a hell hole because she doesn’t even know what it means to repent. In the eyes of God, she already has everything to die for. She’ll never make it to preschool with the murder of her mother weighing down her soul. She’s possessed with a sin she doesn’t even understand.
With his palms pressed together, Pastor Stevens blesses me with a half-ass bow, barely any flexing of the spine, and a toll free number flashes across the screen. I run to the kitchen to get a pen and write the number down on the back of my hand. Looking down, in-between the green-blue veins like river channels in the middle of my knuckles, the phone number to God’s house doesn’t even look numerical. It’s just loops and dashes, skipped ink.
The way I got it put together, if I don’t dunk my kin in a font, she can’t be saved. She’ll grow up damned and lost in this world. Primed to walk this sphere selling her body, probably. I’m no John the Baptist, but I got a bathtub I can bless holy. I’ve been anointed by the trinity in the form of a fat blob in a green blazer and cotton tie. He’s no Jesuit in a chasuble and stole, but I’m not picky. Hell, I’m not even really religious. There’s no hymn I got down. Though, when it comes to my little thing, I’ll take anything as a sign.
In the bathroom, after filling up the tub, I crossed every holy spirit I could muster over my chest and called it blessed. My old wife kept bath salts under the sink for days when she could pamper herself. Pulling out a handful of cylinders, I empty them all into the water. I couldn’t wait another second. As they often say, pride comes before the fall, so I didn’t want to mull over it so much about what a great deed I’m doing. How truly awesome of a daddy I’m becoming. All this intuition coming out of nowhere! Like Big Bang out of nowhere. Spawning in a moment of continued life or death.
Marching straight to the door of the nursery, I swing it open and see my little spaz fussing all over the carpet under the crib. Her little limbs noodling about like the arms of an Octopus. I can’t help but smile. Even through the jagged cries of my infant, my cheeks are big flesh bulbs under my eyes. Every one of my teeth showing. I lean down and grab her by the back of her onesie like an arcade claw machine. I say, “They’re gonna write books about us. We’re apostles of the new millennium!” and Maverick my little Goose TopGun-like through the hall and into the bathroom.
Stepping into the tub, the warmth felt soothing. All the salt oozing between my toes like clenched silly putty. Holding her back just above the water, her little black-heart cherry eyes roll about in her skull like a cartoon character with a concussion. Her tongue moving in and out like fish gills. With her little hands gripping onto my wrists, she’s just got to go. Before beginning the sacrament, I lean closer into her face. Like, nose to nose almost, and say, “Okay little thing, big breath.”