By Jacob Dimpsey
As my mother liked to tell me when I still floated around in her womb, she loved me too much to let me go. So she kept me tucked inside her for as long as she could. The doctors advised against it, but she took her prenatal vitamins and attended new parent classes and kept up with her regular doctor check-ups every month and every year like clockwork. So no one objected. My father was the silent type. I would sometimes hear his soft voice through the amniotic fluid. “Monica, don’t you think after all these years it’s time you let him see the world? I’m afraid you’re sheltering him.” I liked hearing his voice. It was a deeper, warmer voice than the other voices, especially the voices on TV. But my mother would always cut him off. She’d made up her mind. This was what was best for me.
I got comfortable. There, with my head resting against my mother’s placenta, listening to the steady, thrum of her heart, I waited to be born. My mother read to me and played Mozart because she learned in her class that it would speed up my development. It must have worked, because it didn’t take long before I could make sense of the stories she would read me and of the cable news programs she watched. When she played me Mozart I could hum along to the melodies and pick out favorites, and when she watched TV I would be frightened by the stories on the news and I would be grateful that I didn’t have to live in that world. During the bright part of the day, when one side of Mother’s womb would glow a warm red, I could sometimes see the dark outline of her hands as they held her belly. I would touch my hands against the shadows to match hers, though I didn’t understand why.
As I developed, Mother read more and more complex literature. By the time she finished Plato and Aristotle, my head ached greatly constantly and I had contemplated my existence enough to further convince me that she was right and that I was indeed better off in utero. But one day, against my wishes, twenty years or so after I was conceived, I was born. You see, being late in her pregnancy, Mother had grown so large that it was only with much difficulty that she could walk. Most days, she simply stayed on the couch and read to me. But every Saturday she went to her new parent class. On this particular day, her hand missed the handrail as she descended the porch stairs on her way to the car and she fell hard onto the sidewalk, which induced labor.
We were taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and I was delivered in the cold, white maternity ward. I didn’t scream as I was supposed to when I came out, and I tried to explain that it was because I was simply too amazed by the beautiful colors and shapes all around me, but I was too busy coughing up amniotic fluid to form words. So they put me in a wheelchair and took me to another room where they ran tests and found that my headaches weren’t from Plato or Aristotle, but were in fact caused by a tumor the size of a baseball lodged at the base of my brain stem. They said there was nothing they could do. I had about twenty-four hours to live.
I might have felt sad at the idea of dying, especially so soon after being born, but I was too distracted. Besides, I had already contemplated it enough. While the doctor told me the news, I was staring out the window. I watched the people walk on the sidewalks three stories below. Women with hands clasping the straps of their purses, men with their hands in pockets and holding cell phones at chest height, squinting at them in the morning sunlight.
The world sounded crisper and clearer without Mother’s heartbeat drowning everything else out. But still, I missed it. I asked to see my parents and the doctors told me that Mother had died in childbirth and Father, heartbroken, was catatonic at her bedside. I felt cold and overwhelmed, but I wanted to see her body from the outside. So they took me to room bed in the maternity ward where Father still knelt, a distant look in his eyes. I came up beside him and looked at him and touched his face hoping he’d move but he didn’t. Then I took Mother’s cold, stiff hand, and kissed her knobby, white knuckle.