A Few Short Days

About This Story... (Potential Spoilers)

In October, on an insomnia filled night, I had a random thought that I wrote in my phone, which was "The Day You Were Born, The Day You Died, And The Day You Came Back". This was the end results.

 Life can be a fickle thing- one moment everything around you can glow in the warmth and comfort of celebration, the next can be overcast by the sounds of a prayer spoken over a pine box. As the thread of our lives spins from the skein of our future, and are slowly woven into the tapestry that becomes our history, we can rarely anticipate where the snags will be. Even less can we anticipate what may cause the thread to be frayed, or God forbid, cut prematurely.

 Metaphors aside, there are things that happen in life that you can anticipate, but never truly expect. You were one of those things- we knew it could happen, yet when it did the excitement and anxiety were palpable. When it came to you, and the joy you were supposed to bring to our lives against what actually happened, What hurts the most is that it feels like there were only a few days throughout the years that changed everything, a few short days that had the most impact, while the others fell to the wayside.

 She and I, we’d been hoping and trying, and to put it bluntly, failing. We’d discussed the future, the intentions of having a family, and we both agreed that we would wait until we were twenty-five to even think about it. Then, on my twenty-fifth birthday, we had the discussion again- we were financially stable, had a nice house, and were both relatively healthy. There was nothing standing in our way, and it was time for us to follow through on our plans.

 We tried. We tried for two years, we went to specialists, made plans, and did everything we could to make sure that each month would be the one where everything would work out. Each and every time resulted in the aforementioned anxiety, and it would quickly turn to disappointment. There’s a limit to how many times one can get excited about something and have it come crashing down around them- and I hit my limit. For her sake, I would always pretend to be excited when she would say “This might be the one”, but deep down, I was getting tired of it. Yes, I wanted to have a family, but it wasn’t working, and while I may not be religious, I can take a cosmic hint.

 I think, after a while, she realized that my heart wasn’t in it. I know that, a few times, she took the tests without even telling me that it was a possibility- maybe she wanted to catch me off guard and spring it on me when I was at my lowest. Maybe she thought that it would be a bigger surprise if I didn’t see it coming. Maybe she wanted to see that light return to my eyes, that excitement of the first time she said “I might be pregnant”. Maybe she was growing distant through all of this and couldn’t handle the thought of letting me down each and every time the tests came back negative. We could sit here all day and think about the possible situations, but honestly it wouldn’t change anything. Each time there was a possibility, it was shot down with the crushing blows of pain and failure.

 Of course we went to specialists, as any desperate couple would. They ran their tests, they poked, prodded, collected and questioned only to come to a final conclusion of “We don’t know”. I never knew that you could spend so much money and time to not be given a solid answer, but that’s how things went. They told us it could be me- maybe there was something wrong with my genetic make up that caused this to not work out. They told her it could be her, maybe she just wasn’t able to get pregnant. They told us that there were a million and one possibilities- yet they refused to single any of them out as a certainty.

 Obviously this did nothing but add to the anxiety and pain. To be told that there was no definitive reason for the failure, yet here we were. I had come to a personal conclusion; I was done with trying to have a child. If it ever happened, great, but I refused to let it bring me down or control my life anymore. While I had made this decision, she couldn’t. She couldn’t bring herself to just simply give up, and when I tried to talk to her about my decision… Let’s just say, I slept on the couch for a week or two.

 There was a point where I thought that she had come around to my side, and that she was done with stressing over the whole situation. I thought that she had finally gotten to the point where she was willing to let go of trying, and that we would just live our lives as best as we could. I was proven wrong.

 It was a chilly morning in mid-October. I remember waking up and she wasn’t at my side. I didn’t think too much of this, maybe she had just gotten up before I had. I remember sitting up on the edge of the bed, and glancing at the window- I remarked to myself that it was a eerily foggy morning. It was one of those mornings where, despite the fact that the sun was mostly up, you could barely see the neighbor’s house through the fog. It’s one of those details that is so mundane, yet sticks to the walls of your mind like it’s the most important detail that has ever been presented to you…

 I remember getting out of bed and walking into the hallway, toward the only bathroom we had. I remember pushing the door open, and within half a second a cold dread flooded the entirety of my being. There aren’t words to explain the pain that you feel when you see someone you love, lying in a tub unconscious, with a bottle of pills lying on the floor- there are literally no words. You know how, in every explanation of what death is like, there’s the cliche statement made about every memory flooding back in an instant? It’s like that. Your heart starts racing, the adrenaline takes control, and your brain goes into preservation mode- playing through every single loving moment you’ve ever spent with this person in an effort to prevent this from being the lasting memory.

 I called 911. They were at the house in less than 7 minutes, they rushed in the door, and I know they asked me questions, but not a single one of them resides in my memories. I don’t know what I said, I don’t know what they said, I just know that there were words spoken and the room was spinning faster than I could handle. I expected them to come in and walk back out to get the body bag, but when I heard the paramedic say “There’s a pulse”- it was like being reborn at that moment. It was like I was the one dying, and those words were the shock to my heart that brought me back to this Earth. The rest of the paramedics rushed in to wrap her up and get her on the stretcher, everything moved so much faster when there was a sense of hope, when there was a semblance of a possibility that she may be saved.

 The next few days were confusing; a cacophony of paperwork, medical questions, being told things I didn’t quite understand, and having to make phone calls in the off chance that she didn’t make it through. I was able to take some time off from work, and I don’t think I left the hospital for longer than an hour while she was unconscious. I don’t remember what she had taken, but the doctors all told me that it would be a while before she woke up- and that was an understatement. For some reason, when they said it would be a while, I expected a day or two, not a solid week. I slept on the chair next to her bed each night, I ate nothing but vending machine food and was basically running on Mountain Dew by the time she finally came back to the waking world.

 I was sitting in the chair, reading a gardening magazine for the twelfth time, basically just staring at the shape of the words instead of reading what they said, when I had glanced over and her eyes were open. I think I literally threw the magazine off to the side and jammed the emergency button, the nurses ran into the room expecting for something to have gone wrong- but when they saw you were awake I think they forgave me for freaking them out.

 Over the next few days, she spoke to doctors, therapists, and various family members. She explained herself a hundred times over, promised to get help, and moved on. I think, of all the people she spoke to, I was the only one that she really didn’t, not at first. At first, she refused to even really look at me. Maybe it was the shame of the situation, but I made sure she knew that I wasn’t angry with her, I made sure that she knew I was there for her until the end, and I wasn’t going anywhere. Despite this, she seemed so reluctant to even acknowledge my existence.

 On the day that she was finally able to come home, this tension was at all time high, then it suddenly burst when we got in the car. She turned to me and told me she was pregnant. I don’t know how to explain what I felt when that happened; she could’ve told me at any point in time while she was lying in that bed, but she chose that exact second, and I honestly don’t know what I was feeling. I asked her if the doctors told her while I was out of the room, and she just smirked at me. I asked her again when they told her and she simply told me that they didn’t. I was obviously confused, how could she have known if they didn’t tell her unless she took a test before she went to the hospital, but then why would she have done what she had?

 Part of me wanted to not ask, part of me wanted to nod along and decide that she just knew, but with the whole situation, I had to make sure she wasn’t losing it. I wish that I had stuck with my first instinct, I wish I had never asked.

 Her explanation was nonsensical.

 “He told me.” Was her response. I, of course, asked who he was; was he a doctor? A nurse? God himself?

 She explained to me that, while she was in her coma, she was in a strange, foggy place. She said that, while she was there, time seemed to be unmoving yet was constantly in motion. She said that her sense of time was nonexistent while she was there, every day was both a second and a year. She said that, while she was in this strange place, she could see other people, but she couldn’t interact with them in any way- they all seemed to have their routines, but none of them noticed her. She kept on about various details of this strange place, and she told me that, near the end of her coma, there was a man in the fog with her. She stated that this man appeared to be a plague doctor from the middle ages, yet was also dressed in a modern getup. She said that he sat on a bench near the edge of the fog, and seemed to be surrounded by birds- ravens to be exact. She said that he was polite, and understanding, and he was the only person in this foggy world that was able to talk to her.

 Then, she said that he told her that she would get what she wanted. He apparently told her that she would be given her child, but that it would come at a cost- some sort of equal exchange. She went on about this creature, about their conversations, about her discoveries in this fog-covered world; I didn’t know what to do, so I listened. She seemed to truly believe that this insane dream was some sort of message, an omen from some bird-man in a fog filled world where time didn’t matter.

 All I could bring myself to say was “that’s a pretty crazy dream”, and this was certainly not the best thing to say to her. Her excitement and her smile both dimmed down to anger as I made my comment, I could see the tears starting to well up in her eyes. I told her I was sorry, that I didn’t mean anything negative by it, just that it was a dream and that’s all. She was adamant that I was wrong. She told me, with fervor that I had never known her petite frame to muster, that she had died- that this foggy landscape was some world between the dead and the living, and that this man was some sort of deity that was granting her a wish. She even went as far as to tell me that I wasn’t the father, and that her child was born from her, and this deity. She vehemently opposed my statement about how this was nonsense; she screamed at me and cried harder than I had ever seen her cry in her attempts to both demean my statements and convince me that this was all real.

 I let her get it out, then reluctantly, and falsely, said I believed her. I apologized, hugged her and told her that I would support her no matter what she went through, and that if she says it happened, then it happened. If nothing else, it calmed her down and got her to a reasonable level of anger. I didn’t mind if she was mad at me, honestly, I had more of an issue with her seeming so passionate over something that didn’t exist, over some medically induced fever dream where some man cosplaying as a plague doctor induced pregnancy as some sort of gift from the gods of limbo.

 The pregnancy statement only added to the confusion for a few reasons. Everything about her said she was, indeed, pregnant. She was going through the morning sickness, she was having the weird cravings, her body acted as if she was actually pregnant, and after a couple months, she was starting to show. We went to the doctors, they ran their tests and they came back with a confusing diagnoses- pseudocyesis. Basically, they informed us that everything she was experiencing was from a false pregnancy, she wasn’t actually pregnant but her body was acting as if she was.

 I was confused and devastated, but she… she laughed at them. The doctor tried to explain that this wasn’t an uncommon situation to go through after a traumatic situation, and that it would resolve itself after a while. He further recommended that she should go to therapy and address what had happened a couple months prior. She told him to shove his diagnosis up his ass, because he was wrong and she was going to have a baby. He then turned his attention to me, and further explained everything.

 I tried my hardest to help her through this whole situation. I explained everything to my manager and moved to a remote position so I could be near her 24 hours a day. She spent her time redoing parts of our bedroom, organizing various parts of the house to be childproof and buying clothing for a future baby. She spent all of her time preparing for a child that she had been told would never come- a child that no medical professional was able to ‘find’. She never had a positive test, the ultrasounds found nothing; for all medical intents and purposes, there was no child, and never would be. Despite this, she kept growing in size over the months, showing that somehow every medical worker that had touched her was incorrect in their diagnosis.

 Then, one day at around noon, she walked into the room where I had been diligently putting together spreadsheets and presentations for my boss to send up to his boss, and told me it was time. I was, once again, in a confusing situation- my wife was standing in the room telling me that her water had broken and that we needed to be rushed to the hospital so that she could have the baby… a baby that didn’t exist. Not even looking at the possibilities of insurance not covering the procedures of a faux pregnancy, or the stares that we would get from the doctors and nurses when we told them that she was about to give birth; I was overly concerned for what the end result would be and how it would affect her mental health. She had already hit her end once before, and if we left the hospital without a newborn baby, I knew she wouldn’t be able to handle it.

 As I expected, while she was in the room for delivery, the doctor pulled me aside and wanted to speak with me about her mentality. I explained to them that she had been to therapists, I told them that she had been taking her medication, and I spilled out the contents of every single conversation we’d had for the past nine months. I knew they thought she was crazy, I knew that this was a waste of time, and I scarcely held back the floods that attempted to escape my eyes when I told him that I knew this wasn’t going to end well- but I didn’t know what to do. It’s a rarity that a doctor, especially ones that had been delivering babies for over twenty years, will look you in the eyes and show genuine compassion and concern for your health, while also agreeing to deliver a non-existent child.

 I don’t think he really knew what to do, he didn’t have a plan of action, but he nodded and went back into the room to follow through with what she wanted.

 After around 5 hours of chaos, you were brought into this world- my little girl that wasn’t supposed to exist. The doctor’s were as baffled as I was. Nothing along these past 9 months had medically proven that you existed, yet she was adamant that you did- and somehow she was right. You were cleaned up; crying and screeching as you took your first few breaths, then whisked away to the ward for newborns- the situation quickly shifted to standard operating procedure, everyone went from just going through the motions to satiate her requests, to taking care of an actual medical miracle.

 When all was said and done, you were beautiful, and when they brought you back into the room, they had opted to give us some time as a new family. I remember those moments were, as I’ve said many times, confusing. She was holding you, you were sleeping, and I was sitting in the chair next to you both, with the biggest grin on my face. I commented on how gorgeous you were, I said that you had her eyes and hair, and I remember she laughed and turned her head to me, then shattered my world. She stared me dead in the eyes and told me that I wasn’t the father- she told me that you had no father, that you were a continuation of her, and that you were gifted to her from the man in the fog.

 Part of me thought that having you in her arms would snap her back to reality, but it seemed like it just reinforced her thoughts. In those few moments, in those few words, I felt every bit of my joy shatter into what amounted to nothing. I had humored her, I had worked with her, I had done everything in my power to keep her happy and keep you healthy while she was pregnant, and this is how she repayed me? With her psychotic bullshit about some other world that she saw in a dream back when she had tried to kill herself.

 I wanted to be mad at her, I wanted to scream at her and tell her that she had lost her mind. I wanted to, but I couldn’t, and even if I could, I never got the time. She hugged you tightly and told you that she loved you, and that she gave it all for you. Then she handed you to me, and told me that she loved me. I could feel myself wanting to cry, but for your sake I didn’t. I stared at your bright green eyes, and even though you were only a few hours old, I know that you knew who I was.

 Within moments of my holding you and staring into those bright eyes, my admiration was cut by the sound of a flat-line. The nurses rushed into the room and jumped into trying to revive her- nothing worked. Of course I was questioned; they wanted to know what happened. I told them the truth, I honestly had no idea- I was talking to her, I was holding you, and then she was gone. They struggled to believe me at first, they were suspicious that I had something, or that she had ended her own life, but they accepted what I said as fact after the autopsy. Her heart had stopped, simple as that. It was a sudden cardiac death- it was almost literally like someone had flipped the light switch and her life simply ended.

 They tried their best to bring her back, but it didn’t matter in the end. It was this day where I started to question reality when it came to you, and to her. She was adamant that the thing in her dream had gifted her with the pregnancy, and I recalled that she’d told me about there being a cost- and equal exchange. Her life for yours. As much as it made no sense to me, it was the only thing that I could mentally accept; maybe there was some sort of supernatural force in play. I didn’t want to fall into the same mental trap that she had, but something about everything was… odd.

 Regardless of what I wanted to believe, I now had you to take care of, and that’s just what it was. I didn’t get the chance to mourn for her at all, I had to dedicate my time to my newborn daughter, to keeping you healthy and happy. It wasn’t easy balancing my work with being a single parent, but I managed. I never missed an appointment, you had my attention the minute you made a sound, and even though I was sleep deprived and felt like I was falling apart, I still kept going for you.

 You grew faster than I ever could have imagined- I swear it was like I blinked and you were in preschool. I barely looked like myself anymore, I was aging even faster it seemed.

 It was around your 5th birthday that you started telling me about things that I saw as concerning. I think it may have actually been overnight on your 5th birthday, somewhere around 2 or 3 in the morning. I remember you coming in my room and waking me up, telling me that you’d had a nightmare and asking if you could sleep in my bed. I knew this was the start of the next part of your life- from this day foreward you had a grasp on fear and how your mind could make things up without intent, and you would also know that I would keep you safe.

 It’s a strange feeling, as a parent, to see the exact moment when your baby starts actually growing up. I can only describe it as a feeling of success, I had done something right in raising you.

 The morning after, I asked you if you remembered your nightmare, just to gauge whether or not you were at a point where you would be able to explain what it was that scared you. I wish I hadn’t; your explanation ripped the breath from my lungs. You told me that you had a dream that you were outside, in the fog. You told me that you felt funny, and that the people that were with you didn’t see you. You told me about the bird man, about how he knew your name, how he had a bunch of birds around him, and how you sat there and spoke with him and fed his birds. You told me about the same dream your mother had suffered from several years ago, albeit in a slightly more childish manner. Everything you said terrified me more than I ever imagined possible, I could feel the sweat literally beading on my face.

 It must have been obvious, because you asked me if I was ok- you, a five year old little girl, could tell that the look on my face was one of pure terror. I asked you what the bird man had told you, and you couldn’t remember, I pressed you, probably more than I should have, and I remember scaring you. I’m sorry that I did, it wasn’t my intention, I hope you know that now. I’m sure, at that time, it was so confusing.

 I wish it had ended there, I honestly would have given anything I could to have this be the one and only time that you ever told me about this horrible dream. I wish that was it, but it wasn’t. Almost every night, you came to my room and said you had the nightmare. It got to the point where you were just sleeping in my bed, your room was just for your toys and clothes. While that helped, the nightmares kept coming. They were less frequent, sure, but they were still happening, and you were explaining things in further detail. You were getting better at explaining what the man was saying. Most of the time it seemed like you and him were just having plain conversations; he told you the names of his birds, he told you about the strange dream world you were in.

 I wanted to dismiss all of this. I didn’t want to accept that something was wrong with my little girl, but I couldn’t just let it go. This was further cemented by the time you told me that the bird man explained to you how your mother had died. It was the middle of the day, you had just woken up from a nap, and you walked into my room asking what cardiac meant. I didn’t think much of it, told you it was related to the heart, and asked you why. You told me that the bird man told you that your mom had died from a sudden cardiac arrest. There was no way you could have known that without someone telling you, and that person wasn’t me. I never told you the how, I only told you that, when you were born, she had to go to heaven. The fact that you were asking me questions about the medical specifics, and you knew the information, told me that something was going on.

 Then there was the last time you had the dream about the foggy place. We were eating breakfast, and you hesitantly told me that the bird man was going to let you see your mother. I think I lost it at this point- I told you to stop playing your games about this bird man, and that he wasn’t real. I told you that you needed to quit making everything up, and that you were making me angry. You sat there, your bright green eyes filling with tears as you watched me accuse you of lying. You didn’t scream, you didn’t say anything, you just started crying and went back to your room, slamming your door behind you- that same fervor that your mother showed so long ago rearing it’s hideous head in such a tiny frame. I knew you were mad at me, and that was fine, as long as it meant you would stop with the nonsense. You would’ve been better off in the long run if you could just see that your dreams were in your imagination, and that your mother was gone for good.

 But we never got to see if you would’ve been better off, did we? That conversation was the last one you and I ever had- the last words you heard me say were “Stop it with this ridiculous nonsense”. I went up to check on you, no longer than a few hours after you and I’d had our argument, and you were non-responsive. I remember opening your door and thinking you were asleep. I remember putting my hand on your arm and feeling that you were cold- then turning you over to see that your lips had a slight blue shade to them. I knew at that moment that you were gone- I knew that I wouldn’t get lucky a second time when I called the Paramedics.

 They came in, they asked their questions, and they took you out in a zipped up dark plastic bag. Once again, I was questioned by the police, by the medics, by my own family- but again I was cleared. The doctor said that you’d had a heart defect that had gone unnoticed- probably the same heart defect that brought on your mother’s cardiac arrest. They said that there was no way I could’ve done anything to save you unless I had been there the exact second it happened, and since you had gone in your sleep, it was an inevitability. A perfect storm, the exact circumstances leading to you falling asleep while crying because I had made you mad, and then you were just gone.

 And just like that, I was alone. I was forced to sit in the house where my wife had attempted suicide, and where my baby girl had passed away while sleeping. I was haunted by the memories of seeing her in the tub, of your cold and lifeless face, and of the fact that our last conversation was me yelling at you.

 I buried you right next to your mother with the same thought in my mind- I never got to tell you goodbye, I never got to say that I loved you, and you left me far too early. Both of you had your threads cut way before they should have been, especially you. I started this path with those moments of celebration that she and I would have when she told me that she may have been pregnant, and I ended it in the rain, drowning in the overcast while someone recited a prayer over your pine box. Anxiety, anticipation, excitement… none of these words had meaning to me anymore. What more could life throw at me, what else could fate do to me that I wouldn’t expect? I had lost my wife, I had lost my daughter, and I had lost any reason to keep going.

 The day you were conceived happened just after what I thought was going to be the most terrifying morning of my life. Those days watching her lie unconscious in a hospital bed and asking the universe to just give her a second chance- to give her back to me. I got what I asked for, and she came back, and she was given what she had asked for; you. The day you were born, she was happy; she was given that chance to see you, to hold you and to tell you that she loved you. Then the exchange happened, you were given to me, and she was taken. On that day, when I knew she wasn’t coming back, I asked for the strength to keep going for your sake, and I got what I had asked for. I hardly slept, I hardly ate, my entire life revolved around you. By the end of it, I was looking like I was about to be 50 at the ripe old age of 32, but I was able to keep you healthy and happy.

 The day you died, I begged to have you back. As they lowered your casket into that hole next to where your mother had been buried for all this time, my heart shattered. I know that you didn’t feel any pain, and that it was an instantaneous death, but I needed you to keep myself going. When you started telling me about the place in your dreams, I never knew what to say, because your mother had told me all about it, and she made sure to tell me that the man in the dream was the one giving her what she’d wanted. You told me that he had mentioned your mother, and that he was going to let you see her if you wanted. When you said that, and I exploded, it was because I was scared that he was going to follow through- what’s worse is that he did. He took you from me, and he gave you what you wanted.

 This man, this so called bird man, was giving everyone everything that they wanted, but it seemed like there was an exchange each time- something of equal value was lost when something was gained. She became pregnant with you, but her life was given for you to be born. You wanted to see your mother, but your life in this world had to be taken for that to happen. What’s worse, I think, looking back, he may have even been listening to me. I asked for her to come back after her suicide attempt, and she did- but she was never the same person, and we grew distant, then she was taken too. When I held you that first time, I was asking for the strength to raise you by myself, and those five years were tough, but I managed. I feel like aging over ten years was my payment for that strength.

 All of that was enough to make me think that maybe, just maybe, he was listening to me. If that wasn’t enough to convince me at the time, I honestly cannot question it anymore.

 Only a couple days ago, I put you in that pine box in front of my family, in front of the church goers, and various people that came to pay their respects. I watched as that box was covered, I stood there as the rain soaked the dirt and it sunk around where you were laid to rest. I stood there and cried my eyes out for a few hours, before I had to leave. I fell onto the bed and stared at various photographs of our lives together, myself and her, and then you. I just flipped through the pages a few dozen times until I had managed to drink myself into a black out.

 Then, this morning, I woke up to horrendous hangover and noted two things upon opening my eyes; there was a thick fog lingering outside my window, and you were standing idly at the foot of my bed. I thought you were a hallucination at first, but once I was able to fully open my eyes and wake up, I knew for a fact that you were real.

 You’ve been standing there and staring at me with your pale, lifeless eyes for what feels like forever, or maybe it’s been only a couple minutes- I can’t really tell as my brain seems to be failing to comprehend how much time has actually passed. I’ve tried to match the half-smile that feels artificially plastered on your grey-shaded face, but I can’t. I see you, I know you’re real, but you’re no longer my daughter. Whatever you are is something that shouldn’t exist, something that I brought on myself by asking for things to be different.

 Now, as I lie here and maintain eye contact with whatever it is that has returned in place of my daughter- I’m fully aware that he’s been listening to me, and he’s been giving me what I’ve been asking for. At this point, if this is what I’m being given, I’m terrified to find out what it is he’s going to take in exchange…