by Megan Madramootoo
I watched Seth quietly and quickly disappear behind the off-white front door as he held something small and box-like between his two hands. When the door slammed behind him, I immediately began to feel the darkness of that morning’s events encroach upon me. I waited for one whole minute for Seth to remember me…for him to come back for me…for him to even lock the damn door behind him to keep me safe from the outside world. But he did none of these things.
I suddenly remembered the memory box that the hospital had given us a little over one hour before. My tired eyes moved from the front door to the glass dining table where the box had been left when we returned home from the hospital 20 minutes before. But it wasn’t there. I squinted some and searched harder—I even got up and made my way to the table. Sifted carefully through the unopened mail and the pile of paperwork from the baby’s short stay at the hospital. Nope, nothing. That’s when I realized that the small and box-like object that had been in Seth’s hand was the memory box. He had secretly taken it with him when he hauled ass to get out of that apartment…and away from me.
I wiped at my right eye, which had begun tearing up again, and trudged back to the maroon sofa. I sat down, folded my legs into myself, and picked up the small stuffed dinosaur that had kept Isaiah company for the remainder of his days inside his tiny incubator. I laid my head against the hard armrest and cuddled the toy next to my chest. I listened to the silence. I thought about Seth…and how, in that instance of his leaving me in that dark apartment alone, I had realized that he completely, without a doubt, hated my guts.
At 2:20 that morning, August 10, 2004, Dr. Keplar had called to let us know that Isaiah was not doing so well…that even though our baby had received a blood transfusion the night before, it hadn’t done much to increase his oxygen level. I was sleeping when the phone rang, and was having trouble grasping onto what the doctor was telling me. So I asked him if Seth and I should meet him there at the hospital.
“Well, uh, yes…I think you should. I mean, he may soon start to respond to the oxygen therapy we’re giving him, but it may be a good idea to come.”
I gently shook Seth until he awakened. Relayed the news to him just as the doctor had relayed it to me. But he had rubbed my back and told me to pray…that everything was going to be alright. Without wanting to, I obeyed, closing my eyes tightly and willing myself to believe that he was right.
When Dr.Keplar had called again at 4:10 a.m., I let Seth answer the phone since he didn’t believe Isaiah’s condition was dire from the doctor’s first phone call. After getting off the phone, he sat up slowly and looked at me:
“Do you want to go to the hospital?”
I stared at him through the dark of the bedroom, wondering what universe he was currently living in, but not having the courage to ask. I didn’t want to upset him, as I was appreciating the very rare calm that we were experiencing since Isaiah was admitted into the NICU six days before. Instead, I told him yes and put my clothes on through the still of the early morning. When we had finally arrived at the hospital at 5:45 a.m., Isaiah had already passed.
After the nurses had ushered us gently inside the sterile NICU, I sobbed quietly behind the curtain that separated us from the other babies who were still alive. Surprisingly, Seth held onto my shoulders as he cried silently while I held onto my baby, hating every fiber inside my body for not having been there to hold my son’s tiny hand as he passed from life to death. But I bundled him as close to me as I could and whispered repeatedly how sorry I was, drowning his pretty brown face with tears that would never stop flowing.
Morning drifted away into the late afternoon and somewhere in between, I had fallen asleep. At 4:30 p.m., I woke up to the soft buzzing of my cell next to my head. I sleepily lifted my head, grateful for any kind of contact from the outside world. There was a text message from my good friend Kelly, letting me know that she had finally woken up from her nap since getting home from her night shift that morning, and that she would be on her way soon. I sent her a response text back, telling her thank you and informing her to just let herself in…that the door would be unlocked. I searched through my cell for any other messages or calls that I might have missed from Seth while I had been sleeping. But there was nothing there.
I shut my phone and pulled my legs over the sofa. I leaned forward and looked at the kitchen table again, wondering where Seth could be with our memory box. Suddenly, without wanting to, I heard the excited sounds of happy children playing outside, and my heart sank into my belly. I thought about Caleb at that point and how, even though I hated being left alone in the apartment, I was just thankful that he had been able to stay with my mother during this whole ordeal.
I wiped at my eyes once again and ran my hand through my uncombed hair. From the time Seth and I had gotten back into the car after leaving Isaiah’s little body at the hospital, to the time Seth had put the car in gear and left the hospital’s parking garage, I sensed that something immediately changed between us. For a second, while in that NICU, I had actually thought that we were going to be okay after he tried to console me the minute we saw Isaiah’s lifeless body…I had actually thought we were going to be okay. Even though he had last raised his hand to me less than a month ago, I was so sure that we were going to be just fine–because he had tried to console me after our baby had passed.
But on our way back home, I noticed the way his jaw seemed to clench every time I cautiously turned to look at him from the passenger seat. He also kept his hardened face straight as he fully concentrated on the traffic ahead of him, indicating to me that somewhere deep inside of him, he wanted to blame me for what just happened, like he did with everything else. I just felt it…because always right before he apologized for hitting me…right before—while he was still in the thick of his madness— he would always tell me that I made him hurt me. So in the painfully quiet car ride back to Temple Hills, I knew, without his even saying it, that he was quickly searching for a way to blame me for Isaiah’s death.
And when he quickly unlocked the apartment door and headed straight to the narrow hallway bathroom with his shoes still on his feet—without even making sure that I had made it in safely—and walked right back outside without so much as telling me to fuck off, his newfound hatred for me was confirmed.
I looked down at my closed hands, which rested on top of my lap; opened them…clasped them back together again, then reopened them. I reached over to my right for Isaiah’s dinosaur and held its softness to my nose. I breathed in the subtle newborn scent left behind by him and leaned over into my thighs, letting out my cries inside the palms of my hands.
By 6:10 p.m., I had managed to move from the sofa in order to switch the floor lamp to its dim setting and finally use the bathroom after more than 12 hours. When I was done with that, I decided to take a seat at our dining room table. Well, actually, it wasn’t my dining room table; it was Seth’s. And in the time that I was left alone to mourn the loss of our baby by myself, I had quickly begun to feel as if I were no longer welcomed inside the apartment that Seth’s father had leased for him almost a year ago. As if, with the death of our baby came with it the death of my and Seth’s relationship, and any other attachment that I previously had to him.
As I sat next to the empty space that the missing memory box had left, I opened my cell once more, just in case I had missed any calls from Seth—or anyone else—while I had been in the bathroom a few moments before. Nothing. Just then, I heard the slight turn of the door handle, and I grew hopeful that it could be him.
“Hey sweetie.” Kelly quietly announced her arrival as she carefully stepped inside the living room, bending over to take off her sandals, which she left next to the neat collection of shoes by the entrance. She then slowly and quietly closed and locked the off-white door and stared at me for a minute, her eyes teary with compassion and understanding.
I mustered a quiet Hey, momentarily disappointed that Kelly wasn’t Seth, but glad that she was finally there with me. I watched her as she walked over towards the glass table, holding a large plastic bag in her left hand. She set it down opposite from where I sat, and immediately, the smell of baked chicken invaded my nasal passages.
“Well, I brought you guys some food from Boston Market. I know it’s not much, but hopefully it will help a little.” Kelly pulled out a vanilla-colored chair and sat down. “Where is Seth, by the way? I didn’t see your car outside…”
I sniffled and wiped at my nose, keeping my focus on the bag from Boston Market. “I don’t know. As soon as we made it back from the hospital, he left—”
I nodded my head and made eye contact with Kelly, who now looked puzzled as her green eyes began to search my own for an explanation. “Yep, he left.”
She kept her eyes on me for a second and breathed in slowly and deeply. “And where’s Caleb?”
I breathed in, as well, trying hard to fight the tears that were finding their way back to the edges of my eyelids as I thought about my five-year-old and whether or not my mother had told him that his brother had passed. “He’s been at Veronica’s. She came and got him when my water broke.”
I watched Kelly as she continued to search my eyes for some inkling as to what I needed for her to do in that instant. But I crossed my arms over one another and hugged myself tight, choosing to look away from her and so I could refocus my attention on that Boston Market bag, trying with all my might to block out the youthful voices that continued to float into the apartment from the outside. I hugged myself even tighter, feeling a sudden chill in the air, even though it must’ve been at least 85 degrees outside.
“He has the memory box,” I suddenly heard myself blurt out after a while.
“I’m sorry, he has the what?”
I lifted my heavy eyes and fixed them back onto Kelly’s. “The baby’s memory box,” I simply stated. “I would show you pictures of the baby and everything—even a lock of his hair they had clipped for us—but Seth took the fucking box. Took the fucking box and left me by my fucking self, Kelly.” I was angry, hopeless, ashamed of myself, and regretting the day I met Seth, all at once. As memories of holding my poor sweet baby rushed into my mind, I had no choice but to give way to the uncontrollable tremors that began taking over my body until I was forced to openly sob in front of my friend.
Kelly hurried over to my side of the table, knelt down in front of me, and wrapped her arms securely around my waist. I held onto her as tight as I could and cried my sorrow into her shoulder. The nonstop tears that had been a part of that whole dreadful day surfaced from a place buried deep inside of me that I had never known existed before that morning. I wanted to escape outside myself—be anywhere and be anybody other than where I was and who I was at that moment–and get away from that horrible darkness that now hovered closely over me…that refused to say when, or if, it would ever leave my world.
Kelly let me go and rested her hands on top of my knee caps. She looked up at me through reddened eyes, and I was grateful that somebody was there, feeling my pain with me. “You’re going to be okay. Now, I can’t tell you when exactly, but know that one day, this will come to pass. Okay?”
I looked into her eyes and whispered Okay.
By the time evening gave way to early night, I was bathed, clothed in fresh pajamas, and my hair was combed into two long French braids, courtesy of Kelly. As we sat side-by-side on the maroon sofa, I flipped open my cell phone for the fourth time that day to see if I had missed any calls/texts from Seth–or anyone else–but there was nothing there. I sighed and let my head fall against the back of the sofa.
“Hey…let’s turn the TV on,” Kelly suggested, patting my knee gently. I don’t like the thought of this house being so quiet right now.” I kept my head back and my eyes towards the ceiling as I felt her lift her body from the sofa. Two seconds later, Alex Trebek’s voice filled the lonely apartment with his announcement of Final Jeopardy.
I took my eyes from the ceiling and rested my head onto Kelly’s slender shoulder once she sat back down. I breathed in the floral scent that emanated from her blonde curly hair, and closed my eyes as I inhaled her calm, finding myself desperately wanting the same thing.
At 9 p.m., Kelly gently informed me that she had to head home and get ready for another night shift at the hospital. I got up from the sofa and walked with my friend to the front door and thanked her again for coming to my aid. She kissed my right cheek and wrapped her arms around me. I inhaled the fragrance of the flowers from her hair once more as I leaned my heavy burden against her small, but strong frame. God, I didn’t want her to leave.
When she let me go, she looked at me and took my right hand and squeezed it lovingly. “Drink the tea I made for you earlier and take the Benadryl so you can sleep…and I’ll call you in the morning.”
I nodded my head obediently, swallowing my urge to cry again as I watched Kelly leave the apartment. After I closed the door behind her, the darkness that had stayed at bay during Kelly’s stay quickly began to move in on me once again. I stood by the front door for a whole minute, unsure of what to do next. Finally, I made my way back to the sofa, collected the small dinosaur that had been sitting by his lonesome, and sat down, bringing my legs up close to my chin. Before covering myself with my oversized cotton robe, I reached for my cell that had been resting on the sofa’s arm, and checked for any missed calls or messages that I might have missed from Seth while I had been saying goodbye to Kelly. But there was nothing there. Breathing out my pain, I pulled the dinosaur close to my heart and listened to the hushed voices coming from the TV, the only sound now being heard in the dark of the apartment.
About the Author:
Megan Madramootoo is majoring in Creative Writing with a concentration in nonfiction at Southern New Hampshire University. Her works usually include pieces of her past that she uses to help others who’ve experienced the same. On a normal evening, you can find her typing furiously away, a glass of Merlot close by her side. She resides in Maryland with her husband and four out of their five children.