How on earth did she think I was fine? I’d never been anything but fine. While I wasn’t particularly eager to experience the volatile, irrational emotions of my peers, I at least wanted to know what the f**k was wrong with me. What the hell made me so different?
My parents’ casual dismissal of a potential problem disturbed me most of all. Whatever my issues were, I at least knew how to feel anger. And I was exceptionally angry at the moment.
I hadn’t finished deciding whether or not to express my rage when the phone rang, making the decision for me. The housekeeper had the day off, so Mother got up to get it. By the tone of her “hello,” I knew it must be one of her friends.
I tuned her out, opening my laptop instead to do some internet searching. I’d just typed in “blunted affect” when my mother gasped. I looked across the room to her. She was shaking her head, her hand raised to clutch her chest. For a good second, I wondered if she was having a heart attack.
Then her eyes met mine. “Okay. Okay,” she kept saying into the receiver. “We’ll be there. We’re coming. See you soon.”
She hung up, and I saw that all the color had left her face. “Hudson. Hudson. Oh, no.”
My forehead creased. Was it Dad? He’d taken my siblings ice-skating at Rockefeller Center earlier. Or Mirabelle? Or Chandler?
Mother rushed toward me, and I stood to catch her. She was crying already as she buried her face in my shoulder. “It’s the baby,” she said into my sweatshirt. “Celia’s losing the baby. She’s at the hospital. We have to go.”
I never pushed return in the search field. The results for blunted affect never made it to my script. I didn’t need the internet to tell me whether or not I could feel. At that moment, all I felt was numb.
I watched the drip of the IV in a daze, the measured beeps of the heart monitor the only sound in the quiet, darkened room. Celia was sleeping. She had been for several hours. I hadn’t spoken to her or seen her awake since I’d arrived.
When my mother and I had gotten to the hospital, Celia had been in labor. The baby, we were told, was dead already.
After, she hadn’t wanted to see anyone. Madge and Warren gave us what little information they’d had. They’d gone to the ER when Celia’s water had broken. There, an ultrasound had failed to find the fetus’s heartbeat. The doctors guessed it had passed sometime two weeks before. Celia was admitted to the obstetrics ward. Labor continued naturally, and a few hours later, she’d delivered. It had been a boy.
I spent the evening comforting my mother in the waiting room. Eventually, my father arrived and took her home, where I guessed she’d mourn in the way she knew best—with a bottle of vodka. Though Celia still refused to see me, I stayed. Around midnight, the Werners said goodbye, promising they’d return first thing in the morning. That’s when I snuck in her room. I spent the night awake in an armchair by her bed. I had no reason to be there. I had no reason to go.
“Why are you here?” Celia’s voice drew me from my stupor.
I wiped my mouth and cleared my throat before trying to speak. “You’re awake.”
“I am.” She pushed a button, and the bed tilted her into a sitting position. “And you don’t need to be here. The façade is over. You can go.” Her tone was straight, empty of expression.
“I’m not leaving.”
I answered honestly. “I don’t know.”
She leaned her head back into the pillow, accepting my answer. She didn’t ask me to leave again, and something told me it was because she really didn’t want me to go.
Though I knew that conversation wasn’t necessary, I asked all the same, “How do you feel?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “Numb.”
That was an emotion I knew well. “That’s natural.”
Who the f**k knew what natural was? Certainly not me. “I don’t really know, Celia. I assume it is.” She stared at me with blank eyes. So I said more. “I imagine it’s some sort of defense mechanism to the trauma. Do they know what happened?”
She started to shake her head and stopped. “One of the doctors told me—in private, when my parents weren’t in the room—that there appeared to be developmental issues. I asked if it could have been because….because I’d partied early on. I, uh, drank a lot. And there was drug use. Before I knew I was pregnant, of course. He said that he couldn’t be sure, but it was probably a contributing factor.”
Her voice was raw with the honesty—or perhaps it was the fact that she’d just awoken and the day before had been more than rough. Either way, I sensed I was the only person who would hear this truth.
And I had nothing to offer her in terms of comfort. I didn’t even try. I wondered, though, in the quiet that followed, if she blamed me. It seemed a reasonable reaction from what I’d learned about human behavior. She’d lost her child because of drug and alcohol use. She’d used because she’d been broken. She’d been broken by me. It was fair to say, then, that she’d lost her child because of me.
She wouldn’t have even been pregnant if not for me. It was easy to say her actions were her responsibility, but I had manipulated her for the exact reason of studying how she’d react. I did have culpability.
I didn’t feel guilty or even regretful, necessarily. I simply wondered if she blamed me. Even here in this inappropriate moment, I searched to understand the nuances of human psychology.
Celia broke the silence. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?” Coming after my internal dialogue, her apology was particularly out of place.
She blinked several times, and I realized she was crying. “You aren’t really the father, but I feel like I need to say this to someone. So I’m telling you I’m sorry. I’m sorry I killed our baby.”
Her tears flowed in gentle streams that she wiped at with the tips of her fingers. She was silent and her body still as she grieved. I watched her, taking it in. Not completely heartless, I did notice a certain melancholy wrap around me. It was refreshing almost, to feel something other than even. Though, it appeared to be much less comfortable of an emotion for Celia. That was unfortunate.
When the crying let up, she threw a glance at me. “It was fun for a moment, wasn’t it? Pretending it was ours.”
I tilted my head as I contemplated that. Our scheme had been easy to fall into. People had been ready to believe, and that had inspired a kind of secret delight. Celia had been in California for the majority of our ruse, but in the days before she’d left, I’d recognized her own euphoria. She’d tried to hide it behind the pretense of embarrassment and guilt, but I could read her too well.