Those We Leave Behind
“The scariest thing about vanishing isn’t that we don’t know where we’ll end up, or if we’ll even end up anywhere at all. No, the real fear comes when we wonder about those we leave behind…”
Lindsey Grace Wells, born three weeks, two days, and fourteen hours ago, to Marcus and Kate Wells of Wheeling, West Virginia. Healthy, beautiful, everything you’d want from your first-born.
Three weeks. Three weeks is a long time to go without touching your baby.
Kate stared ahead at the mobile hanging above her grandmother’s mahogany crib. The wood chipped away, showing its age, yet holding strong for a fourth generation of use. The mobile itself was relatively new. A 2 dollar purchase at Wal-Mart using gift cards left over from the baby shower. A flimsy metal wire holding animals painted in non-threatening muted pastels, colors that didn’t make sense on those animals. A pink giraffe. A green elephant. Upon looking at it so long, Kate realized it was total shit.
But Lindsey loved it. The child would stare wide-eyed at it for hours. A look of bewilderment, youthful surprise like only a newborn can dwell in, as she watched the animals frolic in the air above her. Slowly circling above, as if some kind of magical force, an unheard music, caused these animals to dance.
Kate got up and approached the crib. Her quick pace slowed more and more with each step as she moved closer to where her child lay, gently gurgling and cooing into the air. In one quick motion, without looking down at the baby, she wrapped her hand around the soft, yellow alligator and pulled. The cheap wire bent as it was pulled from the hook in the ceiling. The string holding the giraffe snapped from the force, causing the discolored creature to flutter down, landing gentle on the baby’s face, which was responded to by an innocent giggle, which was replaced by a sudden cry as the child realized the mystical animal dance party was no longer here.
“Oh… oh sweetie… I… I’m sorry… no no… please don’t… don’t cry please… I…”
“…I didn’t really like that thing either, but… that’s a bit drastic, don’t you think?”
“Oh! Oh… Marc… I, um… could you change Lindsey… I… I need to go to the bathroom…”
Kate hurried past her husband, being extra careful not to meet his concerned gaze, and out into the hall.
“Well, Lindsey… looks like we’ve got a problem on our hands, doesn’t it?”
Marcus sniffed a few times, with each sniff, the concerned look dripped off his face and melted down into a cringe.
“…make that two problems… “
Weeks passed, and the situation didn’t change. Marcus spent most of his day at work, only to come home and find his daughter filthy, showing no signs of being picked up the entire day. His wife became more and more detached from the little girl.
“Look, all I’m saying is… maybe we need to hire someone. Someone to come in and take care of Lindsey during the day…”
“You know we can’t afford that.”
Her response was surprisingly quiet. For years, Marcus always had to tell Kate to lower her voice. She was naturally a loud person, but lately her voice was getting lower and lower. As if it was stuck, and she was using the last of her energy to force each statement out.
“This is our daughter! I don’t care about the money, she needs to be taken care of, and it’s obvious that you…”
He stopped, for two reasons. The realization that what he was about to say may be too much for Kate to handle, and because for the first time in days his wife looked him straight in the eyes. A cold, defeated look that sucked the once vibrant blue from her eyes, leaving a gray that seemed to mirror an ominous fog that was hanging around their house, enveloping their lives.
“It’s obvious that I what? Can’t take care of my own child! You’re right… I can’t…”
Her gaze returned to the floor, where it had found itself frequently since coming home from the hospital.
“That’s not what I meant, Kate. You can take care of her, you just… won’t.”
“You know why… you know what I can’t…”
“The Crisis. Is that really what this is about! Come on, Kate, the odds are…”
“Getting better every day! It’s bad enough I have to live in fear of my baby disappearing, but what if… what if I disappear and she… gets hurt…”
“You won’t! You can’t just live in fear, she needs her mother, she needs to be held…”
“You don’t think I know that, Marc! I understand everything but… how can I be expected to… she could… I don’t want it to be my fault…”
To Marcus’ surprise, Kate began crying. It was the one thing she hadn’t done during this whole ordeal. It was apparent that these tears had built over the last few weeks. She began to collapse to her knees, but Marcus threw himself forward and caught her, holding her against his chest as she sobbed. Together, they dropped to their knees on the bedroom carpeting.
“We can work this out… we can…”
He was cut off by the sudden, shrill cry of Lindsey in the other room. Kate shuddered at the sound, burying herself deeper into her husband’s arms, as if trying to escape reality itself.
“Please… make it stop… I can’t stand to hear her scream…”
“Ok… just… I’ll be right back. You sit and try to calm down. I’m going to go get her up and out of her crib…”
Kate’s eyes widened between her fingers as she listened to her husband’s footsteps tapering off down the hall, followed by the creaking of the door to the baby’s room. As if being pulled by strings controlled by someone else, she gingerly stood and stumbled, with the legs of a possessed woman, over to the desk on the corner of the room, falling hands-first onto the surface, and finding her fingers wrapped around something…
“It’s ok… there there, is it time for you to…”
“Don’t! Don’t… touch her. Leave her there, in the crib…”
“What the… Kate, Jesus you scared the hell out of… Kate?”
Marcus pushed his back against the crib, his breath torn from his chest by the sight of a recognizable shiny object clutched in his wife’s trembling hand. The pen knife she’d given him for their anniversary a few years ago.
“Kate… what are you doing with that. Put it down, I need…”
“No! You can’t… you can’t pick her up, Marcus… you’ll disappear. You’ll kill her, you’ll leave me… you’ll leave me all alone…”
“No, I won’t Kate. You know deep down that I won’t…”
Kate raised the blade and pointed it at Marcus, her arm shaking violently as she struggled to keep it upright. Marcus put his hands up, partially to shield himself but also to try and reassure that he wasn’t going to touch her.
“Look, ok… ok… we’ll leave her be for a minute. Now will you put the knife down…”
“I… I’m not a bad mother…”
“No one is saying you are, Kate. You’re a great mother. You love Lindsey, that’s why you know deep down we have to pick her up. We have to feed her, hold her, comfort her… you know that, you’re just… you’re just afraid now…”
“I’m not a bad mother…”
Kate’s arm fell to her side, the knife slipping out and dropping to the floor. Marcus lunged down to the ground, snatching up the knife and throwing it down the hallway staircase.
“I’m not a bad mother… I’m not a bad mother…”
Kate continued to mutter the phrase under her breath as her heavy eyes stayed locked on the hand that once held the weapon. The tears that were once streaming down her face once again retreated inside, held prisoner.
“Kate… look at me…”
She closed her eyes, trying to turn away from her husband. Ashamed and afraid.
Marcus stood by her side, waiting for her to look. With some effort, she pulled her eyes up and looked at him. The lids of her eyes snapped open, leaving her wide-eyed. She took a couple of steps back, until she bumped into the door of the bathroom behind her.
“No… no… please…”
Marcus held Lindsey, cradled gently in the crook of his arm, the baby now quietly sleeping in her father’s embrace.
“Take her, Kate. You have to take her. Please, just for a minute… I’ll be right here in case something happens. Ok? I’ll be right here. Nothing bad will happen… you need to take your daughter. She wants her mother…”
Kate looked down at the peaceful look on the resting baby’s face. Her features just as gentle as her husband’s.
He slowly, delicately lifted the baby up and moved it towards Kate. Reluctantly, and to her surprise, she found herself reaching out her arms. In an instant, Kate was holding her child for the first time.
“See… there you go… I’m right here. See. Everything’s alright. Look, she’s smiling at you…”
The baby glanced up at Kate, and let out a small giggle. Kate brushed her fingers against the child’s soft cheek. Marcus wrapped his arms around his wife, looking over her shoulder as Lindsey drifted back to sleep.
“She’s so beautiful…”
“She is. She’s happy. She finally has her mother…”
“…we don’t define ourselves alone. We use the interactions of those around us to validate our existence. It’s in other people that our memories live on. Perhaps the fear of vanishing comes from the fear that when we do, our memories will remain and hurt those we care about. No one wants to leave someone alone. And yet, it’s perhaps inevitable.
The thing that helps us find meaning, also lends itself to one of our biggest fears.”
-Dr. Matthew Beaustein, “The Nature of The Crisis – Esotericism, Escapism, And The True Nature Of Self”