Envy

The news that the baby has been born comes by email. There are exclamations around the office, like neighborhood fireworks whose rhythm of release is never quite mastered. There are gaping silences, then an “Oh!” and a “Baby!” I hold myself quite still and reread the email. A baby has been born to my coworker and his wife. It was a long delivery. A successful delivery. As they say, Mom and baby are doing fine. But I am looking for something else. I am sniffing for a hint. A hint that maybe not all is fine, and maybe I am not alone in having my idyllic dreams snuffed and reduced to smoke. I feel terrible, certainly. Write to a friend, the only one who understands: “Envy. It’s evil.” People use the phrase “murderous rage” as if it is the worst emotional pool a person can drop into, a force that will make a person do unspeakable and unforgiveable things. My envy may not cause me to kill, or maim, but I understand how it can because I feel poisoned by it. There was a murder here a year or two ago that was as horrifying and bizarre as any you’d read in the 14th book by a mystery thriller writer who has upped the ante with each book until she has ultimately run out of even semi-reasonable plots. A woman, desperate to have her own baby, murders a pregnant woman and removes the baby from her belly, hoping I suppose to keep it for her own, but kills the baby while performing the gruesome surgery in her basement. I would never. I know this. But I understand the pickling that spoils the heart, kills off empathy and human kindness like alcohol destroys bacteria. I want no one to ever be happy with healthy babies and fulfilled dreams. I must actively work to flush these feelings, drain them with a flood of self-talk to drive them like cattle back into the perimeter fence. The envy lives in me like a child. It grasps for someone to come and join it in its misery. Oh yes, misery loves company. How can I feel so alone among the rubble of my dreams? Won’t somebody come and play, somebody come and play today, I hear in my head the Sesame Street song that my now 8 year old son still listens to. He should be watching Star Wars or Disney films that I was all prepared to hate in all their lack of sophistication and misogyny. But I would kill to watch Aladdin for the umpteenth time, if only Noah’s mind could develop enough for him to fall in love with something new. There is so little new in a life set on repeat. Some parents write about how glorious it is when their kids with whatever kind of delay spit out a new word, or show a new interest. And it’s true. So true! There was a spark of joy when I asked Noah last night when he was playing in the bath with small animal figures who jump and splash into the water (a game he has played for 6 years made all the more fun when you accuse the figurines of being “bad” and not allowed to go the mall, which is Noah’s greatest fear) who the Bad Penguin was? He held him up over the lip of the bathtub and said, “Him!” It’s cute the way he said it. The way he says a lot of things, like “Day Du” for “Thank you.” And I celebrate it. Tell the story to Mark when he comes home. And we laugh as though we are happy and really feeling joy. But there is no true joy to be had in hearing your 8 year old son say a word that most kids master both verbally and grammatically many years prior. There is no true excitement that this work, this “him” might lead soon or someday to a sentence, or a story, or even, a glimpse into his inner life, if he has one. Does he? Does a child who has watched the same Elmo’s World episode 50 times have an inner life? Or is it like driving on autopilot? Sometimes I think being Noah must be like being a bit drunk all day, every day. His ataxia and nystagmus have him listing from side to side, and he trips and falls more times during a day than most of us in a year. But he shakes it off like a drunk might when pushing through the door of the bar the wrong way, or stumbling off a curb, or hitting a shin against the corner of the coffee table. He fumbles for words, spews emotions like a sad drunk who moves from giddiness to sadness between sips. He moves through is world with the same haze that I do when I’ve had too much to drink, but drive home confident that I know the way, that I will stick to the deepest worn grove, like I do when I get home and careen through the house to get water, Advil, let the dog out, stuff something salty in my mouth, brush my teeth, dress, not thinking keenly about anything. Everything is just a movement that leads to another movement that leads to another movement. And I hope I haven’t truly hurt myself in the process, and I’m certain that I will feel like shit the next day. How does Noah do that? How does he spend each day in some kind of quasi-coma that just leads to yet another day in that same fog and stumble and keep your head down kind of living. I know it is assumption. That I have no idea what his life is like. That none of us as parents know who our child will be. And for most parents that’s what’s so damn exciting. That’s the novelty. And that’s where our hope lies: it lies in potential. And my friend, the one with the new baby. He looks at her and sees the embodiment of all she can be. While I look at Noah and see what he will never be. How can I not be envious? Not of my friend’s good luck. But of his new daughter’s life? How can I not be envious of that life for Noah?

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