About five years ago a mother and her toddler son made the news in the most horrific way. She had taken her two-year-old to the local zoo and visited the African painted dog exhibit. The boy was standing on the railing for a better view of the dogs while his mother was holding him. I can’t remember how, but she lost her grip. The boy fell onto the net that was intended to catch debris, but then he bounced off it and landed in the dogs’ den. The wild white-spotted dogs rushed at him and mauled him, and he died.
I first learned about the incident from a coworker. I remember being incredulous. How could this have happened? Outraged and astonished at the mother’s carelessness, I searched for the story online. Sure enough, my coworker’s account of the accident was factual. I could not believe that a parent would have not used better judgment. How could she have stood her son on the railing and risked an accident?
I often see Kiri in my mind. I see his thin pinkish frame at just 22 weeks of gestation, his protruding rib cage, and his chest rising as he sucked for air. I see his tiny fingers twitching. I see traces of his hair woven on the crown of his head. I see him lying on my bare chest, the reddish and purplish veins coursing through his almost translucent body. At first, he was filmed with a milky-coating. From experience with his sister, I knew that his fragile body would soon become dry and start to chafe from my touches, so I asked for lotion. A nurse handed me a tube, and I smoothed his arms and face with the cream.
I sometimes see in my mind Kiri as a fish. I see him swimming within my belly that is an aquarium. My son has no care in his secluded world. He swims, he eats, he sleeps, and he swims again. And he breathes, his thumb loosely hanging from his mouth. He lives. That is all he knows to do. That is all he has to do. Then, suddenly, the aquarium explodes and the water gushes out, taking him with it. He happens upon an unfamiliar piece of land. He is not ready for this new territory. It is not fair. He does not know this world yet. How could anyone expect him to thrive?
My mind can travel far. Sometimes it takes me to where Kiri is one year old. He is waddling to his father, his stubby fingers reaching for his father’s neck. I see his future, too, where he is about two years old and is coy, his hands in his pockets, hiding his secret. I see him dressed in a white undershirt and undershorts, a mini-replica of his father. Fortunately, Danith does not blame me for our son’s death. And the doctors don’t, either. I did not cause Kiri’s death — I know this. When I had been pregnant with him, I had made sure not to lift the laundry basket. I had slept on my left side. I had protected my belly with my hand in case I bumped into a door or a corner. But — I also know that I caused his death. This is how far my mind could go: if our son had been placed in another woman’s womb, he would have most likely been gestated for the full 40 weeks, and he would have entered this world with endless abilities, and breaths. My body failed, and because of this, his did, too.
I do not know the woman whose son died at the zoo. But, I know her guilt. If only she hadn’t loved her son so much that she would stand him on the railing so that he could see the dogs better. If only my son could have been born to another person. Then both our sons would be alive today. I wish I had had compassion for the woman and not been so quick to judge her.
I see Kiri in my mind. His eyes are shut, his lips are closed tight, his cheeks are perfectly round, and his head is, too. He is swaddled in the crocheted blanket that the nurses had later wrapped him in. And he lies on my chest, loved and undisturbed.