I Am not a Father || Christopher French


I Am Not a Father

by Christopher French

I hadn’t left her brown eyes in what seemed like hours, an eternity. They were the only place that was safe. The empty incubators, the cheery walls, the nurse’s perfunctory busy-ness, the first cries of babies in rooms around us were all knives waiting to take another stab at me.

“It’ll be okay.” It was the first time I knowingly told her a lie. I held her hand as she convulsed, the medically forced contractions ripping through her. “It’ll be okay.” I repeated it over and over with each contraction, louder and quieter and louder again, hoping that somehow it would become true, hoping that she couldn’t see the lie build in my eyes with each reassurance, and mostly hoping that I wasn’t wrong. “It’ll be okay.” I couldn’t protect her. I couldn’t stop the pain. All I could do was repeat the mantra and look into her eyes. I saw her finally surrender to her body's knowledge, giving up her control to push out a child that wouldn’t live.

There was no sudden cry. As I looked away they held up a towel and moved hurriedly behind it. My peripheral vision caught the tiniest of feet dangling below the fabric. I cursed the image that would now never leave my memory.

We had asked not to see him. The idea of Xavier, our son, would never leave us, and his soul would already be on to the next world—why would we torture ourselves with a lifeless husk?

Marisa, her black matted hair pasted to her forehead, laid back crying in the bed. Our eyes still locked, we would alternate bursting in tears, repeating the words, I am sorry, to each other, and falling into wounded exhausted silences. It was another eternity.

The door to the room opened and I turned, angry at the interruption. The charge nurse came in, the only nurse who didn’t look away as we walked the long hallway into the maternity room earlier that afternoon. She asked if we wanted to hold Xavier. I could still feel his birth fluid drying on my arm as her words wormed into my mind looking for comprehension. I couldn’t look at her, only Marisa’s brown safe eyes. They were the only stable ground left. “He’s alive”, my words barely audible, felt like cigarette ash falling apart as they left my mouth. And in this instant the word hope in its saddest lying form was defined—would he live, were they wrong, could Xavier be saved?

“His lungs are not fully formed yet so he is not breathing but his heart is still pumping,” she said with all the coldness you want from someone tasked with your care.

I froze, overwhelmed with a rising sense of duty and responsibility. I had to see him. It was the same surety and righteousness I feel on the protest line, sign in hand, repeating chants demanding justice. I wish I could rally a march for this injustice, or even a chant. I reluctantly looked at Marisa, knowing what we had decided and promised to each other but also knowing what I had to do.

“I have to.” I could feel myself already beginning to move to the door as I asked her permission with this admission. “He can’t be alone as he is dying.”

“I can’t,” she admitted as if this was some failure and not what we had agreed to earlier that day. I was the one failing. “But you go.”

I was pointed to the room next door. Opening the door slowly, I saw a blonde nurse holding and rocking him. He was so tiny in her arms. I clenched my fists to dismiss my sudden anger that she dared comfort him when his mother and I were in the room next door. A knitted hat no larger than a change purse held onto his large head with all of its elastic might. I sat down and she gave him to me. He didn’t feel fragile like a newborn—was it because I knew there was no future child here or was it because he was mine?

His eyes closed and I noticed the network of veins crisscrossing his body. A map I will never forget or get to see grow. My finger slid through his clenched fist lifting his tiny fingers to rest on it. They didn’t tighten around it in response.

I held him. I watched his mouth open and close as if he was gasping for air. I prayed silently. I told him all our dreams for him. I cried as I prayed for him and for his journey on to the next life. And then the spell broke with a snap. I sat there not knowing what to do with my son. And moments later I couldn’t hold him any longer. I was holding all my sorrow in my hands and he felt like a bomb that was about to go off.

A nurse took him from me with all the professionalism and deference of someone that did this a little too often. A job I could never do.

I returned to the hospital room with Marisa. She turned to me, lines of drying tears streaking her cheeks.

“I want to hold him, but I don’t know if I can.”

“I’ll be here.” The only thing I could offer. I couldn’t protect her from this either.

They brought Xavier to his mother. She held him close, fear in her eyes but with all the fierce majesty of a living Pietà.

My heart broke for the last time that day. My hand holding hers as she held Xavier. It was the only moment we would be this family.

I am not a father, but I had a son.

Christopher French in his mind and writing feels like a fiery prophet of yore subsisting on locusts and honey at the edge of civilization rambling on about justice for the "least of these" to all who will listen. In truth, he helps develop affordable housing for low income families and the homeless, and lives with his wife Marisa and his golden retriever Tumi in the way too well manicured outskirts of Los Angeles. He has been previously published in an Image comics anthology and can be occasionally found at https://twitter.com/forte_somnio


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