The Epic of John Gilgesh (Chapter 1; part 2):

Mary shuddered, and shook her head violently, “I hate that word…retarded. Just horrible.”

“Yes, but it’s a perfectly reasonable word, Mary.” Anton countered, until she shot him a menacing glance, to which he amended, “But, I do see your point.” They both smiled briefly, enjoying one another’s company, and the unspoken dynamics between man and woman, husband and wife.

“Of course the word is reasonable, and descriptive dear. But give what is reasonable to our unreasoning world and just watch how quickly description turns to ugliness. Our boy will not suffer such a fate, I can tell you that with certainty. I will not allow it.” And with that they both fell silent again, as the sun finally began to set, and the golden glow that had previously filled the room faded, casting the room in grayer tones. Anton observed his wife in the gathering darkness. So many things about her attracted him—her wit most definitely, her fine features of course, but her character and moral integrity was an undeniable force that he couldn’t resist. She was a very practical woman, without a doubt, yet she was never narrow in her approach; and her pragmatism was expansive and generous. So that even what might be considered fanciful by others and dismissed as superfluous, she could conceive the value and importance, and with her profound imagination she would allow, for practical reasons, even the most spiritual, artistic or even mystical pursuits. Anton would say that his wife had “a rigorously scientific mind, wrapped within a wondrously expansive heart.” Because of this there was no room within Mary for any prejudice—the scientific method wouldn’t allow it, and neither would her heart which was filled with love. But she could be ruthless in the face of willful ignorance and intentional deceit; and she could sniff out these pernicious character flaws in a person, just like a hound on the trail of its prey. Anton thought that final comparison privately, though he meant no disrespect by it, it just seemed an apt simile; though, if pressed to articulate his wife’s ability to perceive deception, nevertheless he compared her more favorably, to detective Sherlock Holmes, one of her favorite characters from childhood reading. Anton leaned forward and switched on the lamp at the bedside, and then sat back in his chair. “Let’s wait and see what the doctors discover.”

Worry finally spread across Mary’s face. She had been working with great effort to subdue it ever since the doctor had expressed his findings, but now it broke forth and darkened her expression. Anton, as well, felt anxiety creep into his depths, as the bottom fell out of his stomach, leaving an ache of emptiness there, which echoed up through all of his organs and ended in a painful tightening of his chest. Both he and Mary wanted to see their newborn baby for themselves, and they both questioned the meaning of what the doctor had diagnosed.

“What did he mean do you think, by ‘there are good places for him’? Does he mean an institution? Does he expect us to give our baby away—permanently? I didn’t really understand that.”

“No, I didn’t take it that way. I think he just meant that there are places that can help us—and John—if we need help as we’re raising him.”

“I’m not sure, though; I suppose, maybe that’s it.” Mary closed her eyes and pictured the doctor again as he had revealed his findings to them. “He was very nervous. He doesn’t exactly engender confidence.”

“Well, can you imagine having to tell a couple their new baby, their only child, is mentally retarded?”

“Oh, would you please quit using that awful word. We don’t even know if it’s true, if he’s even stunted in any way at all. So perhaps he doesn’t respond to them, there could be plenty of other causes for that, other than a mental deficiency. I need to see him myself. I’m not doing any good laying here. I need to see him and hold him.” She began to get out of bed, and Anton placed a hand gently but firmly on her shoulder.

“Mary, just stay there—please—let me go ask the doctors. You still need to rest; you lost a lot of blood and fluids during the birth. Please dear. I’ll be right back. I’m sure they will let us see John, if at all possible.” They locked eyes for a brief but tender moment—comfort and understanding flowing between them in that ineffable, silent manner that operates between beloveds, without words—which Anton then cut short, as he briskly left the room before his wife could protest any further. She smiled as she lay back into the soft pillow and closed her eyes. She imagined her husband making his way down the sterile, poorly lit hallway, with his long strides, covering vast swathes of waxed linoleum tiles with each step. He was a tall man, true to his Baltic roots, or Scandinavian, nobody was absolutely certain where precisely he originally came from; the only dependable records for him issuing forth from an orphanage in upstate New York, stating that both of his birthparents were deceased, having died in transit from Copenhagen in 1933, on a ship that had originated somewhere in the eastern Baltic, most likely from Riga, Latvia, though some records seemed to indicate Stockholm instead as the port of origination. In any case, he was adopted by a Lutheran pastor and his wife in 1934, and had been brought up in the faith. Mary pictured him now, kindly and tactfully discussing their situation with the nurses at the far end of the maternity wing. And he would be speaking persuasively and charmingly with them; and she could imagine that they would be quite taken by his expressive, sincere blue eyes, and they would find his slightly disheveled thick blond hair and his high cheekbones equally charming, and maybe even alluring. But it would all be to no avail; he would return in a few minutes to tell her that it wouldn’t be possible for them to see their son John tonight. And it wouldn’t be for any lack of effort on his part, in fact, one could honestly say that Anton’s virtues would be the cause of his failure in this case. He would want to follow the rules of the hospital—like any good person should—and he wouldn’t want to make any waves or expect any special treatment; he wouldn’t want to rock the boat, or cause a stir after all. He was a very thoughtful and kind man; and he always tried to do the right thing. And for all of these reasons Mary loved him; but she nonetheless, would be very angry at him when he returns to her room. Because the thing that was even more right in this situation, in her opinion, was for her to see her child. Following the rules is all well and good, and it has its place, but the connection between a mother and her newborn baby is far more important. Even more so when that baby is in dire need of its mother; when it has been repugnantly, and mistakenly (she was certain), labeled ‘retarded’.  

(to be continued)

~FS

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