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Baby Doll

Jean Wickham


When I did finally get to see him it was hard to believe that this was actually a living miniature human being. He looked more like a doll. He had a smooth texture like porcelain. His color had a milky pastel quality, a kind of blue over white. This was due to the fact that he had not yet developed the outer layer of skin that has the pigmentation. His many unoxygenated veins showed right through his thin shell. His eyes were dark bulges in the skull. His hands and feet looked gigantic on his tiny frame, yet they were barely the size of my fingertip. They had a breathing apparatus taped under his nose. His whole body was spotted with bruises where they were sticking the needles.
The NICU where they had him was a labyrinth of mechanized cribs and babies. Not arranged in rows like in the nursery, but scattered throughout the rooms that shot off a long corridor. His crib looked like a tent, an inflated plastic bag. The room itself seemed to be alive, while the people inside were not. We were just statues. The room was breathing, pulsating to the rhythm of the machines. The air conditioner clicked on with a deep sigh, adding to the noise. I must have had a grave look on my face, of some emotion I could not yet identify, for the nurse turned to me and whispered,
“You can hold him. He’s still alive.”
But then all of the machines came advancing towards me, rushing at me until they were swirling around in my head. Breathing, beeping, pulsating. Pushing me out. I could feel myself but I seemed so far away. The nurse, little Tyler, the whole world in the NICU, and I were far away, and it was only the machines. I was holding my breath. Tyler weighed less than two pounds, but the weight of his image was bearing down on my chest like a boulder pushing me down. Or maybe it was the ground pulling me in. A dizzying rush of reality swallowed me with overwhelming emotion. I had to get out of that room before I fainted.
Becky told me a few days later that she could not find clothes to bury him in. She would have to buy doll’s clothes. I imagine it was the hardest thing she has ever had to do.