When we have our child, I expect them to be handed to me. I expect pushing and pushing for hours and hours and then: a child.
Instead the doctors come back in with their heads hung. Our child has run away.
I say, “What?”
“Seems they made a bindle out of their newborn wrap and…” The doctors shrug kind of helplessly.
“Can you tell me anything about them? Their eye color? Their hair? I mean…was it a boy or a girl?” My eyes are hot—I’m embarrassed.
“We…uh…we can’t remember their assigned gender.”
The doctors hands us a blank birth certificate.
There’s a date and time of birth. There’s a weight.
Under gender we write “X.” That’s what we write for their name, too.
We create missing person flyers. How embarrassing to be missing our child before we’ve even met them. How embarrassing to create flyers that read:
7 POUNDS 5 OUNCES
I add an image of generic baby footprints I find through a google image search.
I am stapling flyers to every telephone pole in the city. Redfaced and just—sobbing.
The notes and message board notifications start arriving not long after that.
“I met your infant; they were crawling along a hiking path and when I asked where their parents were, they disappeared into a rabbits’ den.”
“Picked up a hitch-hiking infant; who am I to judge when a person decides to run away. Just wanted to let you know they are safe and well, you monsters.”
“Is this your infant? Crawled in through the doggie door and found them chewing on my house slippers. Had to shoo them out with a broom!”
“Saw a brown-haired baby foraging wild strawberries and sucking on them.”
“They might not be 18 inches anymore, you know! Babies grow fast! Anyway, I saw a baby rolling down a hill and picking dandelions in the local park. Might be yours?”
“What kind of fucking person loses a newborn?”
We meet our infant at the bottom of the hill, mouth full of dandelions. They have a tangled mop of dark brown hair; their eyes are bright and quarrelsome. The police are there making a human barrier, and they are clearly furious with us.
“What kind of parents are so awful their child runs away after just being born?”
We’ve been wondering the same thing, my husband and I, and we are shaking. We are wondering how we ever became so shitty, how to make it up, how to apologize, how to prove our love. We ask if we can hold our child—if we can say hello.
Our child… stands up. They spit out the dandelion seeds, little white parachutes, as they… walk.
They make their way to an enormous oak tree. There’s a split near the base. An opening.
Before I realize what’s about to happen, our child crouches down and slips through that space and into the tree.
I’m running, but it doesn’t matter; they’ve disappeared inside.
And so smoothly we’re not even sure we see it, that tree split closes.
Melissa Goodrich is the author of the collaborative collection The Classroom and the story collection Daughters of Monsters. Find her at melissa-goodrich.com and tweeting @good_rib.