This story is by Daniela Galashan and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Would he overcome his deep-rooted fear? Tom stood on the terrace as he observed his younger twin sisters Rebecca and Louise in the garden. On this warm day, Louise sat in the baby pool, splashing around and squeaking with joy. Rebecca tried to evade the spurts of water and ensure Louise would not tip over. The sight of his interacting sisters touched him. Both lived in completely different worlds and the fact they were identical twins made this tragedy obvious every time he saw them. Louise had the mental level of a toddler. Rebecca visited her almost daily and never tired of trying out new ideas how to promote Louise’s motor and mental development. He always admired how Rebecca additionally managed her successful studies and swimming sports. In his view, she acted as if she had to live a life enough for both twins. Of course, he knew he was the cause of her exceptional commitment driven by her feelings of guilt. Once she had admitted to feeling guilty that she wasn’t the one who was impacted.
“Tom!” Rebecca interrupted his thoughts. “Come over, lend me a hand.” Clumsily he took Louise into his arms and transferred her into the wheelchair. How ponderous her body felt without the right body tension. He made every effort to focus on the transfer process to avoid being overcome by a flashback. Over the years he had taught himself to concentrate on the surrounding environment to prevent flare-ups of this terrible moment. Hiding his shaking hands into his jeans pockets he clenched his fists.
He knew he had to force himself to overcome his fear. Rebecca gently dried off Louise’s limp arms and he was relieved she seemed too busy to notice his condition. Since the unexpected revelation this morning, he was convinced she would notice his state of mind right away. After all, he had to address his fear within the next few months or he would lose what meant the world to him. A slight smile appeared on his lips when he thought of her. He knew his wife Clara would encourage him to overcome his fear because she longed for a husband caring for her family. Suddenly, he furrowed his brow being reminded of her impulsive reaction when she first discovered the depth of his fears. He sighed. Then immediately froze because Rebecca raised her eyes and a slight shudder ran down his spine when their eyes met. Now he had to say out loud what shook his world today. Rebecca scrutinized him and her eyes widened. “Is Clara…? I mean, will you have a baby next year?” “Yeah,” he had to clear his throat. “We learned today.” She jumped up and hugged him tightly. “Congrats!” He felt a warm gratefulness for her reaction. Rebecca took his hand and firmly looked in his eyes, “You will manage that, now you have to!” He nodded with tears in his eyes, “I know. I just have no idea how…” He shrugged his shoulders, “It’s really surprising, it was only her third cycle after stopping the pill.” Rebecca nodded, “How long did Clara try to get pregnant with Brian?” She knew she could name her sister-in-law’s first husband without annoying Tom as Brian was a closed chapter for all of them. “Almost six years,” he responded. “I thought I would be prepared within a few years if it should ever come to that. Had I known…,” he fell silent and lowered his eyes.
Rebecca caressed his arm, “I think you should give it another try like last year but together with your psychiatrist.” He backed away and shook his head, “No!” “But you have to do something if you don’t want to lose Clara and the baby!” Louise started crying, frightened by the harsh sound of her sister’s voice. “I’m sorry,” Rebecca spoke more softly and distracted Louise with a beach ball. Last year he had decided to tackle his fear on his own. By confrontation. At a party, he carried the little baby of his groomsman when a frightening oppressive feeling hit him. Never before he had seen eyes as terrified as Rebecca’s. They all thought he was dying from a heart attack. Later his doctor told him he had experienced a panic attack. Till then nobody had suspected his deep-rooted trauma impacted his life this much. His strategy to shut himself off had worked for years. From that fateful moment when he was eight until he fell in love with Clara three years ago. She appeared so strong that he dared to get closer. With her positive attitude, she had started to bring him out of his shell. To let him accept forgiving thoughts about his past as well as a hint of joyful expectation about his future. Thanks to her, he realized he had thoroughly tucked away the empathetic person he used to be as well as his strong desire to help others. Consequently, he had become a software engineer struggling with the work chosen against his abilities.
Now he was forced to face his fear or lose his wife. He decided to confront his fear. Right away. “All right, I have to confront it again,” he moved towards the neighbor’s garden. “Anna! Come over with Mary!” he called out the neighbor with her baby. Then he registered the rustling sound of Rebecca’s dress behind him. A cold hand caught his arm, “Stop!” He was startled by her frantic expression. “You can’t do that without your psychiatrist!” Louise screamed hysterically in her wheelchair. “I have to do it!” he shook loose from her hand. “Look what you did!” Rebecca angrily pointed to Louise who screeched with an ever louder voice. Petrified he stared at Rebecca, his eyes wide open. Rebecca clapped her hand over her mouth and held her breath. Louise fell silent. His eyes filled with tears. “I know what I did, every damn day. I can’t look at one of you without being reminded it was my fault,” he trembled while silent tears streamed down his cheeks. “It wasn’t your fault, you were a child.” He covered his eyes with his hands, “But I was old enough to carry Louise…” “Yeah, but you still were a child. You couldn’t anticipate her kicking and sliding off your hands.”
If only he could undo that moment. That awful moment causing the separation of the two lives into disparate worlds. One world where a healthy child grew up into an attractive and successful woman and another world filled with pain, hospitalization, and countless exercise sessions for different types of deficits. As well as a destroyed future. In his dreams, he experienced the fateful moment again and again and never managed to hold or pick up the baby before it hit the steps and finally the ground. Evoking the horrifying scrunching sound he would never forget. His life too had changed with that moment. He had sealed himself off to make sure no one would be hurt again. Suddenly he knew the easiest solution was to leave town once and for all. Maybe he could find peace when he wouldn’t see his sisters anymore?
“Tom, look what I’ve got!” the sound of Clara’s voice interrupted his thoughts. She rushed across the garden waving a piece of paper. Out of breath, she gazed at his face drowned in tears, “What’s going on? Did you tell Rebecca…?” Tom nodded and Rebecca apologized for her thoughtless remark that had reopened old wounds. Clara looked at him compassionately and handed him the piece of paper, “I got this at work today, Sophia did it on her lunch break.” Working as a nurse apparently had its advantages. He stared at the black and white areas of the image, trying to guess what he saw there. “Here is the cave where our baby grows up and this wee dot here is our baby,” Clara marveled. He didn’t consider she might return with an ultrasound. His trembling hands clutched the image and all of a sudden he realized this was the very first image of their baby.
To his surprise, a warm feeling arose in him for this wee dot of life. His fingertips gently caressed the ultrasound and an expression of admiration spread over his face. How could that be? It was just a virtually abstract picture. Nevertheless, he felt this little life already was more important than anything else to him. It would have been possible to leave Clara but now he was captured by a feeling deeper than ever imagined. With this love blooming in his heart he had no choice, he had to protect his child.
Yes, he would overcome his deep-rooted fear to hold a baby because there was nothing in the world he wished for harder than to caress his little wonder. He might not be the perfect father but now he was confident these indescribable feelings would show him the path.