When Matthew died, it really changed how I interacted with those in our neighborhood. Like with the exception of a few, I didn’t actually interact. Like when I saw people I knew “before” I, quite literally, ran as fast as I could in the opposite direction, and I also threw away block party invitations, and we turned our lights off for Halloween (not that anyone trick or treats anymore), and, one time, when I saw one of our neighbors, Ed, behind me in the checkout line in the grocery store, I put all of my newly-dyed dark hair over my face (Cousin It style) and silently prayed he didn’t see me. I saw Ed a few more times thereafter, each of which I pretended I didn’t know him.
I can tell strangers my baby died, but, for some reason, it’s more difficult to break the news to people who knew we were expecting him, so I determined it far preferable to just not speak to certain people ever again.
Once a sociable neighbor, I’m now the neighbor with the personality of a doorknob.
Deep down, I missed Ed. He bears a striking resemblance to Phil Dunfee from Modern Family. Eccentric as all get out, it isn’t unusual to find him building a sailboat in his front yard or raising some type of new animal out back. But, at the same time, in an ocean of secondary losses, Ed was kind of just a seahorse, or maybe a starfish at most, so it isn’t fair to say I missed him too much.
Tonight we took Joel on a walk to the park. As we passed Ed’s house, I noticed him inside of his open garage (probably about to blow something up), so I started walking as quickly as possible and made sure to meet his gaze.
On the way home from the park, Mark wanted to stop by Ed’s neighbor’s house (under construction) to get a look at the progress (or lack thereof). I quickly scanned for Ed, and I noticed he was nowhere in sight, so I reluctantly agreed. But then, not even three seconds after Mark and Joel started peering into the windows, Ed busted out of his front door like, “Heyyyyy guys! It’s been a long time!”
He approached quickly, and the following interaction ensued…
Ed (motioning to Joel, who’s on Mark’s shoulders) – So who’s this?
Mark – This is Joel… He’s 8 months old…
Ed (looking at us quizzically) – Oh… Ummmmm… It’s been a long time… I was wondering how everything turned out?
Mark – Well, our first child, Matthew, actually passed away in July 2015 after an emergency C-section. He had a knot, plus two nuchal wraps in his umbilical cord… Joel was born about one year later, last July.
Ed – Oh my… I’m just so sorry… We wondered… I mean, we never saw you guys or a baby…
Mark – Yeah, it’s been a rough couple of years…
Ed – Well, I’m very glad you were able to have him so quickly, but it will never take away the pain.
Me – No, it never will. It’s been devastating…
Ed – I’m just so sorry. It’s been so long…
Me – Yeah, we’re not very social anymore…
Ed (looks at Joel) – What’s his name again?
Mark – Joel.
Ed (with a huge grin) – Do you want to come see my chickens? You’ll have to watch out – there’s a lot of poop.
Mark – Sure. (We head into the chicken pen next to Ed’s house. There are two chickens, and Ed starts chasing one of them and eventually catches it and picks it up. He brings it to Joel. And Mark brings Joel to the chicken.)
Me – Ummmmm… Don’t let Joel touch the chicken. He said there’s lots of poop.
Mark (to Joel) – Oh, okay then Joel, just look at the chicken – do you see the chicken?
Ed (throws chicken into the air) – They don’t fly up. Only down.
(Joel’s smiling and laughing and staring at some of the first animals he’s ever seen that aren’t Howie, since he slept during our afternoon jaunt to the buffalo farm a few months ago.)
Ed – We’re going to buy four smaller chickens once these two die.
Mark – So will you eat these chickens when they die?
Ed (looks horrified) – Well, these chickens have names, and they’re kind of our pets, so we’ll bury them over there (gestures towards far corner of yard), actually, with the other ones…
Joel – Haha. Haha. (I’m proud of his perfectly-timed belly laugh.)
Mark (as Ed’s dog enters the chicken pen) – Joel, Brother Howie would probably eat these chickens!!!
Ed – Wait, Brother Howie? Who? What? He’s your…
Mark – Dog. He eats birds.
Ed (looks relieved) – One time our dog ate one of our birds. The one buried over there… We’re going to start breeding parakeets too.
Mark – Oh?
Ed – We purchased a male and two females. We started with one female, but one just wasn’t enough for him. Hahahahaha. Now there’s a lot of action going on in the parakeet house. Hehe. Oh, wait… (Ed looks at Joel.) I’m sorry.
Mark – Oh, no worries. He (Joel) doesn’t understand. So are you going to sell them?
Ed – No, we’ll just give them away.
My thoughts wander to the parakeet in the home videos from Mark’s childhood. I wonder if Mark will ever want to take one of Ed’s parakeets in an effort to replicate his childhood. I wonder if said parakeet will shit all over our house.
The conversation is interrupted by the neighbors building the house next door, as their dog comes running into the chicken pen. Joel loves watching the two dogs and the two chickens. Ed gives us two fresh eggs, and we head home.
“It was nice to talk about Matthew,” Mark says, as we walk away.
“Yes, it was,” I answer.
It just sucks that this is all we will ever get. To talk about his death.