Forever And EverSeptember 18, 2018
I remember everything about the night Tim was born. Trish was out of it from the drugs, but I was fully aware of everything that was going on, coasting on adrenaline and about a gallon of hospital apple juice. They took her into the operating room for her C-section. There was a sheet blocking our view from the surgery being performed on the other side, but then they pulled him out of Trish’s belly and gently placed him in a plastic container. As the nurse cleaned him off, I heard Tim’s cries for the first time.
“Come see your son, Dad,” the nurse said.
I walked over to Tim on wobbly legs. His skin had a bluish hue, and his head was coned where he’d began his journey into the birth canal. I was the first one to see him. And after they cleaned him up, they wrapped him in his swaddling blanket and handed him to me, his little wrinkled feet jutting out of the blanket, moving in strange starts and stops. I held him and kissed him.
“You don’t look like I thought you would,” I told him with a smile.
It was the happiest moment of my life.
As he began to grow, Trish and I could tell he was advanced. Now I know everyone says that about their kids, but he was different. He hit all of his milestones much earlier than expected. He walked at seven months. He was talking by the time he was one. He could retain information so quick, so easily. At first, it was an amazing thing. But like all kids, he figured out how to manipulate us.
When he was four, he would go in the backyard and play, building forts for his action figures or digging up holes in the back where the grass was nothing but a dry patch. One afternoon I got a drink from the kitchen, but the silence from the backyard made me suspicious. Usually, if there wasn’t any noise coming from where Tim was playing, that meant he was up to something. Sure enough, I looked through the window, and he was hunched down in the furthest corner of the yard, stabbing at something with a stick. I slinked through the screen door and quietly made my way to where he was crouched; an open hole in the grass where he poked a sharpened stick over and over again. He had the ghost of a smile on his face.
In the hole were about seven rabbits, all huddled together, none of them moving. He must’ve been at it for a while. They were all dead, punctured with more holes than a bag of wiffleballs; their white fur stained a deep red with their own seeping blood. I gasped, and he turned, the smile fading away as if it was never there. I grabbed his wrist hard and pulled him to his feet.
“What the hell are you doing?” I shouted, trying to pass off the frightened quiver in my voice as anger.
“They were already dead Daddy,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I just wanted to see what would happen.”
I eased up on his wrist and took the stick away, chunks of bloody meat hanging from the end. I tossed it over the fence into the empty lot behind our yard. He clung to my leg and sobbed and said he was sorry. He pleaded with me not to tell his mother.
“It’s alright. I won’t tell her. Let’s go get you cleaned up.”
That night, after I’d bagged up the rabbits and put them in the trashcan, I went up to Tim’s room to read him a book before bed. He was wide awake sitting in bed and staring out the window, that same strange smile I’d seen earlier on his lips. I gently knocked on the door, and he turned around, the smile growing wider. It was an odd feeling, but I remember being creeped out by my own son. A four-year-old little boy. I shook it off and read him a book. He was curled beneath his blankets when I clicked the lamp off and said goodnight. As I got up to leave, he spoke up.
“Are you mad at me Dad? For the rabbits?”
In some immature part of my brain, I’d hoped to avoid this conversation altogether.
“Of course not,” I said, turning around and taking a knee beside his bed. “I know what it’s like to be curious about things. I was a kid once, too, you know. But you can’t hurt other things. You can’t do stuff like that.”
“They were already dead Dad, honest,” he said, sitting up. But for some reason, I didn’t believe him.
“Well even still, it’s wrong to do that even though they’re dead.”
“But they can’t feel it. They don’t kn-”
“It doesn’t matter,” I cut him off. “Dead or not, you don’t do stuff like that, you hear me?”
He nodded his head, and I stood up. The whole conversation was making me uncomfortable. “Go to sleep now, alright?” He nodded again. He lifted his head and looked into my eyes.
“Do you not love me, Dad?” he asked.
I was so taken aback by the question I almost didn’t know what to say. He was just a kid, and kids do dumb shit. I hated myself for making him even ask me that. “Tim,” I finally said, “Of course I love you.”
“Forever and ever?” he asked.
“Forever and ever. Don’t ever think like that kid. Come here.” I hugged him tight and kissed his head. “Don’t you ever forget it.”
“I won’t,” he said.
“Now go to bed.”
Things were pretty good for a while after that. But there were little things I was starting to notice. Pets had a strange habit of dying in our house. We won some fish at the boardwalk while we were on a shore trip. Tim kept them in his room, feeding them and cleaning the water. Then one day out of the blue, they died. I know fish don’t live very long, but I thought of the rabbits. I figured I was being paranoid, until my wife’s parakeet died suddenly. We found him laying on the bottom of the cage with the dropped seeds and his own white turds, his feet pointing towards the ceiling. The bird was young and healthy. I had no proof and no real reason to feel this way, but again, I suspected our son.
When he was nine, he wanted to take our dog Barkley for a walk. I wasn’t home, but if I was I’d never let him go alone. Trish gave him the leash and sent him out. She told him to just take the dog around the corner and Tim smiled. When he returned he had the leash, but Barkley had found his way into traffic, pulverized on the avenue by multiple cars. When I got home from work I lost it. I stormed into his room, shaking him out of his trance, the leash still wrapped in his hand. He had that smile on his face again. I reared back and slapped him hard, then took him by the shoulders and sat him up.
“What did you do?” I asked him through teeth clenched so hard I thought they might chip off in my mouth.
He smiled at me and said nothing. His smile said enough. I cocked my hand back again, but Trish grabbed it and pushed me away. Immediately, Tim began to cry.
“What the hell is wrong with you Brian?” my wife asked.
“He killed Barkley. It wasn’t an accident. He’s lying.”
“Jesus Christ,” she said shaking her head. “Don’t you think he’s been through enough today? I know you loved that dog, but listen to yourself. He’s a little boy. And don’t you ever lay a hand on him again.” She sat on his bed and tried to shush his crying. She hugged him and rocked him and as I was leaving his little eyes darted up to mine and although he was crying, his eyes shined as if he was smiling at me.
This morning I got a phone call while I was at work. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. It was a detective, said his name was Healy. He told me they had Tim at the 15th district and I needed to get down there fast. He didn’t tell me what’d happened, but he didn’t have to. I’d been waiting for this day to come. I just didn’t think it’d be this soon.
I drove down to the police station and swerved into the parking lot, my hands slick with sweat. I damn near ran inside and there was Healy, waiting for me at the front desk.
“What did he do?” I asked, sounding like I’d ran five miles instead of driven it.
“Let’s talk in here,” he said motioning towards a small white office. The receptionist at the front desk looked at me with a mixture of disgust and pity. I walked past her and into the office, pacing the white room like a prisoner on a workout regimen.
“Sit down Mr. Hess,” he said as he folded his hands and sat behind the desk, but I couldn’t. I felt like I was going to puke.
“Just please tell me what he did. He hurt someone didn’t he?” Healy’s face gave the answer before his lips did.
“Yes he has,” Healy shifted in his seat. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No I don’t want any fucking coffee,” I said. “I want to know what my son did.”
Healy sat up in his seat and unfolded his hands. He sighed and said, “We believe he led a four year old away from a playground and bludgeoned him to death. Some of the boys wounds are consistent with torture. We believe your son acted alone. We have surveillance video of him leaving the playground hand and hand with the murdered boy, hours before we found his body. I’ve never seen anything like this before Mr. Hess. Not
with a child so young. He requested we get a hold of you so he can talk to you. Only you. He was very adamant that we called you and not your wife. And then he said he’d tell us everything.”
I was in shock. My knees began to click back and forth like wind chimes and then they gave way. The nausea finally won and I let loose my undigested lunch all over the floor, giving that white room some much needed color.
“I’ll take that coffee now,” I said wiping my chin with my sleeve.
I cleaned up the best I could and had a hot cup of bitter coffee.
“When can I see him?” I asked Healy.
He eyed me up, probably making sure I wasn’t going to puke on his Macy’s dress pants. When he was sure no projectile vomit would splash him, he slid in close to me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“I’ll take you to him. I know this is a lot to take in,” he said, “but your boy has done something horrific here. He’ll only talk to you. I’ll be out here watching. There’s a camera rolling on him and whatever he says will be used in court against him. Do you understand what I’m saying to you Mr. Hess?”
I nodded, the acrid coffee was sloshing around in my belly and making me feel sick again, but I swallowed it down and followed Healy to the room they had Tim in. After undoing a few locks he swung the door open. It was bright in there, the halogen bulbs overhead humming like cicadas. Tim sat in a chair with his little handcuffed to the table in front of him. He didn’t look worried. He didn’t look sad. He looked distant, as if his consciousness was somewhere else completely.
When he saw me he smiled and a chill washed over me, like a college coach who’d just gotten a Gatorade bath. Healy closed the door behind me and I heard the locks clicking back into place.
“Hi Daddy,” he said, and I flinched as he raised his hand up, the cuffs jerking his hand down.
I sat in the seat across from him and watched him. I was frightened.
“I would never hurt you or mommy. You don’t have to worry,” he said with that sly little grin of his. He motioned for me to come closer and I did, but not too close.
“It’s the other people who have to worry. I won’t be locked away forever, you know,” he whispered low enough I doubted the audio from the camera would pick up his voice. “They’ll take me to a hospital for people with sick minds and after a while they’ll let me go. And by then I’ll be old enough to live on my own. Do whatever I want.”
This time he smiled as wide and as toothy as a jack-o-lantern. I could tell he’d really thought this out. He was always such a smart boy.
“Why? Why are you doing this? Why did you kill that boy?” I asked. I wanted answers, but I was sure I’d never get any.
He shrugged his shoulders and sat there staring at me. Finally, he said, “It just feels right.”
I wanted to cry. It took every bit of will power not to throw up a second time. My eyes were filling up, and it was hard to see. Everything was blurry like I was looking through a glass wiped with Vaseline. I stood up and paced the room while he watched me with that smile of his.
“Do you still love me, dad?”
I finally knew what I had to do. The idea had been there for years boxed up in the basement of my thoughts, but now I blew the dusk off of the box and opened it up. I wiped my face and grabbed my chair, pushed it against the knob to keep Healy out. Tim was still smiling, but he was starting to look like a cornered animal. He tugged at his cuffs, but they wouldn’t budge.
“I do love you, Tim. No matter what,” I said. I slid up behind him fast, and, wrapping my arm around his neck, I squeezed as hard as I could. Tim’s tongue shot out of his mouth, and he made a noise like a bike tire with a hole punched in it. He tried grabbing my arms, but the cuffs only allowed his hand to reach up so far. I held his other hand down as he tried to claw my face. I heard scuffling outside the door, and then the locks being undone, then the door slamming into the chair. The chair held and Healy screamed something, but what he said, I’m not sure. I leaned back with all my weight, damn near hanging from Tim’s neck, and then I felt my son go completely limp.
I kept on him a minute longer just to be sure.
When I was done, I sat on the floor and realized I was screaming, a deep, painful scream from the depths of my insides. I thought about the morning he was born, how I’d looked at him and thought he could do anything, be anything he wanted to be. But what he was couldn’t be allowed to live. I had let it go on for too long and gotten an innocent child murdered. That was my fault. With age, he would’ve only gotten smarter, stronger, more dangerous and I just couldn’t live with myself if it’d happened again. And it most certainly would have.
Healy almost had the door opened wide enough to squeeze through, but it was too late. Tim was gone. I held my son and realized I was the first and the last person to do that. The moment the nurse placed him in my arms, I knew that I’d protect him, no matter what. And that’s what I did. I was protecting him from what else he might’ve done. I was protecting the people who he’d eventually hurt. I was protecting Tim from himself. He had to be put down.
But I didn’t do it out of fear or hatred or anger. No, it wasn’t any of those things. I did it because no matter what he was I loved him. I love him. Forever and ever.by