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"Creative Approaches," short story excerpt

Monday 6/27/22

I tend not to look at life the way a lot of people do. I'll always say, for instance, that you'd rather have your baby die than your ten-year-old. Or put it another way: you have a baby, and the all-knowing universe gives you a choice. The universe knows that kid is going to die, and you can decide whether it's now, or after it turns ten. Let it have that final birthday. Can enjoy the presents for, I don't know, call it half a week. Doesn't possess an inkling what's going to happen, but you do. You're holding the new baby, the goo-ga gewgaw, in the hospital, you know what the deal is, and what do you decide?


I know what you decide: you say, kill the baby. Words to that effect. "Take her, please." Because you're not going to be strong enough to become attached—more attached. It's actually selfish. A lot can happen in ten years. Can you have a good life in ten years? Not sure. You can have a superlative ten-year stretch somewhere along the way. My mother often remarked how much she loved her forties after she was widowed in her fifties and lost a kid in her thirties in her sixties. She romanticized that stretch after the fact, but it's not like she larded it up with hyperbole. I was there. I saw her during that time. It tracks. Her happiness.


If you're going from zero to ten, though, and that's all you get, I don't know how that would rank on the worthwhile scale. I had a lot of amazing memories in those years. I must have enjoyed them. They were some of my best. Maybe they were my best. First bike. The Christmases. Thinking my dad was the perfect hero and believing it. There was just so much I wasn't disabused of.


You can change a lot in ten years. The core is intact, but you still might become the human version of a switchback trail. I bet that makes a parent love you more, the twisting and the turning of becoming you, or the next you, who is always the you you. If they already had a kid and knew how it went down, that might make it even more likely that they'd take the option to kill you off as a baby. Spare their heart, because so much of it would have gone to you. Plus, they'd have that other child to fall back on. And you want to spare her as well.


I think you'd have to be a rare person to say, okay, give me—us—the second option. We'll take the ten years of love, and I'll know what I know, but love all the same, love to the last and beyond. Or would that be crueler to the kid? Because the good thing about being a baby is you don't know what hit you. Or you do. Perhaps. You see those commercials about people who treat their dogs like shit. Don't feed them. The dog will be in this cage outside in winter, snow on its nose, freezing to death. The camera moves in on the dog's eyes, and it's pretty clear the dog knows the state it's in, and that's a dog. (Question: Are those dog-actors, or actual tortured beasts?) A lot of it would depend on how well you hid the child's upcoming end from the child. Imagine trying to make that last birthday special for him or her? That would be torture. It'd be the most important birthday ever. You'd want to send him or her out the right way, make that day the ultimate in special. The birthday to end all birthdays.


This tool bag I roomed with one year in college in a suite of too many guys, would say the same thing after he bedded his latest girl: "Welp, another one went out with a bang." He always made it sound like he'd humped them to death. If he was strutting around in his boxers, microwaving a triumphant, post-coitus breakfast burrito in the kitchen, and we hadn't seen the girl leave, one of us would crack the door to his bedroom—not to see a tit, mind you, but to confirm that she lived. "No, it's cool, I saw her leg twitch," someone would report to the others. The relief. It wasn't a piddling amount.


I'm glad I don't have to think about these things, wrestle with the dilemma, like I was Jacob struggling with the angel. I had this teacher in high school who didn't get fired, and I didn't think at the time that he should have been let go, just like I didn't speculate about him being retained, keeping on keeping on, because people didn't think like that back then. You just thought about what you had to deal with, handle, endure, cope with, to do what you needed to do to advance to the next thing. You didn't view the world in terms of removal. It was more like process. Here's the situation, and what are the steps of moving through it?


But I thought about him a lot after, when I was an adult. When I was older than he was when he was my teacher. You ever notice that there are people you always think of as older than you? When I see a photograph of a baseball player in 1982, who was twenty-seven at the time, I still think of him as older than I am now. I don't mean the age he is now. I mean the age he was then.


One day this teacher—he was a history teacher—got all agitated because this girl in our class was grilling him. She asked a lot of questions in a way that was interesting if you were sitting there listening, but probably really annoying if you were the person who had to answer the questions. The teacher was kind of soft-selling Hitler, talking about some of the positive changes he brought to Germany. Almost like the way people used to talk about Woodrow Wilson as a president, as in pretty darn decent, a reformer, though now all you hear is what a massive racist he was because he liked D.W. Griffith movies. I'm not saying the guy was a fan of Hitler necessarily, but I wouldn't have put a drunken apologia past him. Finally, he got pissed at this girl, and he hauls off and says, "Don't get mad at me just because Hitler had some creative approaches to Old World problems."


He went on to add that not everyone is a problem solver. The girl didn't ask any more questions after that. None of us did. The guy kept teaching there for like another seventeen years. Much was made about his retirement when the time came. I read a piece online about the teaching awards he had won. Bygones? Or the illusory power of that which was never called out?


The more I think about it, the more likely I think I would say, "Let the baby live." I'd hope that it had all been a ruse. A joke. That the universe's representative, who had put the question to me in the first place, was a bullshitter, and it wasn't real. Think about A Christmas Carol. Dickens lies to you. He flat out lies. Or has Marley lie. All of that to-do and harrumphing about the ghosts coming over three nights, but it was all jammed into a few hours. So: there are metaphysical lies, conceivably. Call it the lies of Logos.