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In Utero; Infancy
97 First, enjoy this time! Never again will you bear so little responsibilityfor your own survival. Soon you will have to take in food and disposeof your own waste, learn the difference between night and day and acquirethe skill of sleeping. You will need to strengthen the muscles necessaryto sustain high–volume keening for long intervals. You will haveto master the involuntary coos and facial twitches which are the foundationof infantile cuteness, to ensure that those charged with caringfor you continue to provide food and clean linen. You will need to flexyour arms and legs, loll your head to strengthen the neck, crawl, staggerto your feet, then walk. Soon after you must learn to run, share,swing a bat and hold a pencil, love, weep, read, tie your shoelaces, bathe,and die. There is much to learn and do, and little time; suffice it to saythat you should be aware of the trials ahead so that you may appreciatethe effortless liquid dream of gestation while it occurs, rather thanonly in hindsight. For now, all you need to do is grow.
There is one significant exception to this. You may have noticed thatyou share the womb with other objects. The most obvious and importantof these is the fleshy tether attached to your abdomen, known asthe umbilical cord. It is, quite literally, your lifeline, providing blood,nutrients, and vital antibodies, among other things. Already it haswrapped twice around your neck, and while this may not seem to you,who does not yet breathe, to be particularly dangerous or untoward, itcan imperil your entry into the world. We will not lie—it could killyou. Now, be calm. You should remain as still as possible throughoutthe rest of your gestation. While this will do nothing about the entanglementsalready constricting your neck, it will go a long way towardpreventing further looping or other complications—vasa previa, knots,cysts, hematoma. Any of these problems, by itself, is not particularlydangerous, but two or more occurring together can be big trouble, soyou should maintain perpetual vigilance against the many temptationsto move. Of course, there are some who would argue that it is unfairto ask a fetus to exercise impulse control. You, however, would do wellto avoid those who complain about life's unfairness, and instead get ahead start on building self–restraint.
Light and noise present the toughest challenge to your resolve toremain still. They come to you through your mother's abdomen, andyou feel an impetus to move toward them, to stir the viscous bath ofamniotic fluid with tiny fingers and toes in an effort to absorb thewarmth of sunlight, or hear Carly Simon trill. The urge to move isnatural and understandable. As will be the case throughout your life,no matter how long or brief, the choice is, in the end, yours. Simplybear in mind that most every choice will have consequences, and in thisinstance those consequences would likely be quite grave.
96 Your mother has one other child, your brother, who was a tornado inutero, so your lack of movement causes her alarm. We should mentionthat she is prone to unreasonable anxiety and nervous tension, minordisorders that have several underlying causes, not the least of which isthe verbal and physical abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of herfather. This is why she pokes at you and spends hours with a transistorradio pressed against her belly, trying to bait you into moving. Despitethe fact that her abdomen continues to grow, she wakes one night convincedyou'll be born an ashen husk, your fingers hooked forever intolifeless little claws. With this image lodged in her mind's eye she weeps,her hands laced together in a protective hugging posture under theswell of her belly. Now, a boy's aversion to upsetting his mother isamong the more primal and tenacious instincts, and so you suffer analmost irresistibly powerful urge to kick and twirl, to give unmistakableevidence of your life, to turn your mother's sobs to relieved andslightly embarrassed little hiccups of laughter. Do not yield to this instinct,or you will put your life at risk. Protecting yourself now meansyou'll have many years ahead with which to repay her grief. Besides,you can rest assured that this is not the last time you will make yourmother cry.
Eventually your father's hands, along with two unscheduled visitsto the obstetrician for ultrasound and fetal monitor, soothe your mother's fears to a level she finds tolerable, and she wraps the transistor inits power cord and returns it to the closet, and stops staring for longsilent hours at the television.
95 Although the biological goal of sex was achieved with conception, yourfather still has a hefty sexual appetite (as does your mother, thoughout of concern for you she will not admit it). To you his advances areterrifying. You hear him seeking entry with his tongue and other partsof his body, and your instinct is to recoil, which is perfectly normal—the perception of one's father as an omnipotent predator of great physicalstrength serves a vital function for most boys, and usually persistswell into adulthood, though paradoxically it does not seem to precludethe desperate striving after his love and approval. You try to hold fast,but a stronger, more immediate impulse toward self–preservation takeshold, and you kick against the uterine wall, pushing away from thesniffing and growling at the entrance to your home, and as you driftslowly up the umbilical cord draws tighter around your throat, and aknot forms. Your mother, feeling you stir for the first time in twomonths, smiles and invites your father in, prodding him with the heelsof her feet. They have sex, a rough pulsing in your warm world likethe addition of a third heartbeat, and in that moment when you hearyour mother moan you gain the knowledge of betrayal, what it meansbut also how it feels, and though it of course does not feel good youshouldn't be discouraged; we can tell you that no matter how long youlive, no matter how mature or philosophical you may grow to be, almostall sudden enlightenment will feel precisely this way, like a bootin the stomach, like acid on your tongue, and the sooner you accept thisthe better off you'll be. In fact, you should be glad—at your age, to haveunderstood and assimilated an abstract yet acutely painful concept suchas betrayal is, in a word, prodigious. It indicates you have a better thanaverage chance to succeed at the task for which you have been chosen.
94 Now the danger to you is quite grave. With the development of a knot,the umbilical cord will not tolerate any more tension. You must stayput. Having felt you move, from here on your mother will find everyexcuse to have sex, and you will have to suffer in absolute stillness.Your life depends on it.
93 Still, when she isn't locked in sexual contortions your mother is thesafest, most comfortable home you can imagine. And since the likelihoodthat she will be the only home you'll ever know has increasedexponentially, you should make an effort, when not cowering fromyour father's incursions, to enjoy every moment here.
92 One small, positive development in all this burgeoning trouble is youare nearing the end of gestation, and due to a precisely timed infusionof hormones you want to move around less as you approach your birth.Slowly you roll one last time, until you are fully inverted and in positionto emerge from the womb. As a bonus, your father begins to findyour mother less and less sexually appealing. It's not your mother'ssize that repulses him, but rather her distended navel, which juts everlonger from her belly like a severed finger regenerating itself. He triesnot to look at it but inevitably can't help himself, and when the waveof disgust comes over him he feels ashamed and emasculated all at once,though of course he would not admit this even if he could. Thusyou are left in peace to gather your strength, every ounce of which youwill need, especially since, as we'd feared, the obstetrician did not detectthe knot in your umbilical cord. Had the knot been noticed, he almostcertainly would have opted for a cesarean delivery, therebyreducing the danger to both you and your mother. As it stands, with avaginal delivery planned, things are likely to be hard, protracted, andquite dangerous.
91 Soon the day comes. Your mother knows in the morning; she has sleptfitfully, and as she rises and waddles to the bathroom she feels themilder contractions begin like seismic tremors in the small of her back.You know, too. You sense the swish and shift and though you can't haveany idea yet what it means, you're still not sure that you like it. Forone thing, your mother begins, by and by, to scream, and you're certainyou don't like that, trapped as you are inside the amphitheater ofher belly. For another, the shift portion of the swish and shift causesyour umbilical cord to draw even tighter, spurring your first experiencewith physical pain. Your mother's screams rise an octave, and the warmfluid in which you have spent your entire life flushes away, replacedby slick undulating walls equal to the fluid in warmth but hard, insistent,pressing from all sides, pushing you down, down, inexorably downand out of your home forever, and now you are certain you don't likethis at all because no one likes change unless it is from something badto something good, and besides the umbilical knot and loops have cutthe flow of blood both from your placenta and to your brain, bad troubleindeed. Your heart slows, and the pinprick of consciousness growshazy, fading from red to pink to gray. Something's wrong, your motherwails to the doctor and nurses. They ignore her; they are the experts,after all, they have done this a thousand times, and your mother is inpain and exhausted and probably not thinking right and should leaveit to them. Your father tries to quiet her with a kiss, his lips and anyreal comfort they might offer trapped behind the minutely porous shellof a surgical mask. The delivery team goes on ignoring your mother'spleas until the image of you, stillborn, stiff and blue and twisted, returnsto her, and she screams at them loud and long enough to be heardtwo floors down, in Oncology. At the same moment the fetal heartmonitor sounds a frantic alarm, and its display of your pulse—dangerouslylow and still dropping—begins to flash. There is a great and suddenhustle. Hypodermic shots are administered; trays of gleaming steelinstruments are deployed. By the time they pull you, purplish and limp,through the new orifice in your mother's abdomen, you are unconscious.
Your expression—eyes closed but not clenched, face perfectlyrelaxed, tiny mouth agape—is one of perfect neutrality. This is the expressionyou should wear for all your life, no matter how long or briefit is, so that no one, not even you, will ever know whether you are inecstasy or anguish.
The doctor and nurses place you on a tiny table nearby and set towork, pressing with fingertips on your chest, suctioning your nose andmouth, and eventually they succeed in reviving you. You're moved toa protective plastic box and tethered to life by tubes, wires, adhesivesboth high– and low–tech, hollow needles the diameter of a strand ofyour father's hair. Despite the harsh lights and the stinging prick of theneedles, this new home is not so unlike the old one. You are swaddledin piles of soft blankets, connected and held fast by the tubes and wires.
For a few days your situation is what's called "touch and go." Your parentsreceive a quick overview, complete with pamphlets and sympatheticembraces, of the myriad developmental problems that may cropup but are by no means, it is repeated time and again, a foregone conclusion.For now, let them worry about these things; they are the adults,your shepherds, and as adults it is their responsibility to suffer theknowledge of threats they neither understand nor can do a thing about.You have but one job, comparatively simple: surviving.
90 And it seems, eventually, that you will do just that. Your body temperatureand blood pressure rise, your heart rate stabilizes, and yourlungs begin to inflate on their own. Soon, to your dismay, the tubesand wires are removed, one by one, and you are taken from the incubator,forced once again to relinquish the safety of your cocoon, thoughyou are allowed, as a small consolation, to keep the blankets. Do not beupset. These are all signs that the danger has passed, that your life hasbegun in earnest—you've become a person, fully formed, autonomousand self–sustaining.
89 And with this happy occasion comes the task we spoke of earlier, a lifelongproposition which is likely to seem a burden to you, but which weencourage you to try to think of as a privilege, a great honor. First,though, you need to understand this truth:
Although to you we may seem quite knowledgeable, even omniscient,we in fact know only one thing for certain, which is this: thirty–six years,one hundred sixty–eight days, fourteen hours, and twenty–three secondsfrom now, on June 15, 2010, at 3:44 p.m. EST, a comet that has brokenaway from the Kuiper Belt near Neptune will impact the Earth with theexplosive energy of 283,824,000 Hiroshima bombs.
That's it. We don't know anything else. For example, we have no ideaif you will live long enough to witness this phenomenon. There arethings we can surmise, though, one being that if you are still alive whenthe comet hits, neither you nor anything else on the planet will be afterward.All of which raises the question—your task, burden, privilege,call it what you like—a question which men and women, great andnot–so, of every color, creed, and sexual persuasion have asked sincethey first had the language to do so, and probably before:
Does Anything I Do Matter?
It is our hope that, with knowledge of the epic disaster to come andthe advantage of our continued assistance, you will have greater successat answering this question than those who have come before you.And we wish you much good luck.