Phoenix

In September, I sent away for some medical records. Did you know you can order autopsy results over the phone? All you need is a direct claim on the person who died, a mailbox, and some courage. The information is free.

The records arrived in October, but I didn’t open the envelope right away. It was so small (regular business size) with my name and address handwritten. I expected something bigger (perhaps a brown 9×12) and more official looking. The answers couldn’t be in something that thin; there were only a few pages inside — I could feel them.

It was the next morning, about fifteen minutes before work. I parked farther away than usual and nowhere near anyone I knew. I opened the envelope, took a deep breath, and read my name.

This is not a ghost story — not a fiction told in first person. My name is on the autopsy because I am his mother; he died inside of me just a few days before he was supposed to be born. He had a name, but only I remember it. It means resurrection — rebirth. The month before he was due, I chose to name my baby to honor my dead father.

You could almost say I wanted him to die, giving him such a loaded name like that.

I don’t talk about him anymore — no one cares to hear, Hugo cries for his baby brother, and I can’t bear to say his name out loud — so I just think of him as Phoenix. The meaning is the same, but I don’t break down when I say or hear it.

A couple of years ago, I saw a little boy who would have been born about the same time. His mother called his name — my baby’s name — and I felt myself die all over again. I was back in that hospital room holding him, unable to let go. The feel of his cold body in my arms is burned into my memory. His ashes are sealed in an urn no bigger than a pack of cigarettes. And his true name is etched on my skin: his only memorial is an unfinished tattoo.

The pages I read in October — the ones that used my name instead of his — the ones that called him “infant” and “fetus” — those pages changed nothing. They dissected him and found no reason. He’s gone, still with no apparent cause. The only thing I know for certain is he was dead for several days, and I didn’t notice. I didn’t save him.

My name belongs on that autopsy. 

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