SUMMARY: A day at the park.
DISCLAIMER: Chris, you don't really own them, either.
POSTING DATE: May 2002
Once the winter is over and the air warms, she starts taking Will to the park in town for an hour or so almost every day. There's lots of room on the farm for a growing boy to play, but he likes to tumble in the grass and make castles in the sandbox with other kids around his age. Kathy likes to sit on the benches with the other mothers. Life on a Wyoming farm can be isolating. Kathy was raised a town girl in Cheyenne, and while she loves the wide-open spaces of the farm, she's never quite accustomed herself to the quiet or the solitude.
At the playground she lets Will run ahead on his chubby legs to a gaggle of kids, some of whom he knows from preschool. Kathy hangs back to watch him. Even after being his mother for more than three years, she can't believe he's her child, that she and Phil lucked out like this after so many years of wanting, hoping and praying. Will is growing so quickly that she wishes time could stand still and quiet for a while, so she could truly relax and enjoy the wonder that is her son.
Sitting on the bench, she pretends to work on her needlepoint but she's really watching her four year-old run and shout with a little girl who has long blonde braids down her back and dirty knees. Will's hair has grown darker over the last year, from the strawberry blond of babyhood to a deep, true red. His skin isn't as pale as most redheads Kathy has known over the years. Instead, her son's skin is a faint gold in winter, darkening to a deeper olive in the summertime, a striking combination with the pale blue-gray of his eyes. Kathy is proud of the unusual beauty of her son.
The park is quiet today. A few mothers are clustered on a nearby bench trading pickling recipes, but aside from warm greetings on arrival, Kathy keeps to herself on this afternoon. This summer has been frantically busy on their farm and she relishes a few minutes of simply sitting still and enjoying watching the little boy who appeared on her doorstep in a social worker's arms more than three years ago.
Kathy aches for another baby. A farm is no place for an only child and she'd always pictured their house filled with children. Maybe two boys and two girls. She'd imagined the screen door constantly slamming in the summer and laughter floating in through the open windows from the yard. Seven years ago, after more than a year of trying to get pregnant, she and Phil had gone to an infertility clinic in Denver and discovered they were doubly unlucky. He was sterile from a case of the mumps as a teenager and she had a malformed uterus that would make holding onto a pregnancy unlikely. The house brimming over with children that looked like a combination of Phil and her would never happen.
Now the living room floor is covered over with toys and every night Kathy kisses the warm, soft skin of her son's cheek before he goes to sleep but she wants more. They're on the waiting lists of every adoption agency in the West and in the Rolodexes of at least a dozen lawyers specializing in private adoptions. She and Phil have discussed going to China or Guatemala for a baby but it's so expensive and rural Wyoming is probably not the best place for a non-white child to grow up. Kathy balls her fists in frustration. Why is it that teenage girls in the cities can have baby after baby they don't want but it has to be so difficult for Phil and her, who can give a child everything in the world?
And older boy is throwing a purple beach ball to Will, patiently watching the little boy scramble after it and try to toss it back. Kathy longs for Will to someday be that older boy, an older brother, showing his baby brother or sister how to throw and catch.
Kathy puts aside her needlepoint and sighs. She thinks too much. She should be satisfied with what she has, her wonderful boy who laughs and laughs and asks a million questions. Where does the rain come from? Why does the cow go moo? Why does he have toes? She and Phil had almost given up hope that their number would come up at one of the agencies when they got the call that a healthy nine month-old baby boy was available. It had been the happiest day of her life, maybe even better than her wedding day, when Will came to then but it had also been tinged with panic. Would she make a good mother? Would Phil be a good dad? Was the house clean and baby-proof enough? What if the baby really wasn't healthy? What if his mother wanted him back?
She wonders how anyone could give such a child up. She remembers his toothless baby smile and how he'd topple over in giggles if poked in his fat stomach. All the agency had told them about Will's parents was that they were from the East Coast. The mother was in her thirties and a career woman with a postgraduate degree, of Irish and German heritage. Will was her first child. The father was in his early forties, also a professional with a postgraduate degree, and was of Dutch and English extraction. There were no serious congenital diseases or defects on either side of the family except for colorblindness on the father's side, no history of major mental illness.
It's unthinkable to her that a well-educated woman in her thirties would give up a baby, a woman who probably could have afforded raising a child. Kathy has been led to believe that a woman like Will's mother, when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, usually has an abortion or became a single mother. She can't imagine what it was like to raise a baby as delightful as Will for nine months and then give him to strangers. Maybe the father had been married, maybe she just couldn't handle doing it alone, maybe she was too sick or depressed to raise a child alone. Kathy thinks about this woman a lot and wishes she knew. Someday her son will have questions about his birth family and she won't have very many answers for him.
"Mama, look at me!" Will shouts. Kathy watches him throw the purple ball into the air. She applauds his effort to catch the ball on the way down, even if it bounces off his head instead. Every day he's growing and learning something new-- new words, a song from school, using the potty, how to imitate the chickens in the coop, how to write his own name on the drawings he makes at the kitchen table. Pretty soon he'll be going to kindergarten, tying his shoes, riding a bike. If she blinks, she might miss Will going off to college and becoming a doctor.
"Mama, I can catch it!" he says, and indeed, he does. He throws the ball again and it rolls off toward some benches kitty-corner from her. Kathy notices that a couple she's never seen before are sitting on one of the green benches, holding hands.
It's not terribly unusual to see strangers in town. There's gorgeous camping and hiking in the area and in the summer lots of people from all over the country come through their town with fancy cars bearing license plates of faraway states. But there's something about this couple that seems different from the usual tourists. They're dressed like tourists in jeans and t-shirts but something about the stiff way they're sitting on the bench tells Kathy they're not campers from California.
Will runs over to retrieve his ball and the man picks in up and rolls it to her son. He's grinning a bit as he does this but Kathy sees the tight smile on the woman's pretty face. Something is adding up in Kathy's mind but she hasn't arrived at the total yet. Kathy picks up her embroidery and tries not to stare at the strange couple.
Out of the corner of her eye she watches them. She can see how tightly the man is holding the woman's hand. He's handsome, with short dark hair streaked here and there with gray. She's much smaller than the man, with a delicately pretty face, and with her free hand she keeps brushing her red hair out of her eyes.
Red hair. Kathy's stomach lurches. Red hair, just a few shades darker than Will's.
She has an urge to run to Will, scoop him up and drive like a bat out of hell home to the farm.
It couldn't be her, right? How would she find them? How would she know? The agency had said that everything was anonymous. Only Will, after reaching age eighteen, would be able to access the records.
It couldn't be Will's mother. Or his father. Her mind is playing tricks on her.
But she watches as the man tenderly brushes his hand across the woman's cheek, as if he's brushing away a stray tear. Kathy is openly staring now. She can't help but notice the hungry way the woman is gazing at Will, who is still trying to throw and catch the purple ball. She can't not see the shape of the woman's chin, or the shade of the man's skin, so like her son's. Kathy watches the woman close her eyes for a moment and sigh.
They have no right, she thinks. They have no right to come here to see him. They gave him up and he's mine. How dare they?
She gets off the bench and walks to Will. "Come on, sweetie, we have to go home now."
Will thrusts his lower lip out in annoyance. "I want to play," he says.
"We have to go," she repeats. "We can go to Dairy Queen on the way home."
His pale eyes light up. "Dairy Queen!"
She takes his hand and begins walking off to the parking lot. She doesn't dare look back at the couple, the intruders, Will's birth parents.
Susie Decker intercepts them and starts talking about the upcoming church picnic but Kathy's mind is nowhere near potato salad and a crafts booth. It's back on the benches with the man and the woman. Kathy's head is spinning and for a moment she's afraid she'll faint. She just wants to get the hell out of there. She realizes she's holding Will's hand too tightly when he makes a face and tries to squirm out of her grasp. But there's no way she's going to let go of him. What if they know where she lives? What if they try to get him back?
Finally, she and Will make their way back to the car. She straps Will in his car seat and starts the car, ready to tear out of the parking lot. Suddenly, out of her rear view mirror, she sees a black Ford Explorer and sitting in the front seat are the man and woman. The woman has her head on the man's shoulder and she's sobbing so hard her whole body is shaking. The man is tenderly stroking her hair and seems to be murmuring something comforting in her ear.
Something in Kathy breaks just then and she finds tears running down her own face. The enormity of what Will's mother had to give up hits her hard. Such a wonderful boy, how could she do it?
Feeling like she's not quite in her own body, she turns off the engine of the car, hops out and takes Will out of his car seat. "What you doing, Mama?" he asks.
"We're going to visit some people," she says.
Her heart thudding in her chest, she picks up Will and carries him across the parking lot to the Explorer. Through the window she watches the woman sobbing and notices that tears are running down the man's face too. Kathy lifts a shaking hand and taps on the glass. Startled, the couple looks up and their faces register shock to see her standing there. The window hums as it rolls down.
Kathy doesn't know what to say. Finally, she blurts, "He's yours, isn't he?"
The woman nods, wiping the tears from her pale face. She's so pretty, Kathy thinks.
"Why did you come here?"
"I'm sorry," says the woman, her voice husky. "We just had to see him once. We had to know he's okay."
Kathy finds her eyes watering again. Will wiggles in her arms and turns to face the couple. "What's your name?" he asks, as always a friendly, trusting boy.
The woman bites her lip for a second. "My name is Dana."
The man smiles but there are tears in his eyes. "I'm Fox."
Will whoops with laughter. "Fox? That's not a man, that's an animal!"
"That's not a very kind thing to say to the nice man," Kathy says.
"It's okay," says Fox. "I'm used to it."
Kathy has a million questions for the couple and she's sure they have a million questions for her but they all just stare at each other for a moment. And then she comes to her senses and says, "He's a good boy. He's very smart and curious. We love him very much."
Dana nods, her face tight again. "I'm glad," she says. "I'm glad he's loved."
How could you do it, Kathy wonders again. Why couldn't you keep him? This woman carried Will for nine months, gave birth to him, and mothered him for another nine months. Presumably the man was there for it all since he's here now. They fed him, changed his diapers, and walked him in the night when he cried. He was obviously a well-loved baby since he came to them fat and healthy and full of smiles. But Kathy doesn't feel like it's her place to ask. Not here, not now. Maybe someday her son will find out the answers for himself.
"I could--" Kathy doesn't quite know what she's offering but it comes to her in mid-sentence. "If you wanted to I could send you pictures and updates. I don't know if that would make it easier or harder but I could do that if you wanted me to."
The woman's eyebrows rise and the man looks as if he's going to burst into tears any second. "You'd do that for us?" Dana asks.
Kathy shrugs, trying to act like she bumps into her son's birth parents every day of the week. "Sure. I know I'd want to know."
The man has the wherewithal to go in the glove compartment and find a pen and a scrap of paper. He scribbles something down on the paper and hands it to her. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, it says. There's an address in Oregon.
"Thank you," Dana whispers. "We didn't want to invade your life or scare you in any way. But we had to see him. Just once. I dream about him all the time. I think about him every day and hope he's okay."
Kathy wonders if this moment will help ease the haunted look in Dana's eyes, the obvious grief etched on her face. She wonders if Dana will sleep easier now or if the dreams will be more intense. She can't possibly know what it's like for these two, having a little boy out there in the world they can't be with.
"Thank you," Kathy says. "I don't know why you had to give him up but we love him so much."
Dana smiles, just a little bit. "So do I," she says. "Thank you for loving him."
Fox touches her arm. "We should go." His lower lip is quivering. He looks like Will when he's about to throw a tantrum, the emotion about to burst from the surface.
"You will send pictures, won't you?" says Will's birth mother, something in her blue eyes so like her son's that Kathy can hardly stand it.
"Of course. I gave you my word." Kathy turns to Will. "Can you wave goodbye to Dana and Fox?"
Will lifts a chubby arm. "Bye Dana and Fox," he says, waving.
Kathy wonders if she could let Dana and Fox touch her son, kiss him goodbye. Something in her tells her no, something selfish that wants her son all to herself. He's not theirs, not anymore. She can only be so generous.
She turns and walks her son to the car without looking back. She manages to get Will buckled in but her hands start shaking so much that she can't get the key in the ignition. Finally, she puts her head on the steering wheel and lets herself cry. She's not entirely sure why she's crying. Maybe for the man and the woman who, for some unknown reason, had to give their son to strangers. Maybe for Will, who would never truly know these people who brought him into life. Maybe for herself, who had her idyll of ignorance about Will's birth parents broken in one afternoon at the park. She doesn't know. She just cries and cries until no more tears will come.
Will says, from the back seat, "Why are you crying, Mama?"
She lifts her head from the steering wheel and wipes her face with a tissue she finds in the pocket of her jeans. "I'm okay, Will. Moms get sad sometimes."
Her son nods sagely from the back seat, as if he can understand the complexity of what has just happened.
Kathy starts the car out and pulls out of the parking lot. They're halfway home after getting ice cream at the Dairy Queen, traveling down the dusty two-lane highway when Will asks, "Who were that man and lady?"
She doesn't know how to answer that question but she has to say something. "They're friends, Will."
"Will I see them again?"
Kathy turns her head to smile at her son. "Someday," she says. "Someday you'll see them again."