Throughout the pregnancy, they knew that their son would have some heart problems, though they wouldn't know the full extent until he was born. She wasn't scheduled for a caesarean, which seemed hopeful - after all, if the baby's fragile heart was expected to withstand the ravages that birth placed on it, it couldn't be too serious, right?
The baby was born on schedule and they named him Max. I thought my heart would break for the couple when they came home from the hospital without him - he wasn't as healthy as had been hoped and he had to stay in for treatment. I could barely imagine how it must have felt for them to come home from the hospital to a house ready for a baby who wasn't with them. I thought then that there could be no worse pain for a new parent.
I haven't seen them lately - we're not close and I haven't wanted to intrude. I've kept an eye out for the scooter on their balcony, seeing its presence as a sort of talisman, a guarantee that one day a little boy would play on it. Maybe he'd bring it downstairs to show my little boy, and they'd play together. I checked yesterday morning and it was still there, still giving me hope that one day soon I'd get to tell Max how long we'd waited to meet him and how much we'd all worried about him, these people he didn't know.
Yesterday afternoon I bumped into the lady who lives in front of them, the one whose baby is due in just 3 weeks now, and she told me that Max wouldn't be coming home from the hospital at all. He'd had two heart operations in the first two months of his life and his little body couldn't take any more. He passed away two weeks ago .
It sounds trite and it's all been said before, but I have no idea how people survive this. I feel like my heart is breaking for a baby I never met - for every baby who doesn't get to come home, or doesn't get to stay. I don't know how the man who told me, every time I asked how the baby was doing, that "Cada día es una victoria" (every day is a victory), is going to deal with defeat. I wouldn't know where to begin. The woman whose smile never quite made it as far as her eyes, the eyes that tried and failed to mask too much pain even before her baby was born - I can't compute how she's going to contain the world of agony that losing her baby has left her with. I don't think she'd have room for it. I don't think I could do it.
It seems so unfair on them that soon their next door neighbour will be bringing home her baby, that newborn cries will be heard through thin apartment walls that never got to protect the little boy who belonged there. I don't know how they'll handle that. I can't help crying for them at the realisation that for them, this wound will be stretched and torn even deeper, that they will be up at night listening to the sleepless wails of a baby who is not theirs. And some of my tears are for their next door neighbour, who I spoke to yesterday and whose happiness is tethered a tiny bit by the knowledge that others who weren't so lucky are right next door with their grief and without their son.
Most of my tears are for the little boy who never got to sleep in his own bed, never got to play in the sand on a summer's day. The little boy whose short life spanned less than one winter, but who brought sunshine for such a short time.
And there were so many tears this morning, after I thought I had none left, when I looked up out of habit and saw that the scooter was gone.