Written by Eneasz Brodski
I see dead kids everywhere. I did it to myself, but it’s OK. You get used to it.
I’m scrolling through my phone--over a tenth of a dead kid when I bought it--when Tandee walks into the coffee shop. I smile and stand up, but she waves at me to stay at the table. She orders for both of us--less than one two-hundredth of a dead kid total. I don’t have coffee that often, I can make a single dead kid stretch for years.
Tandee is a divorcee, with one kid. Living, of course. Dead kids don’t ever come up on a first date. Or if they did, there wouldn’t be a second one. Some things you roll out over time, not because you’re hiding, but because breaking that much from social norms signals worrisome traits.
My daughter’s name would have been Evangaline. I haven’t actually had a relationship go long enough to tell anyone that. Not yet, anyway. I know I’ll get there with the right person, and I’ll know they’re the right person when I’m ready to say it. I’m not in a rush, nowadays. I’d rather be sure.
Tandee is a teacher, and she’s passionate about education. I like people with a strong passion, they feel more real. More alive. Her opinions on public versus private schooling ignite a fire in her eyes that remind me of Becca, and I have to look away for a moment.
We go to a movie afterwards, because we’re both relearning this whole process, and cliches are safe. Tickets and snacks combined are over one one-hundredth of a dead kid. A dead kid penny. It seems excessive, but I haven’t gone out in quite a while. I turn off the visual filter for a second, to check the price in US dollars. The small fraction and child’s smiling face in my vision is replaced with a familiar dollar sign and a proportional number. No one else is acting surprised or outraged, so I guess I’m just out of the loop. This is just how much these next couple hours are worth. I turn my filter back on.
The movie is a comedy, but absolutely not a rom-com. We aren’t stupid. And yet, when a misbehaved pooch destroys a clue, I instinctively think of how much Becca is going to love this part. My smile freezes as I’m pierced by that hot-knife-in-my-lungs pain. What am I doing here? It still hasn’t been long enough, has it?
Becca and I realized something was wrong early in the third trimester. Rapid-fire batteries of test, ramping quickly in complexity, finally revealed a rare condition, named after a doctor otherwise unknown. It was already too late for Evangaline. She was lost, but the doctors could still save Becca with surgery, if nothing went wrong.
Fate had other plans.
After the funeral, during the downward spiral, I grew obsessive. I discovered that this didn’t have to happen. There was a potential cure that could have, theoretically, prevented this entirely. Developing it would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Hundreds of millions to cure a couple dozen people per year, most of whom didn’t even die anyway. The research costs would never be recouped.
I could have bankrolled it myself if I had founded Amazon, or some other revolutionary business, decades ago. As always, I had been too slow. Too little, too late. I was no Bezos, and never would be. Maybe next time I’d think twice before going into geological science.
Except, that wasn’t entirely true, was it? Maybe Bezos could have saved Becca and Evangaline, and dozens of other young mothers and children, over the course of decades. And so could I. Diseases that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to cure effect relatively few people. On the other hand, there’s huge swaths of the world were malaria is endemic. Malnutrition is endemic. Human parasite infection is endemic. There are already major organizations working in these areas, attacking these issues. The cost of addressing those problems? Saving those lives? Thousands of American dollars, each. For someone in Sierra Leone, that may as well be millions of dollars. But for me?
Well, I can be the Sierra Leone Bezos. I can save dozens of people over a few decades. Be the Bezos you want to see in the world.
After the movie we go out for a drink. The night is going well; it’s worth another dead kid penny to keep this going with Tandee. If I can’t spend anything on getting to know someone, I’ll never have a family again. I’ve already done these calculations a hundred times in my head, and I’ve come to my peace with them.
As we’re winding down the night, Tandee jokes about her school’s fund raiser. I estimate how many dead kids it would take to increase the literacy rate in our suburb by a fraction. I know it would make our state better, make our neighbors stronger. The knock-on effects of increasing literacy would, allegedly, flow through the community for decades. The price per extra grade-level of reading comprehension, per student, is only a few hypothetical dead kids that I’ll never meet.
Most people would have never met Evangaline. But she would be almost four years old now, and I would have known her all four of those years. Maybe Becca and I would be discussing a potential sibling for her. There are so many Evangalines out there, and every one deserves to have a Bezos rooting for her. Tandee’s fund raiser has plenty of support already. It doesn’t need help from my kids.
Tandee and I agree on a third date, as we’re waiting for our cars to arrive. I find myself smiling on the trip home. I like her. Her passion for children gives me hope. I can envision telling her about the dead kids I see, eventually. I think she’d understand.