Enzo is a gifted kid, always has been. And I know what you’re thinking: don’t know all mothers claim their son is ‘gifted’? They act like he’s the second coming of Jesus but with traces of Superman, Ghandi, and Einstein. They say he’s bound for Harvard because he learned how to walk three weeks earlier than average. They prepare you for the cure to cancer because he made a toxic mixture of Play-Doh and shampoo. That’s not necessarily what I mean by gifted. Enzo is…different. Something was always different about him, from the moment I conceived him. I didn’t want to say anything to my husband, Ray, at first. I didn’t want him to worry. Now I wish I kept my mouth shut.
One night around a month into the pregnancy I woke up with a throbbing pain in my gut. I almost asked Ray to drive me to the hospital, but the pain was too great to vocalize. It felt like someone was drilling at my innards from the inside. I ran to the toilet and threw up, missing the bowl almost entirely. It was half chicken parmesan, half blood. Sure, that part was normal. I’d read a lot online about morning sickness during the first trimester. My mother told me she had it bad in the first month with me.
I sat upon my knees, feeling sorry for myself on the bathroom floor. The jagged tile harshly chiseled my bare knees. Tears rolled down from my droopy red eyes mixing with the snot and vomit before me. Then I felt something shift. I held my breath in and the tears stopped. I wasn’t so sad anymore as I was concerned. Had I been pregnant longer than I thought? I felt it again. A jerk and slam into my stomach. I winced. I then slowly stood from the soiled tile. I turned towards the mirror, seeing my own horror written in my sunken eyes and trembling lips covered by disheveled jet-black hair. Taking 3 deep breaths I finally gathered the courage to lift my shirt above my stomach. Something slithered across my abdomen starting at my pelvis, working its way towards my rib cage. I yanked the shirt downwards and whimpered. It couldn’t be happening – I was just in some sort of dream state.
But it kept happening. It wasn’t nightly, but it was certainly becoming more frequent than I care to admit. Eventually I couldn’t keep my lips sealed around my husband about it. The bump was growing larger and faster than I would have ever expected. I was exhibiting late second trimester signs just a month into my pregnancy. My back hurt, stomach lining ripped to shreds. I couldn’t imagine another 8 months like this. I needed help.
Around three months into my pregnancy with Enzo I sat Ray down after dinner. I knew he was upset, and I guessed it was probably my fault. Ray had spent the last week or so moping around the house, avoiding any conversation that lasted more than a few sentences. He probably felt I was hiding something from him, that I’d grown detached. He was right. At that point in my pregnancy I was a shell of a woman. Enzo was taking up more energy than I thought possible. Mothers always told me that pregnancy is a beautiful time. Some even referred to it as one of their favorite times in all their lives. At 3 months, I felt Enzo was going to kill me. I lived in constant pain in every imaginable form. I felt I hadn’t slept more than 30 minutes since the first month. I could hardly do anything but pee with his 5 pounds crushing my uterus. My exhaustion even escalated to the point where I’d hallucinate at 3am more often than not. I’d see some vague apparition of a lanky, pearly-white humanoid with large black eyes staring at me from outside the window. Another 6 months of the status quo would most certainly be the death of me. I still wanted to keep my resolve and not worry Ray, but the excruciating discomfort had become too much to bear on my own. “Ray, I need to tell you something.”
He turned to me with his full attention. He looked primed for anger as he sat back straight in his chair, legs parted and shoulders locked. “Go on, Farah,” he replied. Ray’s dark eyes drew into mine. He scanned with a stone-cold expression, mapping our impending conversation to each syllable before I even spoke.
I thought I’d stutter in anxiety, but instead I blurted it all out at once. “He’s coming any day now. The OB-GYN said our baby is growing extraordinarily fast and that we’re showing significant signs late-stage pregnancies. He is somehow viable outside the womb already, and my uterus is a hellhole in there so there’s no telling how fast he’s coming. She doesn’t know how it’s possible either but that’s the reality. He’s massive, Ray.” I began to choke. “I’m in constant pain and I don’t know what to do. If he doesn’t come out now it’ll kill me. I’m seeing things at night, constantly throwing up… hell, I feel dead already. Why does shit always happen to me?”
Now would be the time Ray usually leapt to my side to comfort me. He would brandish a soft smile with his bold lips. His eyelids would retreat, eyes enlarging like a puppy. He’d hold me to his burly chest and hold my head as I soaked his shirt in tears. “Everything will be alright,” he’d assure me.
But not this time. Ray’s expression never changed, his eyes continued to scan. His cheeks sharpened against his gritting teeth, rage brewing in that chest that remained so disconcertingly far away from me. “Well…say something.”
He stood from the table and turned from me, fists clenched. I knew he wouldn’t strike me, but I tightened up nonetheless. “Whose baby is that, Farah?” he grunted.
My eyes fluttered, chest sunk. How could he say such a thing? But I somehow saw it coming. “Excuse me?” I managed to say, still crying.
“You heard me. Whose baby are you carrying? Because you and I sure as hell know we didn’t have sex six months ago. So whose baby is that Farah?” He spun back towards me, his once Hollywood eyes turned menacing.
“It’s yours. Of course it’s yours. I wasn’t pregnant six months ago, not even 5. You have to believe me, it’s yours.” But what did I have? I had no evidence to provide him, and I wouldn’t ever subject myself to a DNA test. I always thought if you need a DNA test, all trust is already lost. But the idea still flashed through my mind. I wanted Enzo to have a father so badly, but Ray was already beyond convincing.
At that I had nothing. No answers, nothing to offer. He theorized it was my younger coworker who had the hots for me last year at the Christmas party. If only it was that simple. Ray packed his bags and left that night. That was Enzo’s first grand act.
I gave birth to Enzo only three weeks later. I worried the stress might kill him and it’d all have been for nothing. I should have just kept my mouth shut. But he came uninterrupted, unbothered by his surroundings. Even after being in me for less than 4 months, he was perfectly healthy, fully capable of living outside the womb like the doctors predicted. The only anomaly was that I was forced into a C-Section. He was too big to squeeze out on my own…four months into the pregnancy. I knew it was bizarre, scary even. But at the time I also knew he was a miracle – a miracle I quite needed in that moment. I remember holding him for the first time. It was one of the fondest memories of my life. He had my eyes and his father’s lips, or at least I thought he did. The mind sees what it wants. His cooing was otherworldly. I’d always heard of motherly instincts kicking in right at birth, but I never knew it would be so intense. Immediately I knew he was my everything – he was my life, my purpose, my true love. I could do this – I didn’t need Ray to raise such a blessing.
Though I remember it vividly, that was seven years ago now. I hadn’t received so much as snail mail from Ray, but I hardly cared anymore. I sometimes wondered what he was doing with his life, where he’d move to. Occasionally when I was in the food store I’d catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, but when I’d turn it was always someone else.
My pregnancy was certainly quick, but I noticed early on that everything about Enzo was faster. He broke the metaphoric speed barrier of the ‘average timeline’ for every major milestone. I did my research, went to parenting classes, did everything I was supposed to. But nothing could prepare me for raising Enzo. He was picking things up within three weeks, laughing and attempting communication at 2 months, crawling at 5, standing and even walking at 7, and speaking by a year. I thought about bringing him to doctors for tests. He was a marvel of humanity. But I wanted my Enzo to have the most normal life he possibly could without a father in the picture. My friends pushed me towards having him examined, but my son is no lab rat. He was gifted, I’d tell myself. It wasn’t anything more.
As Enzo shed his bland baby looks and developed, I began to wonder if Ray was right – maybe Enzo wasn’t his son. As he grew up his skin began to pale, his eyes turned a bright green. Never mind Ray – I wasn’t even sure he was my son sometimes. He didn’t have his father’s build, or even mine for that matter. When it came time to ship him off to school, he had nearly none of my characteristics. The only thing of mine he retained was his hair. He had long, lanky arms and equally thin fingers. His face was thin enough to resemble emaciation even though he ate like a bear. If I didn’t tell you he was Hispanic, you would have never known. Even if I did, I’m sure you’d still doubt it.
And then there was the inhaler – by the time he was three he desperately needed it. There was no history of breathing issues or medical issues at all for that matter – besides my uncle’s sudden heart attack in 2005. But at around 3 and a half years, I rushed Enzo to the hospital as his breathing labored and his eyes whitened. I guess I didn’t put two and two together, but I should have known then. Love is blind I suppose, even between a mother and her son.
He was certainly ready for kindergarten by the time he was 3, but I made sure to keep him away from any adults until then. I still didn’t want them offering him to scientists or running any tests, that would never change. By the time he was five his mind was too busy to contain. I couldn’t tie him down to toy trucks and Saturday cartoons forever. He craved stimulation and I wholeheartedly obliged. What’s a mother to do other than love in any way she can?
I told Enzo before his first day of kindergarten, “The best thing you can do is fit in.”
“But I don’t want to,” he told me. “Can I just skip a grade or two?”
Yes, he already knew this was a possibility in kindergarten. He’d…read it…online. “No Enzo, you have to stay with the kids your age. It’ll be easiest for you to make friends.” He’d grunt and pout but eventually comply.
But I was wrong. He wouldn’t make friends as easily as I presumed. Enzo was bored to death by any conversations a typical five-year-old would make with him. They’d talk about toys, Sesame Street, dinosaurs – you know… the usual. But Enzo wanted to talk about history, world events, emerging technologies…I tried my best to entertain his quirky interests but even I couldn’t keep up sometimes. How was a kindergartener to? I should have just let him skip to first grade, maybe even to third off the bat. My mind, primitive in comparison to his, didn’t want Enzo to be 13 when I shipped him off to college. How was he to meet girls? That was clearly always going to be the least of his pursuits.
As much as I tried, I couldn’t keep Enzo’s talents hidden away forever. I’m surprised I made it as long as I did. About 2 weeks into first grade, his teacher Ms. Fletcher called me in for a parent-teacher conference. When I got the phone call I already knew what it was about.
“Thank you for coming in, Farah,” Ms. Fletcher said.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” I replied, feigning a smile as best I could. She wasn’t convinced, returning a brief phony grin.
“I just want to start off by saying Enzo isn’t in any kind of trouble – quite the opposite in fact,” she awaited a response but I only nodded. “He’s excelling in class far faster than any student I’ve seen in my twenty years of teaching. I know this will sound strange, but I get the sense he knows how to read already. Does that sound nuts? It’s like he’s purposefully holding himself back.”
I shook my head. Knowing how to read was one of the most minor of his skills by first grade. “No, I don’t think it’s nuts. Enzo’s a bright boy.”
“More than bright, Ms. Taylor. Your son is extraordinarily gifted,” Ms. Fletcher’s eyes spun in amazement. That was probably the same look I gave Enzo when he began speaking coherently just after his first birthday. “Enzo is well passed a first-grade level. I think he’s ready for third, maybe even fourth grade. I’m trying to hesitate on saying middle school.”
The fever in her voice was unnerving. My worst fears of Enzo under a scientist’s knife trapped in a padded cell manifested all at once. “That’s enough, Ms. Fletcher,” I responded sternly.
“That’s enough. Enzo is seven and will stay in first grade. Middle school? He might be gifted but he’s just a boy.” I stood from the meeting and shouldered my red leather bag.
“I don’t mean to overstep my bounds, but Enzo is destined for great things. You have an incredible child on your hands.”
I glared at her before turning towards the door. “Believe me, I know,” I said. A part of me second-guessed myself. But there’s no way of knowing if any different decisions would have changed what happened.
Enzo was aware for a long time he wasn’t like the other kids… more aware than I thought. By the end of the week, he asked me something I wasn’t quite ready for. “Who is my father?” he asked while spinning his fork in a mound of spaghetti.
My eyes darted, lips perspired. “I um…Enzo I don’t know anymore.” I was honest.
He paused with his fork perpendicular to the plate. His sunken green eyes bore up at me. His skin was albino by that point. “What do you mean? How could you not know?”
“I thought I knew at one point,” I told him. “But now I’m not so sure.”
He paused his interrogation to munch on the spaghetti. His lips were briefly covered in red sauce before he patted it away like a royal with his napkin. Enzo let his fork fall to his plate and fumbled for his inhaler. He brought it up to his mouth and took a hearty gulp from it. He set it back down on the kitchen table. With a nod and a slight smile, he said, “I love you, mommy. But I want to go home now. It’s too hard to breathe here.”
As much as it broke my heart to hear, from then on out I did what any mother would do for her son – let him follow his dreams. I hired a local contractor to raise our yard’s fence by three feet. They commented the whole time on it being the tallest private fence they’d ever built. The white pickets extended high in the sky and dutifully shrouded Enzo’s work. Between puffs of his inhaler he’d add to that contraption. Each week he would hand me a new shopping list and each week I’d go out and get the parts he needed.
Standing by the kitchen window and watching him build it were some of the happiest moments of my life. I knew what the end result would be, but I got to see him working and thriving – enjoying every second of it. It was what he was meant to do. Enzo was meticulous and industrious in his work. Every spare moment he had in any weather he’d tinker with each bolt, test the flexibility of the siding.
And then in the summer after third grade he turned it on. From the cockpit of his hovering and whirring contraption he turned to me with the broadest smile that had ever stretched across his face. He heaved in another large breath from his inhaler and shook it triumphantly above his head. He won’t need it much longer. My hands slapped against each other almost involuntarily while tears simultaneously blurred my vision. My little Enzo had done it. I’m treasuring every moment left he’s here with me, but I know it won’t be long. In many ways I feel like I’ve succeeded as a parent. It’s certainly nothing conventional, but it’s what’s best for him. I know it in my heart. What’s a mother to do other than love in any way she can, even if it means her boy is leaving soon?