“Phantom Baby”

Still from Amblin Entertainment’s 1995  “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

Borges somewhat famously wrote of a fictitious(?) “Chinese dictionary” in which animals were categorized as:

 (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

Well, after the birth of my daughter, I’ve discovered a similarly enlightening set of categories. All matter in the world can be divided into two categories: “my baby” and “not my baby.” And when those categories get fuzzy, the world gets kind of terrifying pretty quickly.

I awoke around five in the morning today, needing to go to the restroom. There was something warm on my left arm. The room was dark. I felt with my right hand, wondering what was there: had I picked up the baby when she was fussing and fallen back asleep? This has happened before. Not outside the realm of possibility.

Reaching in the darkness, I could swear I felt my daughter’s hand. I felt a little further, wanting to make sure of where her little head was before I moved. Newborns’ necks aren’t very strong, after all! But I felt and felt, and couldn’t find her little nose or ears.

I felt back down, and again felt her hand, which is only ever limp and not balled into a fist when she’s asleep. I found it. Okay, so we have the baby’s hand. I then, with my right arm, trying ever so carefully not to disturb the baby on my left, felt for the switch to my bedside lamp. I couldn’t find it. Jesus, why do I keep so much crap on the bedside—and then CRASH! Shit, I knocked something down! I’m going to wake the baby!

Frantically I felt around further until I eventually got the light on. I then looked to my left arm, only to find on my left arm… Just a bunched-up ball of sheets, warmed by my body and slightly sweat-soaked.

The light now on, confused, I immediately ran around the bed to find my daughter peacefully asleep in her bassinet. Two categories of matter—”my baby” and “not my baby”—and when the lines get blurry, shit gets weird.

I stumbled sleepily to the restroom, and as I left, My Colleague was getting Test Subject V up for a feeding. She said the same thing had happened to her before. “It’s weird, right? It’s like phantom baby!”

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