There are moments when the guilt is so paralyzing that she wants to curl in on herself and allow the earth beneath her to open up and swallow her whole. In those seconds, when she remembers, her breath is knocked out of her with the force of a freight train, staggering her, and she almost wishes that she had the resolve to simply wrap her lips around the barrel of her Sig and squeeze the trigger. Inevitably, though, the moment passes. She closes her eyes, forces her lungs to expand and contract, and waits for her heart to restart. In the mean time, her brain helpfully supplies the statistics from an article she recently read that mortality rates decrease exponentially should her courage leave her at the last possible second and her bullet miss the temporal lobe. Usually, the ever-present ghost of her wayward partner chooses those exact moments to whisper in her ear, reminding her that he is still out there somewhere, dreaming about her and chasing his elusive truth, and as much as she hates him for walking away from them, she would hate herself more if he had to hear about what became of her from someone like Skinner. Or, even worse, her mother, who would undoubtedly tell him with her mouth set in a thin line, her wavering voice low and dangerous, and her eyes filled with tears that won’t spill, blame pouring out of her and over him like a tidal wave. She knows that he would then hold himself responsible for the deaths of both of Maggie’s daughters, and she can’t do that to him. So instead, she endures, as she’s always done.
Like any good Catholic, part of her welcomes the guilt. She nurtures it, feeds it, waiting for it to wend itself into shame, and she suffers the self-flagellation of having to grit her teeth, swallow past the lump in her throat, feel her stomach knotting around the leaden weight of it, because at least that weight keeps her anchored. In its wake, she feels brittle and used up, like a newspaper wrapped around a brick, but at least she feels something.
She should have asked Monica or John to treat her life like the crime scene it had become, to come in to her apartment and tag, bag, and remove every last shred of evidence that she had ever had a son. But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t. The same way she needed to see Christ broken and suffering on the cross to be reminded of her sins, she would prolong her own agony for as long as possible. So she left William’s carseat in the back seat of her car and willed herself not to look in her rearview mirror. The mobile was left above his crib and she would walk past his room and catch it spinning uselessly in a phantom breeze, entertaining only the memory of him. She neglected her own dirty laundry for weeks because a load of his tiny pants and shirts and onesies still sat in the dryer, waiting to be folded and put away. She couldn’t even find it in her to empty his diaper pail until her mother narrowed her eyes and scowled at the smell that finally permeated into the living room. Really, Dana, Maggie had hissed before calling Goodwill and standing sentry over the movers with her arms crossed and her jaw clenched, while she retreated like the coward she was into her room and wilted in her bed, wrapped around the doll Mulder had given her as she let tears stream silently down her cheeks.
She would find herself suddenly in the aisle for baby food at the grocery store, wondering if he would like the mango-carrot puree as much as he liked the sweet potatoes, before she remembered that some faceless woman was putting his bib on him now, making airplane noises with the spoon, wiping his face with a wet cloth. She came home one afternoon to a package of number four Huggies on her doorstep, and she remembered that she had forgotten to cancel her delivery subscription for diapers. She brought the box inside, setting it on her dining room table, and sobbed for hours.
She startled awake one night at 2:36 a.m., stumbling blearily into her kitchen, preparing a bottle with one eye open. She was already in his room, reaching into the empty crib for him, before she realized what she was doing. Only a few days before that, the doctor’s office had called her to remind her of his well-baby check-up, and to bring his vaccination card with her so it could be updated after his next round of shots. She hung up on the receptionist without canceling the appointment, and dutifully wrote a check for the $25.00 missed appointment fee. She had sent Mulder an email after his last check-up, smiling as she typed, picturing Mulder as he read it, how his eyes would soften as he grinned to himself, happily taking credit for his son’s above-average physical development. He had been in the 90th percentile for height, the 70th for weight. The email was sent back to her as undeliverable.
He had been babbling incessantly. He had just discovered that he could clap, a sound that delighted him. He had been on the verge of crawling, able to get up on his hands and knees and rock back and forth, only to sprawl onto his chubby belly and caterwaul at her, frustrated at the mechanics of it, until she scooped him up and soothed him with cooing promises that he’d soon figure it out. When she is feeling particularly self-loathing, she reads the next few pages in her well-worn copy of What To Expect The First Year and allows herself to wonder if he’s now fitting into 18-month clothes, if he’s cruising on furniture, if his new mother has started him on whole milk.
She hates herself that the last night she spent with him, she had been annoyed at his middle of the night wake-up. Had she only known then that it would be the last time she would get up with him to rock him back to sleep, she would have gladly leaped out of bed to snuggle him, breathe him in, tunelessly hum for him, hold him until the sun came up, instead of staring at the baby monitor for five solid minutes, praying he would just go back to sleep. Had she known it was going to be the last time she was going to change his diaper, she would have spent more time with him on the changing table, tickling his feet to hear him chortle and staring into his big, blue eyes, willing him to remember her face, instead of wrinkling her nose and hastily wiping his little bottom as quickly as possible before snapping his pajamas closed and putting him in his jumperoo so she could finish writing that email that had seemed so damned important. She couldn’t for the life of her remember who she had been writing to, or what that email had been about, but her mind can recall now with perfect clarity how he had stuffed his little fist in his mouth and gazed up at her after she’d pulled his legs through the leg-holes and handed him his teething ring to keep him happy before she turned back to her computer.
When she finally finds Mulder again, Skinner has already told him that William is gone, and she hates that she sees pity in his eyes instead of anger. He has no right to pity her. He should despise her. It’s because of her that he will never get to know his son. He’ll never get to pinch his chubby little thighs to hear him squeal with delight, never get to lather his strawberry-blonde peach fuzz with baby shampoo, will never buckle him into his stroller for a jog in the park. Mulder, benevolent soul that he is, can only find it in himself to be sorry for her. That’s alright, she supposes.
She can hate herself enough for the both of them.