Ken Matthews – Nonfiction


The circumstances of Christopher’s birth caused me a lot of grief at school. Even so, when I held the kid and looked into his eyes, I knew none of that mattered. He was my nephew, and I was going to love him no matter what.

I can’t think of why my family gathered in the living room. Maybe we just returned from the store or a recital for Katrina. It doesn’t really matter. The fact is, we all gathered together and my nephew reached for me.

Incredibly proud and incredibly happy, I reached out for him and took him from my father. I hadn’t spent much time with him yet. He grew stronger every day, but couldn’t quite support his head for very long when held straight up. I took great care to support him and hold him close to me. My right arm went under his legs while my left hand supported his head.

Looking into his face, I smiled the kind of smile you can only show to a baby. His intrusion into my life felt huge, but the slight smile he returned made every moment of lost sleep and every frustration that accompanies living with a baby in the house well worth it. I felt nothing could go wrong in the world.

Tourette’s doesn’t believe in that.

The urge came naturally. My arm simply had to move to the left, as if to swat away a fly. Quickly, smoothly, and without thought. My left arm swung down and out towards nothing at all. My balance was off.

I felt him moving before I could comprehend what happened. My eyes shot right to him and I saw his upper body falling backwards without my hand there to support it. My left hand was no longer busy, and I shot it back towards him. It didn’t get there in time.

My nephew fell back as far as my right arm would let him before his head snapped back. My left hand was there a fraction of a second later, but it was already too late. I looked into his eyes, and I saw a look of shock and betrayal, but he stayed silent.

His scream pierced my ears and I knew he was in pain. I pulled him up to my chest, but he squirmed against me. All around me, my parents and my sister screamed and demanded to know what happened. As much as I wanted to tell them, I didn’t know. Tears welled up in my eyes when I felt the first smack across my face.

My mother’s slap left a distinctive stinging sensation. I didn’t care. All I could think about was my nephew. I didn’t know if he would be okay. The screams continued for several minutes. My father paced impatiently while he spouted off that he shouldn’t have ever trusted me with his grandchild, even for a second. My mother and sister kept cooing and looking Christopher over. They took turns looking at him and screaming at me.

I was lost in it all. They kept asking what happened, but I didn’t know. I reviewed the whole thing in my head many times in a matter of seconds, but I couldn’t describe the sensation that made my hand move. I stammered along until my father’s broad hand slapped across my face as well.

Almost knocked off my feet, I snapped back into reality. In that reality, I betrayed my nephew’s and my family’s trust in me. The slaps and screams stung, but none of it so much as that fact.