Something I regret.

Of the joyful moments in my life, two stand out above the rest: the births of my children. These moments have etched themselves into my memory, filling me with happiness, yet always accompanied by the knowledge of the immense responsibility they entailed, and that my life would never be the same. These little humans would forever be a part of my life.

However, as seems to be a recurring theme in my family, something peculiar happened. The day after my second child was born, whilst I was holding him in my arms, studying every detail of his face, his tiny hands, inhaling that distinct newborn scent, a voice in my head whispered, “He will likely die at 19 unless, of course, you can prevent it.”

Hearing voices that foretell the future, which invariably end up being correct, isn’t a rarity in my family. Over time, we’ve speculated about the source of these voices. Our prevailing theory is that it’s our future selves communicating through time – primarily because no other explanation seems to make more sense in an already bizarre situation.

Naturally, hearing that message about my newborn scared me immensely. I hugged my little one, vowing to be cautious and to not let death claim him while he was still so young.

Years later, I shared this story with my son. He’d already noticed that being born into our family was akin to opting into a peculiar legacy where inexplicable foreknowledge was commonplace. So, he didn’t protest much when I declined his request for a motorcycle, hinting he knew the reason why. I wasn’t overprotective, but I wasn’t willing to take too many risks either. Then, before I knew it, he turned 19.

I tried not to be overbearing, forbidding only high-risk sports and activities. He mostly complied, or at least kept his escapades from me. But then, after a school trip, he came home feverish. Initially, we tried managing it with paracetamol and lots of fluids, but his condition deteriorated. A doctor prescribed antibiotics, which he kept throwing up after two days of very high fevers. A hospital visit yielded nothing, so we were sent home. But on the fourth day, he found he couldn’t stand and collapsed. Panic ensued, and an ambulance rushed him to the central hospital.

The memory of driving alone on the motorway, following the ambulance carrying my son and his mother, is vivid in my mind. It was 3 am, pouring rain, and the flashing emergency lights reflected ominously off the wet tarmac.

Once at the central hospital, an urgent scan revealed inflammation in his spinal cord. He was diagnosed with transverse myelitis. Within a day, he’d lost all control of his legs. Two days later, the numbness had risen above his abdomen. Along with the myelitis, he also had encephalitis, and it looked as if the disease wouldn’t relent. The doctors confirmed this when they told us to start getting ready as in about four days he would die.

There I stood, in a sterile-smelling, spacious room of a newly constructed hospital. My son was surrounded by machines, monitoring and medicating him. Each machine blinked or beeped, seemingly counting down to the grim inevitable. It was then that the voice’s warning echoed clearer than ever in my mind. How could I have prepared for this? Diseases hadn’t crossed my mind. I felt hopelessly trapped by the passage of time, unable to act despite the forewarning.

People say time is relative and linear, moving in one direction. But in my family, when we regard time, we don’t see a straight line but a sphere. It intertwines, touching itself at numerous points. It was at one of these junctures that I received or perhaps sent that cautionary message. Would foreknowledge of the specifics have made things worse? Better? I’ll never know. Today, my son is a wise, humble, and joyful man in a wheelchair, who, in many ways, was reborn at 19.

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Tom Bombadil