My daughter wants to eat a woman who shares her birthday
Updated: May 18
The only way this is going to make sense is if I start at the beginning: August 21, 1982.
A baby girl was born shortly after midnight. I wasn’t the mother’s doctor, but I was the attending on the same labor and delivery floor. Even though the newborn’s Apgar was good, she was clearly in great distress. The on-call pediatrician raced the child to the NICU. Twenty minutes later, I was called to consult.
“You want me to check on the mother?” I’m an obstetrician. I care for pregnant women and deliver their babies. Once they’re born, the infants become pediatric patients. Why was I being called into the neonatal unit?
“No, Dr. Kaizen. It’s the child. Please come to the NICU.” I heard panic creeping into my colleague’s voice.
The baby lay in a NICU incubator, screaming. The nursing staff stood at a distance. None of them were looking at the child. They stared at the floor, or the far wall, or at me. These were experienced neonatal ICU nurses. They had dealt with every horrible condition that could possibly result from birth. But whatever was in the incubator had rattled them.
“How is this an obstetrics case?”
The pediatrician gestured to the incubator. “Please examine the patient, Dr. Kaizen, and tell me what you think.”
The baby girl looked like a healthy birthweight baby – eight pounds or so. But her abdomen was terribly distended. She certainly had a good reason for screaming.
I gently palpated the girl’s bulging belly, expecting to feel signs of fluid or gas. I didn’t. Instead, I felt an enlarged uterus. The fundus was near the infant’s sternum. I gently squeezed the sides of the child’s belly, feeling with my fingertips a miniature version of what I feel with my whole hands in adult patients. I placed my palm on her tiny belly. There was an almost imperceptible flutter, then something gently pushed against my hand.
I turned to the NICU staff. Their eyes were locked on me, hands holding their mouths or touching their foreheads.
I said, “this infant is pregnant. And she is in labor.”
I did my best to remain calm, but I heard my voice crack as I spoke. Something was inside this newborn. Something had grown Inside her as she developed in the womb, and it wanted to get out. I have as much experience as the NICU nurses with the terrible effects of abnormal pregnancies. No matter what condition my patients and their fetuses had suffered from, I had never felt what I felt at that moment: fear. Fear of what was inside of this baby.
I delivered the infant’s baby by cesarean section. The operation, normally performed on an adult to deliver a normal-sized child, was difficult and time-consuming due to the mother being an infant herself. When I was done, I held the infant’s own baby in my hand. A tiny, two-inch long, but fully developed and very much alive baby girl. My fear dissipated, and was replaced with a more ordinary sense of concern. This impossible little baby who, only two hours earlier, filled me with fear, was, in the end, still a baby. She needed to be cared for.
Premature babies – children born months too soon – require extreme interventions to keep them alive. Lungs, for example, require nearly nine months to mature. Premature babies as small as the child I delivered always require breathing support.
But this baby had no breathing problems. Her color was good. She cried normally. Her lungs had the full nine months of development. Somehow this child had been conceived at nearly the same time as her mother, and gestated for nine months inside her simultaneously gestating parent. This, of course, is impossible.
“How did you get here?” I asked her after I gently lay her in her own NICU incubator. “Don’t answer that,” I said. “I think I’ll be better off if I don’t know.”
* * *
The grandmother – the twenty-two-year-old woman who delivered a pregnant baby – wanted nothing to do with the miraculous daughter her new child delivered. She referred to her granddaughter as “the excess tissue you removed from my baby.”
The NICU nurses never warmed up to the grandchild. They did the minimum necessary to keep her healthy, but they didn’t dote affection and attention onto her as they did with their other tiny patients.
I’m not religious, but I do believe in the idea of universal balance. Cosmically, and individually. Three years earlier, my life was thrown into imbalance when my wife died of an aneurism. This tiny girl born to an infant mother – the girl referred to as excess tissue – filled me with a sense of direction. I sensed in her a path towards the equilibrium that I lost. I adopted her. I named her Helen.
The grandmother’s reaction, and the impersonal way the NICU nurses treated Helen told me that I needed to hide the circumstances of her birth. If her grandmother and the nursing staff couldn’t find a way to see Helen as a person, then how would the rest of the world treat her?
From the perspective of the adoption papers, Helen was born premature to a mother who was not competent to raise her. (This is true – how could her mother, an infant, raise another infant?) The family, the paperwork recorded, did not want anything to do with the child (also true). The fact that Helen’s mother was only ninety minutes older than Helen was omitted.
The adoption process required a maternity and a paternity test. Both parents must approve the adoption. Given Helen’s strange background, we tested her mother (the infant) and her grandmother (the twenty-two-year-old new mom) and her husband. The DNA analysis proved that the infant who bore Helen was indeed Helen’s mother. The twenty-two-year-old mom and her husband were Helen’s grandparents.
The implication is astounding. Nine months before Helen was born, some unknown male DNA entered her mother, who had yet to be born. That DNA somehow combined with the mother’s and Helen began to exist.
* * *
I raised Helen and she grew up. She was a normal kid. Mostly. I hate to gloss over, or trivialize our happy years together. Please try to picture a single dad happily raising a beautiful, brilliant, and energetic daughter. The incidents I recount here only stand out now that I see what Helen became. Were these warnings that I ignored, or that I rationalized away as evidence of Helen’s fantastic imagination?
The first incident happened when Helen was eight years old. We were eating lunch at the mall food court. I was talking to her and I paused for her to respond. She didn’t. Her attention was laser focused on something on the other side of the seating area. I turned and followed her gaze. Another girl, about the same age as Helen, stood in line with her mother to get pizza. I got a sick feeling in my gut when I realized who the mother was. I had only met Helen’s grandmother a few times, but I remember what she looked like. The little girl ordering pizza was Helen’s mother. The woman was Helen’s grandmother. At that time, Helen had no idea that she was adopted.
“Why are you looking at those people, Helen?”
“I’m looking at the girl. I want to eat her.”
“Why? Why do you want to eat another person?”
“Not any person, dad. Just her.”
“Helen. That’s not an appropriate thing to say.”
“I know. But it might help me get out one day.”
“Get out? Out of what?”
She never answered.
The second strange event occurred when Helen was ten, during a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We wandered the galleries together. I paid more attention to what Helen found interesting than to the art itself. I wanted to know what she found boring and what inspired her. We found ourselves in front of a 19th century oil painting depicting Christ’s descent into hell. The gloomy painting featured a desolate landscape, a burning city filled with the dead, monsters, demons, the river Styx, and, of course, Jesus himself breaking down the gate to gain entry into hell to rescue the “souls of the just.”
Helen stopped abruptly in front of the painting. She stepped towards it, studying the painting so closely her nose almost brushed the canvas. She examined each detail carefully, moving deliberately from each figure or feature to the next so she wouldn’t overlook anything. Finally, she scrutinized the depiction of Christ breaking down the gate to Hell. She started giggling, then laughing loudly.
“What’s so funny?” I wasn’t worried at that point, just curious.
“The picture is so silly!”
“Christ’s descent into Hell is … silly?”
“The gate is silly. The gate is the way out of Hell, not into it. You don’t need to break in. You need to break out. It’s just so funny. Plus, the door isn’t big enough.”
Now I was worried. The image of Helen’s mother, screaming in the NICU incubator, with Helen squirming inside of her flashed into my mind’s eye. The fear that I experienced when I felt Helen kicking in her mother’s miniature womb flooded me.
“Helen…What are you talking about?”
“When I go to Hell, I’m going to eat my way out. Through my bloodline.”
“Helen, why do you think you’re going to Hell? That’s a very sad thing for a little girl to believe.”
“It’s just something I know. I remember it, even though it hasn’t happened yet.”
Then she skipped away to the next gallery of paintings.
The final incident that stands out, in hindsight, as some kind of red flag, happened seven years ago. Helen was doing post-doctoral work at Lawrence Livermore but was home for leave during the Christmas holiday. Helen was a workaholic, she might have been on vacation, but she never stopped working.
During the time she was home that year, she worked even more intensely than usual – and that’s saying a lot. She earned a physics PhD from CalTech in just three years. I don’t think she worked fewer than twelve hours a day even once during those three years.
I was happy she was home, but she was so focused on a lab-related problem that it was more like having a cardboard cutout of my daughter visiting me than an actual person. For nearly a week, all my attempts to start a conversation failed. She’d respond with one-syllable answers to my questions and immediately curl back around her notebook. Finally, I asked her what she was working on.
She stared at me, blinking for a minute. Her mind slowly descended from the world of high energy physics to the world of normal human interaction.
“Oh. Uh. Sure.”
She handed me her notebook – a hardcover journal with the word Record stenciled on the front. I opened the book to the page she had been writing on. The only way I can describe what I saw there was that it was satanic.
A pentagram – an upside-down star inscribed in a circle – filled half the page. The rest was filled with intricately drawn symbols. Strange curving shapes drawn from an alphabet I had never seen. Decorative lines linked the constellations of symbols. Lines with loops, curves with arrows. Arcs with circles and triangles drawn on top of them.
“Helen, what … what is this?”
“Dad. It’s math.”
“It looks like you’re, I don’t know, worshiping the Devil.”
“The Devil? Really?” She started laughing. It was the first time I heard her laugh since she arrived five days earlier. “Lucifer? The lord of lies? Or is it flies? One of those! Ha!”
“I’m not trying to be, like, I don’t know, Tipper Gore,” I said “I’m just saying, it looks a little wacko.”
She laughed so hard she fell out of the chair. She finally recovered and climbed back into it. “It’s a problem for work. I’m trying to design a thermal stabilization system. These devil words, or whatever you think they are, are just stochastic tensors. The whole thing is just a huge stochastic differential equation problem.”
“What about this demon summoning thing. The pentagram?”
She turned off the hilarity. “Now that’s interesting. When you do the math, as I’ve clearly done here, It turns out that a star inside a circle is the optimum shape of the thermal elements we need to stabilize the –“ She cut herself off, paused, and chose her next words carefully. “To stabilize the thing that needs stabilizing.”
I was going to press her. I know she works on classified projects at the lab and isn’t free to say much about them, but I thought I could tease out a little more information about what she was actually doing with her life. But then she changed the topic to the subject I’d been dreading since that terrible and wonderful night that she was born.
“Dad, when you adopted me. Do you remember if you came across any information about my biological family? Specifically, about my biological father?”
“Oh Helen.” I flopped onto the couch. “Why do you want to know about your father?”
“It’s not like I want to meet my birth family and try to get all kumbaya. Believe it or not, I have a professional interest in the subject.”
“Helen. Nobody knows who your father is.”
“That’s what I thought.” Then she dropped the subject. My daughter, who pursues everything she’s ever been interested in with a relentless white-hot intensity, simply dropped her questions about her own father.
* * *
I hardly saw, or even talked to Helen after that Christmas. Her visits home became infrequent. We would go six months or more between phone calls. Then she died.
She was working on a project for the Army. Not at Livermore, they said. Somewhere else. There was an accident involving a high-energy experiment. She was killed along with twelve other scientists. Their bodies were vaporized. There were no remains.
Losing a wife and a daughter is too much for one lifetime. I couldn’t work after that. I had to retire. I grieved. I tried to kill myself. I spent three weeks in an institution. I somehow inched my way back to something that looks like a functional person. Then the mail started showing up.
The Army, apparently, never stopped sending her paychecks. Six months after Helen died, a rubber-band-bound bundle of pay stubs with her name but my address arrived in my mailbox.
W2 forms showed up next. Paperwork for benefits enrollment. Retirement account statements showing ongoing contributions. The paperwork that modern life produces kept coming. I called her HR office dozens of times. Their answer was always the same. “We’re sorry for the confusion. We’ll look into it.”
Then an envelope from a company named Parental DNA Analysis appeared in my mailbox. It was addressed to Helen. I tore it open while standing in the driveway. It contained the results of a paternity test:
Child: Helen Kaizen
Father: Hair sample supplied by client
Probability of Paternity: 99.999999998%
Somehow, before she died, Helen had found her father. She had found the person whose DNA entered her mother’s embryo and, contrary to everything known about human development, produced a child. Or, she had at-least produced a hair sample from the man who contributed half her genome.
* * *
I saw Helen. She’s changed.
I was returning from running errands when she arrived at my house. I knew something was happening when I turned into my neighborhood. The streets were full of dogs. What looked to be every neighborhood dog, labradors, chihuahuas, and everything in between, were running around like crazy. They were barking, growling, crying, jumping, and nipping at the air. Their owners were futilely running after them.
I pulled into my driveway. There was a package next to the door. It was addressed to Helen.
I lugged the heavy cardboard box into the living room. The package was only the size of a banker’s box, but it was as heavy as a box of rocks. I sighed. Why was Helen’s death nearly as strange as her birth? I wondered what I would be doing at that moment if the aneurism hadn’t taken my wife two decades earlier. Would I be happier?
I opened the box. Inside was a steel case – the kind of case you’d use to ship something expensive and fragile. A post-it was stuck to the top of the steel case. On it, someone had written:
Dad, open this ASAP.
I pulled the steel case out of the cardboard shipping box and thunked it down it on the dining-room table. I undid the heavy-duty latches and opened it. Inside was a tablet computer. Underneath that was hard plastic case.
Another post-it note was stuck to the tablet screen:
Turn me on
I did. It booted into a heavily customized version of the regular operating system and automatically started a messaging app. I typed a message:
I waited a minute. Another minute. Someone finally typed a response:
Dad. What is my mother’s name?
I started to cry. This was probably a joke, or a crazily complicated scam. But the thought that maybe I was messaging Helen was too irresistible. I never saw her body. Her paychecks keep showing up in my mailbox. Why couldn’t I be talking to her?
Helen! Where are you?
Another long pause.
Dad, I know who my father is. I met him. I need to find my mother. I know how I was born. I know you know who my mother is. Tell me her name and I’ll tell you where I am.
I truly didn’t know her mother’s name. The infant I performed the cesarean section on was less than half-an-hour old when I operated. She hadn’t even been given a name yet.
I don’t know your mother’s name Helen. But I know your grandmother’s name.
Then I typed in the name of the woman who said my daughter was just excess tissue.
A minute passed. Then five. Was Helen gone?
Open the smaller case. Turn the camera on.
I pulled the black plastic case out of the steel box and opened it. Inside was a video camera nestled in a custom-cut foam insert. A sticker on the camera said “LL FLIR Calibrated” and the date less than two weeks earlier. It was an infrared camera from Lawrence Livermore. I found the power switch and waited for it to come to life. I typed into the tablet:
A stared at the screen without blinking. She finally wrote:
I’m in the back yard.
I ran through the kitchen and flung open the back door. The yard was empty. I collapsed on the threshold and wept. Whoever I had been messaging to was not Helen. It was a joke.
I heard a growl. The beagle who lived next store was standing by my back-yard gate. The dog bared its teeth and snarled at my empty back yard.
The dog thought something was there. Whoever I was messaging on the tablet said they were in my back yard. I’m slow sometimes. I realized the camera in my hand was there for a reason.
I lifted the camera and scanned it across the yard. Something was there. Something huge, rendered in the infrared camera’s garish shades of yellow, pink, and red was standing directly in front of me. It was too close and too big to see all at once through the camera’s narrow field-of-view.
I started by aiming the camera at the grass. I saw four huge feet with long, five-jointed-jointed toes protruding at odd angles. It was hard to get a sense of their size on the infrared, but my guess was that each foot was the size of yoga ball. I ran inside the house and slammed the door.
I caught my breath and peered out the back window. To my naked eye, the back yard was still empty. I aimed the camera out the window. The same feet were visible in the infrared spectrum. I raised the camera. The thing had a body like – I don’t know what. An upside-down dog merged with an octopus. It made no sense. Appendages with a dozen elbows sprouted irregularly from the body. The arms or tentacles or whatever you’d call them ended in hoofs, bird feet, and human-like hands. One of the hands held a tablet computer identical to the one I left on the living room table.
A face was senselessly placed on the side of the thing’s body. There was no neck, nothing to even suggest a head. Just a face stuck on the body like an afterthought. I aimed the camera at the face. The autofocus worked for a moment and the face became clear. It was Helen.
I flashed back to that moment, decades earlier, when I put my hand on the screaming baby’s belly and felt Helen kick. My first reaction had been fear. I had felt terror and revulsion at the idea that somehow, a baby had been born pregnant. That someone – something – had put it’s seed into an embryo, and produced a creature. That same terror and revulsion filled me when I saw Helen’s face on the side of the monster.
Years ago, I was able to put my fear aside, and do my job as a doctor; to deliver Helen into the world. I had to do the same thing today. I had to put my fear aside and do my job as a father.
I flung the kitchen door open and shouted into the back yard. “Helen!“
A pause, then new text on the tablet.
I needed the conversation to keep going. I couldn’t let this, this insane situation, be the last time I saw my daughter. I yelled “I got the paternity test results! The hair sample was from your father!”
“Who is he?”
A man who died a long time ago.
Then she typed one last message to me.
Thank you, Dad. This is what I need to be doing now. There’s only a 37.9% chance that I’ll see you again. Sorry.
I looked into the yard with the camera. She was gone.
* * *
I began this post by saying that it wouldn’t make sense unless I started at the beginning. Well, I did start at the beginning and it probably still doesn’t make any sense.
I’ve gotten used to the idea that I’m not going to ever fully understand Helen’s life, death, and whatever you call what came after. Given the few fragments of information I have, any decision I make about what I should do next is going to be half-baked. But, baked or not, choosing a course of action will at-least feel like forward motion. If I move forward long enough, then maybe I’ll escape the despair that Helen left me with.
There’s one more thing I want to document here. If there’s anyone that cares about what I’ve done, and what I’m about to do, maybe it will help them understand my reasons.
I stayed in bed for three or four days after I saw Helen, or the thing that wore her face. I got up a few times to trash the house, throw plates and glassware around, and knock over furniture. Eventually I had to clean up. The last thing I put away was the steel box that held the tablet and the camera. As I was putting the items back in the box, I discovered something at the bottom of the steel container: The notebook Helen brought home for our last Christmas together. The notebook that I said looked like it belonged to a Devil worshipper.
I found the page that Helen was working on during that Christmas vacation. I know she said it was math – stochastic differential equations and tensors – but it still looked satanic to me.
The rest of the journal was filled with her research work. Most of the remaining fifty pages held nothing but math. Some of it looked like the satanic runes on the page with the pentagram, and some held the standard curvy integral signs and Greek letters that I remembered from my college calculus classes.
Something on the last page caught my eye. A mess of computations that started twelve pages earlier ended with this line:
Selection ratio = 0.379
The last thing Helen wrote to me included that same number: There’s only a 37.9% chance that I’ll see you again.
I have spent the last three months studying those twelve pages of calculations. The main thing I’ve learned was that Helen was far more brilliant than I realized. Whatever problem she worked out on those last twelve pages drew from the fields of probability, statistics, game theory, population dynamics, Bayesian analysis, and non-Euclidean geometry.
I went over the notebook again and again. What was 37.9%? What was she calculating? As far as I can tell, which isn’t very far, she was studying some attribute of people who have died. There is nothing conclusive in her notebooks, so I have to guess. Based on data gathered in high-energy physics experiments at Lawrence Livermore, Helen calculated that that 37.9% of people who die continue to experience some form of existence after death.
With one exception, I don’t regret anything that I’ve done in Helen’s impossible life. I would do it all over again – from performing a cesarean section on a pregnant infant, to adopting the child I delivered, to saying goodbye to whatever it is that she became.
The only regret I have is that I didn’t learn her mother’s name.
I often think back to the day in the mall, when Helen was eight years old. She had no idea that the girl on the other side of the food court was her mother. But Helen sensed something. Not a maternal bond, or a vague sense of familiarity. Whatever eight-year-old Helen sensed in that child activated something dark inside of her. Helen said “I want to eat her.” I think she meant it literally.
Eight-year-old Helen said that eating her mother might “help her get out one day.” I don’t know what she thought she needed to get out of, but if helping Helen get out of something she’s stuck in can return me to her, then I’m going to help.
I went online. I went to the courthouse and dug through moldering adoption paperwork. I hired a private investigator. I dug into the past and discovered the name of the infant who was my surgical patient on that terrible and wonderful night in 1982. That baby is an adult now. I found her address. Her employer. Her credit history. I didn’t care about HIPPA regulations, privacy agreements, or anything like that. I gathered, bought, and stole all the information I could find about the family that I adopted Helen from.
The box that contained that tablet, camera, and her notebook had a return address label on it. A PO box in Livermore, California. I put everything I learned about Helen’s mother into an envelope and sent it to that PO box.
One more task remains. A task that has a 37.9% chance of success. I need to see my daughter again. I need to exist in a universe where she also exists.
I have decided to kill myself. It wasn’t an easy decision. It was based on imperfect information and guesswork about Helen’s research. But death feels like forward motion. Motion towards an existence where I can be with my daughter.
Posting this strange memoir is my final living act. I have no family left to say goodbye to. My close friendships withered decades ago. Perhaps the information I’ve written here will be useful to investigators, or to people related to the woman who referred to my daughter as excess tissue.
Hopefully the information I sent to the PO box will make its way to Helen, and she will finally eat the woman who shares her birthday.
Goodbye. If my daughter’s calculations are correct, and my plan succeeds, there is a 37.9% I’ll meet you one day.
Where was Helen? What was she doing there? Find out in Second Death