TRUE! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?… Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story…
After months of pre-natal yoga, shopping for eco-conscious baby gear, and decorating the nursery in a shade of green thought to promote infant creativity, we were ready. Marissa’s water broke, and twelve gruesome hours later we welcomed a healthy boy named Oliver into this beautiful world.
I had but one thought: I had to take The Photo. Marissa, illuminated with the glow of motherhood, holding tiny Ollie. It was like the Madonna and Child, only slightly more religious.
At first, I suspected the Valencia filter, with its yellow gleam, might perfectly complement Oliver’s adorable ruddiness. But then I thought, You know what? No filter. And this, in fact, became the crown jewel on the top of my caption. “#AndJustLikeThat #WelcomeOliver #NoFilter.”
I showed my phone to Marissa.
“Oh, it’s perfect,” she said. “’Gram it!”
I pressed “Share,” unbearably moved by the thought that this precious, intimate moment would soon be delivered to my entire network.
The nurse laid Oliver down to sleep in a little bassinet by the window. I was so consumed in tending to Marissa, that it wasn’t until she’d fallen asleep, and over two hours had passed, that I remembered to check the ol’ Insta. I felt a quiver of anticipation. My Niagara Falls sunset had gotten 67 likes. What would Oliver get?
I opened the app and saw, in the lower right hand corner, a little heart.
And next to it, the preposterous number “3.”
I assumed it hadn’t refreshed. The hospital had spotty Wi-Fi, after all. I went to settings, clicked off Wi-Fi and refreshed using my data plan.
Still only three likes….
My heart began to pound. Should I have used the Valencia?
I tapped to see the identities of the three likers:
- Toddzilla71, a co-worker notorious for doling out likes indiscriminately. A glitch had once caused me to post the same photo twice. Todd had liked both.
- Books_not_Boys, the woman I’d briefly dated before Marissa. What did her like mean? She’d left a comment. It was the stone head emoji from Easter Island. I frowned, puzzled.
- The final “like” was from a bluegrass band I’d never heard of named And Just Like That. The jackals had obviously come for the hashtag.
I was sweating now.
But wait! Not even my own mother had ‘liked’ it? I nearly laughed in relief. Something was up. There was no way my mother wouldn’t ‘like’ the first photo of her grandchild. I called her in Michigan.
After some pleasantries, I cut to the chase.
“Oh no!” she said. “I tried to download the update but it froze. I’m going to my class at the Apple Store later — they’ll help me. But I can’t wait to meet Oliver next week!”
I hung up, still unsatisfied.
I opened Instagram, and clicked “activity.”
The Instagram universe was bustling. Clearly, this was peak ‘gramming hours. People had just gotten out of work, and were jonesing for pure, unadulterated time with their phones, not just the hungry kisses, stolen in momentary increments throughout the day.
Then, I saw something that shocked me to my core.
Among the names, I saw that Barbara47 — my mother — had liked 5 photos in the last 26 minutes. And just 17 seconds ago she’d posted… a selfie.
Frantic, I looked at Marissa. And a chill ran down my spine. She had been on her phone before she’d fallen asleep. But even she hadn’t liked the photo. I shook her awake.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? You’re very pale.”
“Did you see the photo I posted of you and Oliver?”
“Yes, I told you. It’s perfect.”
“Then why in god’s name didn’t you ‘like’ it?”
“Silly,” said Marissa. “I was waiting until it reached eleven ‘likes.’ Otherwise people would see that I ‘liked’ it.”
“But darling, this is a catch-22. At this rate, we may never reach eleven ‘likes.’”
“Wait,” Marissa asked, with a furrowing brow. “How many ‘likes’ does it have right now?”
I gulped. “Right now?… Three…”
We shared a look of terror.
“Check it again,” Marissa said, her voice hard as nails.
I did. Still three.
I looked out the window at the blood red sunset. The Easter Island head? Mother’s lies? What did it all mean?
“Should I delete it?” I asked. “And take a new one? A different caption, maybe? No, that’s pathetic. What kind of father am I going to be if I can’t even post a good photo? This is the beginning of a lifetime of humiliation for this poor child.”
“No,” Marissa said. “It’s me. I look terrible — that’s why no one liked it. Crop me out, David, I’m a monster!”
“Stop. You look beautiful!” I said.
Did Marissa look beautiful? I wondered. Yeah. Pretty, certainly. Would it be too cruel to leave her so soon after she’d given birth to our child? What could one loser do to help another loser? Should we cut our losses?
No, no, that wasn’t the solution. It wasn’t her… she had just given birth, for god’s sake. Surely my followers weren’t expecting Beyoncé at the Grammy’s.
“But if it isn’t me…” Marissa said.
A pregnant pause filled the maternity ward. We looked over at our sleeping son. He was delicious… wasn’t he? Well, newborn babies aren’t exactly what you think of when you think of babies, actually. Newborns have hardly developed yet. One second ago they were floating inside a womb! What did these people want? This was a human being we had made. Willed into being from thin air. Wasn’t that enough for these sadists? Enough for a like or two? A paltry click?!
“David,” Marissa said. “Are you thinking… what I’m thinking?”
“I can’t breathe,” I gasped. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
Together, we crept to the elevator.
We waited for what felt like an eternity, got in, and Marissa furtively pressed “L.” We were silent as the elevator descended. The doors opened with a ping. We walked out of the hospital, free to go. No one gave us so much as a second glance.
Just as we exited onto the street, I felt a vibration on my thigh, and instantly began salivating. It was a tremor that I had grown to crave, to imagine in my dreams — the one that meant, “Someone out there likes me.” Someone, somewhere, had heeded my pitiful cry. They hadn’t left me screaming into the dark abyss. Their click said: “I see your smoke signal; you are not alone. You have asked for love. Dry your tears, child, because here, I give you: my heart.’”
I checked my phone.
Five new ‘likes’ had trickled in. That made eight. If Marissa gave in and ‘liked’ it, nine. Then if I ‘liked’ it — it would be disgraceful, of course, for a time — both our names appearing there, like Scarlet Letters. But what great endeavor did not have its beginnings in awful, repugnant shame? And mother, she would come around. She had to. Then we’d be off to the races.
Marissa and I stared at each other. We raced up the stairs, taking them three at a time, and barreled back into the room. There, we embraced our beautiful son and welcomed him into this sick, sick world.