Babies aren’t supposed to laugh until they are three or four months old. But Jennifer laughed the day she was born. Not so much a laugh as a giggle, not so much a giggle as a chirp, Jennifer looked me right in the eyes during her first bath in the kitchen sink. As I raised both hands to my face in astonishment, she laughed a second time and swam down the drain.
Shrieking, I shoved an arm down the drain. The icy blades of the garbage disposal ripping my forearm, I writhed and struggled to reach down further and further. When at last I could stretch no further I collapsed to the floor, sobbing.
And then, from the room where my wife lay sleeping off the trauma of labor, I heard a soft cooing. Stumbling in, I found my wife wide awake on her back, her eyes fixed on the ceiling, her mouth turned into an exhausted smile. That’s when I heard Jennifer laughing the third time, the sound lilting down from the spot above the ceiling fan.
Raising a drainpipe daughter was not always easy, although feeding her was simple enough—we’d pour her food down the kitchen sink drain, first breastmilk, then formula, then pureed vegetables. Eventually we moved to using a blender for her meals, liquifying steak and potatoes, chicken and rice, lasagna and salad. But when she’d get sick she throw it all back up, spraying the walls with geysers of vomit erupting from the bathroom sinks. Sometimes she wouldn’t eat, her dinner slurry festering in the drainpipes flooding the house with a wretched smell.
My wife loved game time the most. Jennifer was a master of hide-and-seek; the only time she ever lost was when my wife hid in the attic, accidentally discovering the only place Jennifer was terrified of going. At night when we’d watch television a pair of transparent eyes would sometimes briefly appear only to dart away at the sight of something scary. More than once we had to turn the television off when things got too violent or “adult.”
As she grew Jennifer became more and more bold. I remember once catching her peeking up out of the toilet bowl when she was thirteen, her fingers and nose perched on the rim.
At sixteen she traveled through the pipes and escaped into the backyard pond. She swam for hours, circling near the bottom, chasing tiny fish, marveling at a frog. Not once did she break the surface.
And then one day when she was eighteen she stood up near the edge of that pond. Staring back at us, she waved and gave one final laugh before disappearing back into the water and swimming away through the drainage pipe on the other side of the lake. We haven’t seen her since. And oh, how we miss her laughter: echoing from room to room, from hallway to hallway.