So there I was surrounded wall-to-wall with babies. And when I say wall-to-wall, I literally mean a lattice of a thousand living, breathing, curtain crawlers with small arms and round bellies and beady eyes crying from the floor and drooling from the ceiling. And we’re not talking metaphorically here. I was literally up to my ankles—my freakin’ knees with babies. Wiggle bums to my left, waddle heads to my right. And I thought back to when I was six years old at the beach, my mom warning me of stingrays lurking in the sand before I waded out into the waves, and how shuffling your feet scares the stingrays and prevents you from stepping on their stingers. She called it the stingray shuffle. And although babies don’t have stingers, per say, that doesn’t mean I wanted to squish the lil buggers, you know? Babies are people too. Just smaller. But if I was to get out of that place—that womb of a room—I had to move. So, I stingray shuffled into the baby abyss while they clawed at my calves with their nail-less nubs. And it’s not like I wanted to step on their flailing limbs or soft skulls, but I had to move, right? I mean, I couldn’t just stand there like a hollowed-out tree up to my knees in slobber heads for the rest of my God-given life, could I? I’m a person too. I’ve got aspirations. Dreams. A will to live. And what do babies got? Fuck off if you think they’ve got aspirations. Longing for a nip to the lips is about all a baby’s got to live for. And that’s the thing about babies. They’re inherently shallow. Shallowness is in their nature. They’re driven by primal baby desires. While I, on the other hand, want to retire and become the mayor of Ramona when I’m ripe and old. And sure, Ramona only has a population of 20,292, at least at the time of this writing, but my point is I want to make a difference in people’s lives. I want to make the world a better place for the people of Ramona. I want to have a lover with a bob cut and a child that finds joy in watchmaking instead of team sports. I want to buy a Great Dane and train it to walk on its hindquarters when the doorbell rings and howl at the moon like its ancestors once did while spying from the pines, salivating at the thought of devouring the sleeping shepherd’s flock. Look, I’m teeming with aspirations. Teeming! And all babies got are shit in their diapers and dried carrots on their cheeks. I have zero of those qualities. Zero. So, can you hardly blame me when I began to shuffle forward? Slowly, of course. Carefully I moved. At least I tried to be careful. But was it really my fault that a coin-sized hand with wriggling fingers got in the way of the heel of my boot? Fuckin’ aye! There’s nothing shriller than the yowl of a baby. It’s downright piercing. A sonic meat hook to the ribs, ripping into something hardwired.

So, I stood still and attempted to gather myself and move my boot from its tiny fingers all while considering my position in this world. I stood and considered, and I weighed all the things that mattered in one’s life. Things like the joy of moving forward rather than standing still and the sweet flavor of freshly spun cotton candy and the exhilaration of splitting lanes on a moped during gridlock traffic. I considered those things until my skin itched from going nowhere. I was slowly dying due to the passing of time and my guts hungered to move—to move forward while a pair of gums gnawed at my ankle with little goose teeth as if my ankle were a ripe nip—teeth that would one day wriggle loose and hang by a strand of gum-skin until a thumb and forefinger yanked it free and placed it under a pillow for a pair of shiny quarters or five dollar bill if your parents were ballers. And as I stood stationary with the hunger to move gnawing at my liver, I began to despise those babies. Those slobbering obstacles blocking my way. And I knew it was not their fault that I was stuck there with our respective existences colliding. But nonetheless, they did exist and so did I—do I—that is to say, as I do exist in the present, but those babies posed an existential threat to my past. And as the ceiling drooled on my head and gooped into my hair and splattered against my cheeks, I slapped my thigh and yelled to the cave of babies, “Enough is an enough, you sons of bitches!” Although I will admit, I didn’t really know where they came from and assumed they weren’t literally from the uteruses of female dogs—that is to say the mothers of those babies could, for all I knew, be very nice and polite people with good jobs and big aspirations and high moral standards. But nonetheless, how those Gerber-faced cherubs got there or where they came from wasn’t the matter at hand. What mattered was shuffling got me nowhere fast and I needed to move, so I decided to step. One foot after the other. And then I felt it: the rubbery bone of an arm, or perhaps it was a leg, it’s difficult to say since the arms and legs of babies are basically the same size—but whatever it was, it cracked beneath my boot. And, of course, I felt crummy for the little critter. I felt crummy because I’m the kind of person that cares for the well-being of others! I want the world to be a better place for Christ sake, especially for the people of Ramona.

You got to believe me. I’m no monster. In fact, I’m even a vegan most of the time; although I don’t wear it on my sleeve that I believe the murder of animals is immoral, and I even used to donate to PETA until they campaigned for the rights of flies and that’s where I drew the line, but my point is that I do care about the suffering of babies just as much or more as the next guy. But it was them or me. And I had as much of a right to live as they did, didn’t I? After all, it is our God-given right to move forward! So, I no longer shuffled or stepped but treaded. I treaded through those ankle-suckers—treaded through that sea of unstable baby-pavers until their yowls turned into howls, or whichever is louder, and I found myself surrounded by little lungs sucking in breath—my breath!— and it was getting hotter and harder to breathe because the babies were swallowing all the oxygen—my oxygen! And it felt as if the room was contracting and growing smaller. And I found myself at the base of the baby wall—their arms and legs intertwined like stubby ivy. And I yanked at a little leg from the lattice of bodies and tossed the thing it was attached to behind me, and it landed with a skin-thunk followed by a chorus of cries. But one baby was not enough to get free, so I tossed another. And another. After all, I had to keep moving. And my heartbeat was kicking. And I was growing upset—downright pissed with those little crumb snatchers. Those personal threats. Those assaults to my progress. And I began to thrash at that wall of small bodies. I began to bash and thrash and attack my way through. Punching and kicking. Punching and kicking and biting and scratching as if I were enclosed in a coffin that was low on oxygen. I tossed the bodies behind me, refusing to gaze at that wake of devastation.

But I was making progress. I was moving forward. And the angrier I got, the faster I moved, like digging a hole from a prison cell with a silver spoon—except I was digging through life instead of stone and the further I moved, the more I was enclosed by blood and agony and the bits of soft bodies and the wet blackness of my past, but goddamn it I had aspirations to grab and a grand future to seize—a future that was yet my own. So, I drove frantically through time and life until I finally saw the dawn light emerging—light that pierced through the lattice of skin and slobbering lips—light that glinted off eyes that shined like glass marbles. I felt hopeful. Almost relieved. My will to live pulsed like a warm lump of coal caught in my throat. I continued to thrash forward. Their marble-eyes filled with tears with each thrash as they somehow knew a dark fate was approaching even though they couldn’t know what fate was or that they were, in fact, babies by definition with off switches buried in their brains. But when it came down to the brass tacks of the situation: their fate was not my own. I did not set this world into motion.

Like all things in life, whether watching a Holocaust flick or putting down the family dog, the sadness would soon pass. I would move on—forget that dramatic pickle of my past, the tragedy of existence. It was bad luck for all parties. Their trauma could not be avoided. I could have done nothing different, because what kind of man stands idol while his future slides by like a slick otter on linoleum? Is it my fault that I would go on because I am resilient? Is it my fault that I am without hubris and deserve to move forward—deserve to be happy and to laugh and sing to the stars with a full glass of wine and an ever-round belly that never goes empty? Is it my fault that when I finally thrashed my way into the warm sun that the rays lapped at my skin with hot golden retriever licks and wet grass crunched beneath my boots as I sucked in the sweet sky, free from yowls and the stench of babies? Is it my fault that I cried tears of joy with the past behind me and the future before me? Is it all my fault?