The doctors were baffled and therefore, Susan and little Tommy had to stay in the hospital for weeks on end, enduring tests and question after question.
"What did you eat and drink during the pregnancy? Anything unusual about the pregnancy? Were you on hard drugs while pregnant?" The questions never seemed to end and Susan was getting frustrated. She couldn't explain what had happened with her son and why he had an electric cord where his belly button should be. At one point in the pregnancy, she had felt like eating dirt and had a mouthful just to try it, but she was sure that was not the real reason why her son had to be plugged in.
She didn't care, though, really. She was already in love with Tommy, cord and all. He is such a special blessing from God, she thought to herself. All of her children had been special in their own way, but with Tommy, she could feel his potential lurking under the surface and knew that he was somehow different.
It wasn't just the obvious external cord that made him different, but it was more something she often caught glimpses of in his eyes. For being a newborn, Tommy seemed to have eyes full of understanding that could see past his infantile position and bore into your soul. It was hard to describe the intuitive feeling she got about this, but she was as positive of its existance as she was that the sky is blue and the grass is green.
When she shared these thoughts with Joe, he never seemed to feel the same way. "Our kid's a vegetable, even when you plug him in. He just makes static and costs us a ton extra on our electricity bills! Susan, I know you think Tommy is in there, but I hate to disappoint you: we don't have a third son, we have a human-looking machine."
At times, if Joe were being honest with himself, he'd admit that he had seen the same look in Tommy's eyes that Susan was describing. However, he couldn't bear thinking that his sperm had caused this malfunction, and his son could really be trapped within his machine-like body. His way of dealing was to maintain his distance through negativity about the whole situation.
Since this wasn't covered in What to Expect When You're Expecting, Susan and Joe had to feel their way through the first few months. Everything was a tough decision. Do we keep him plugged in all of the time? How does he eat? Can we give him a bath without short-ciruiting him? The questions never ended, and the answers weren't always evident. By the time Susan got up the nerve to give Tommy a bath, it had been weeks since he'd left the hospital and he definitely smelled that way.
She hated not being able to care for him the way she had her last four children, as the doctor was worried she might shock herself or the baby if she breast fed him, and the first time she gave him formula, she cringed the entire time, worried that Tommy's dependence on electricity would shock or kill him. As it turned out, he never got shocked, but he wouldn't or couldn't eat for quite awhile.
It took a baby commercial where a child was drinking out of a bottle to allow him to eat. Susan had him plugged into the same outlet as the TV, as his eyes seemed to sparkle more with life when he was plugged in alongside a machine that allowed for words and thought, and all of a sudden, he started to cry. It was an earnest, child-like cry that reminded Susan of the sounds her earlier children made when they were hungry. On a whim, she decided to try to feed him, and while a baby was on the screen, Tommy ate like a champion for the first time by himself.
The other four kids and neighbors got such a kick out of Tommy. James, the oldest, often waited until his mother and father were out of the room to plug Tommy in with a strange machine, like a blender or toaster. He had already learned as well that different appliances plugged in with Tommy gave him the ability to mimic the machine and yielded some hilarious entertainment.
One day, he plugged Tommy in with a blender and laughed hysterically as Tommy thrashed around, drool flying from his mouth. Another day, he plugged Tommy in with the refigerator and watched as he began to turn blue and shiver from the transferrance of cold from the fridge. Luckily, Susan had been in the next room and heard the children laughing and came in to investigate, immediately unplugging Tommy and putting him in an outlet with a heating blanket so he could warm up.
* * *
After the initial shock and constant worry wore off, it began to be cute. Once plugged in with the TV or radio, the Smiths discovered that Tommy could talk, even at one month old. And not just small words or baby talk; he could form complete sentences and thoughts and speak them aloud, but no one was sure if he understood what he was saying or just mimicking like a parrot.
There was no one who could resist Tommy's adorable impersonations.
"I swear, Sue," Jane, the neighbor exclaimed. "That boy's going to be a stand-up comic some day. I mean, he plays Steve Martin better than Steve Martin in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels! And have you seen him reel off an entire Sesame Street episode verbatim?"
"He did the funniest thing the other day," Susan replied. "Marge and Bill from across the street stopped by to drop off some DVDs you wanted to watch, and Tommy was right in the middle of Days of Our Lives. It took Marge about five mintues to figure out he was just playing the parts of the actors and not really telling her that he had cheated on her sister. Oh! We laughed a long time about that one!" Susan giggles, remembering. "Can you imagine? My son, speaking on the first day he came out of the womb, and not stopping since. Big words, too!" Susan beamed and Jane looked jealous.
"I guess it's not so bad now, but what happens when he goes to school? You know how cruel kids can be, and if he can only impersonate people, he is going to be thrown out of class for being the clown or being too slow to comprehend," Jane retorted, trying to regain her ground.
"I know, Jane," replied Susan, "but what can I do? I know Tommy is in there somewhere; I have to just keep trying new combinations of appliances. I know I'll find the right one that can free him from the electrical prison he's in. And hopefully that will happen before he is ready for school; if not, I'll just home school him until he is ready."
Jane gave Susan a look that said, Well, good luck with that! and made an excuse to leave.
As soon as the door closed, Susan sank into the couch and started crying.