I was born with a gift. At least, that's what my parents always referred to it as. Personally, I wouldn't call it a gift, more of a knowing. An observational skill, if you will. I still remember how for the longest time I would see these things, these numbers, and have no idea what they meant. But now I know. I think I was around eleven years old when I first came to understand what the numbers meant. I was watching television with my parents when a news bulletin came on about a woman in Oxford who had been sentenced for the murder of 17 people. As I watched the footage of her being escorted into the courtroom, there it was. The number 17 floating just above her head like a halo of evil. In that moment I realised, these numbers weren't random. They represented people. Every number I saw would signify the number of people that person would kill in their lifetime.
I saw the world very differently after that day. On a normal day, walking through school and on the way home, I would see a sea of 0's, maybe a few 1's. Sometimes I would walk past a man in the street, the number 3 floating above his head making me feel uneasy. I didn't know anyone personally with anything higher than a one and would always convince myself that those 1's would be due to a car accident or something of the sort, nothing as sinister as murder.
As I grew older, the numbers remained mostly consistent. By this time I had told my parents about my sight and we had agreed between us that it would be safer to keep the facts to ourselves. The first person I knew personally with a larger number was my friend Kyle. I met Kyle at a house party one of our mutual friends was throwing. We hit it off pretty quickly due to having a lot of the same interests, but I was always very uneasy when I would look at him and see the number 5 looming above his head. Five people? Kyle? It didn't seem possible and I very quickly decided that I didn't want to question it.
About three months into our friendship, I woke up one morning to a number of messages on Facebook. All of my friends were frantic about what happened to Kyle but I couldn't get a straight answer out of any of them about what exactly had happened.
After scrolling down a couple of posts on my news-feed though, I had my answer. Kyle had gone to a party with his girlfriend, Amy. They'd gotten pretty drunk but Kyle decided he was still okay to drive home. About a mile into the journey he crashed into an oncoming car after veering into the wrong side of the road. The posts said that the crash was pretty bad and his girlfriend had died instantly. Jesus Christ, I thought. As shocking as this news was, part of me couldn't help but feel guilty. I had known Kyle would kill someone, but I couldn't have known who or when. Right? As I read further into the posts, I found out more about the car Kyle drove into. Their car had flipped from the impact and rolled into a ditch on the side of the road. The driver, a fellow student at our school, had been killed instantly. His three friends who were in the passenger seats had all died in the hospital from their injuries. Five people. Kyle killed five people that night. And I knew it was going to happen.
I carried the guilt of that accident around with me for a long time. I tried to talk to my parents about it and they tried to empathise with me, but I knew they didn't understand. In fact, it was very hard for anyone to understand why I was feeling like that, until I met Melanie. The most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. We started dating about eight months after Kyle's accident and I felt a connection with her that I'd never felt with anyone. She was the first person after my parents that I had ever told about my 'gift' and I was so relieved when she didn't freak out and leave me. She was so kind to me and so understanding about it. She was so curious about it and seemed to have an endless stash of questions. I was a little caught off guard when she stared at me, wide eyed and asked me what number was above her head. She was a zero. I told her this and it was almost as if I could see a little wave of relief wash over her. I loved all the questions she would ask, it felt good to finally be able to talk to someone about it, and to have them be genuinely interested in what I had to say.
We'd been dating for about a year when she asked me something that my parents had never asked. "Jamie, can I ask you something?" she asked sheepishly.
"Yeah, of course," I replied.
"Well, I always wanted to ask you this, but I could never find the right moment 'cos it always seemed a bit too... personal."
"Come on, I'm sure by now nothing you could ask me would be 'too personal'," I chuckled.
"Well, okay. I was just wondering... when you look in the mirror do you see a number above your own head?" She looked up at me curiously, her big green eyes fixing on me.
"Actually, yeah. When I look in the mirror I see the number 13," I told her, looking down at my feet.
"Oh my God," she whispered as she took a step back. "Are you serious?"
"No, of course I'm not serious," I replied, unable to stop the smile growing on my face. "I'm a zero, just like you."
Melanie and I married a little over two years ago, and just a couple of days ago we welcomed our first baby into the world. A beautiful, healthy baby girl, Elizabeth. I've never known a love quite like the one that I feel when I gaze down at her little face. The feeling I get in my chest when her tiny hand clasps around my finger is unlike any other.I watch my wife fall more and more in love with our daughter every time she looks at her. I don't know how to tell her. I don't know how to tell her that when I look at our sweet, perfect baby, I feel my insides tighten with guilt. Because when I look just above her darling little face to the space just above her head, I see the number 148,327. The biggest number I've ever seen in real life. I also don't know how to tell her that on the day Elizabeth was born, the number I see on myself in the mirror had turned from a zero to a number 1.