At 3 am last night, I heard movement in the hallway. Sounded like a typical trip to the bathroom. Except that it was unusually, fully, unbelievably dark in the house. No moon outside, no nightlight on in the bathroom. Why wasn’t the nightlight on in the bathroom? We keep a nightlight lit because when we first moved into this house, our children literally could not reach a light switch to turn on the light in the hall bathroom. I think that the house was built before there were generally-accepted building standards. For this reason, the railing around our stairs is so low–below butt-level, and I’m not super-tall, or even, let’s face it, tall by a little bit–that we’re often in danger of pitching ourselves over and plunging down directly to the bottom step. But last night, the danger seemed connected to the light. It wasn’t there. It’s always there. You know what else wasn’t there? The husband.* I’m sure that with Cute W next to me, the darkness would have been fine.
Then a noise. A knocking-something-over noise. My children are not good with closing their doors quietly, but they don’t knock into stuff. They don’t. Come to think of it, if it was just a kid going to the bathroom, why didn’t she close her door too loudly? That’s, like, what they do.
At this point, I call out, “Girls? Is everything okay?”
And there is no answer. Someone moving. No answer.
My cat is on the bed; she is unconcerned. That means everything’s okay, right? She’d sense a weird smell and move around or meow or something, right? No. Well, maybe. Who knows. A cat is not a dog. At this point I’ve slid off my engagement ring, a nice diamond and a family heirloom at that, and put it under my pillow. Just in case.
“Girls? M? J? I’m turning on the light,” I call, and this time I am saying it, slowly, because I don’t think that it’s M or J, and I want to give The Intruder time to flee down the stairs. Go before I can see you and possibly testify against you in court, I silently plead with The Burglar.
J appears. “It’s okay, it’s me.” I am simultaneously relieved and livid, asking why she didn’t answer me the first times I called. She is apologetic, but I don’t want to tell her how much she scared me because then she’ll be scared. She tells me that her room is cold, that she’s cold. Now I assume fever, but she feels fine. I get up and walk to her room, which is slightly warmer than mine, and I turn on the light for good measure. I’ve got to reassert ownership of the house. This is my domain. I walk into M’s room and check on M. She’s fine. The Kidnapper is not in here.
J has snuggled into bed. She’s claimed a chill but the truth is that she knows I don’t mind an extra body in the bed when Cute W’s gone. I go back in, but now I notice that the window fan is turned off. That’s weird. I keep it on in the summer. J claims ignorance. I am still freaked out. I set the phone within arms’ reach, face away from J and toward the doorway so I can keep an eye on the dark hall. J is restless, and my heart beats rapidly. I pat J, try to settle down, find myself drifting into a waking nightmare. I strategize that if I can convince The Rapist to let me put both girls in M’s room while he rapes me, they can open the window and climb out onto that lower roof, then jump down and run for the neighbors’ house. I am determining who should jump first and whether M has the arm strength to let J dangle down a safe distance when I shake myself, ask after J and give her a pat, and begin the cycle again.
We finally fall into a fitful sleep. . . .
BROKEN AT 7 AM!! BECAUSE IT’S THURSDAY AND WE MISSED LAST NIGHT’S SOCCER TRYOUTS!!! OH, NO!!
Or this is what M says as she runs into my room in a panic. She’s looked at the calendar wrong, and even J knows that she’s mistaken, because soccer tryouts and gymnastics are the same day, Wednesday, and Daddy left on Tuesday for his trip.
But I’m horror-struck. Because M says it with such conviction, because I am not a morning person and I wake up very slowly, and because This Is The Kind Of Crap I Do. I’m infamous for it. I completely forget about the Girl Scouts’ Elf Fest. I accidentally leave half an hour late for a class that my child’s been attending at the same time for months just because I remember it wrong. I’m not good with the schedule. I don’t know why. It has caused both M and me pain and heartache. It is my parenting Achilles’ Heel. So I check and re-check the calendar, and sometimes I still get it wrong.
It takes a good ten minutes for me to figure out that today is Wednesday, that soccer tryouts are today, that we haven’t missed anything.
*I know that Cute W is a “who,” not a “what,” but (1) that would have given it away too early and (2) it’s not even the who of him as the what of him that I needed at that moment. A large, warm body that could be called into service. A familiar snuffling thatÂ assures me that All Is Right In The World. You know what I mean, right?