Just Let Me Die Here (A Serialized Novel) 38
When Millie was just a little over seven months old, she had her first big fall. We were at the park and she was climbing up the steps of the jungle gym. When she got to the first platform, she pulled her feet around and sat up on the edge. As I moved around to the side of her, she flung her body back and fell down the two steps she had just scaled, hitting her head on the railing. She screamed, and I cried. She was injured and it was all my fault. I was terrified that I had just ruined my baby. There was a pretty sizable bump on the side of her head and in a panic, I immediately drove to the emergency room. But by the time we got there, the bump was almost gone and Millie was giggling away at the dangling animals hanging from the bar of her carseat. Everything seemed to be fine. A quick Google search on my phone gave me all the warning signs to look out for with infant head injuries, and nothing seemed to match what I was observing in my child. I thought about the high cost of the ER visit, and the way Tucker would look at me when he found out I wasted that kind of money for nothing. I turned the car around and headed home.
I was still a wreck with guilt though. She had hurt herself under my watch. I decided not to tell Tucker. He didn’t need to know. I didn’t need him to know what an unable mother I was, although I’m sure he already knew. Millie was fine and telling him would just upset him. Luckily, her full head of hair covered up the bruising and Tucker never found out. A small secret. One of very few I ever kept from him. But the nightmares still plagued me. Some nights, I would watch Millie fall and fall and fall and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t catch her. On worse nights, she never wakes from her fall. She is gone and it’s all my fault. Tonight, in the darkness of sleep, I just hear her scream. The desperate pain. But I can’t reach her. Can’t calm her. Can’t save her.
I wake to the sounds of Frannie tossing in her bed. She seems to still be asleep, but rolls from side to side, pulling the thin sheet in twists around her. With a final jerk, she rolls toward the wall, her face pressing into the padding, and she stills. Her resumed snoring, muffled by the wall, assures me she is still breathing. I try to imagine the dreams that must be haunting her and can only slip back into my own horrors.
I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It’s covered in those cork-looking tiles like they have in elementary school classrooms. The kind where you could throw a sharpened pencil up and it would get stuck in one of the holes. I remember trying to count the holes one day at school when I was little. We had a sub and she was telling a story that had nothing to do with anything. I always hated it when we had subs that didn’t know what they were doing. I could tell she was just there to babysit us and, as someone who actually loved school, I found it quite insulting. As a fourth-grader, it was quite easy to take these things personally. She was wasting my time. But she was determined to make us listen as she droned on. And on and on. So, my attention was pulled to the ceiling where I started counting the holes. I nearly got to one hundred fifty before the bell rang for lunch.
I wonder now if I can count all the holes in this ceiling before my seventy-two hours are up. I could just lie here, counting holes, filling the time. Getting lost in a world removed from reality. Doing nothing else until they come and tell me I can leave. I get to eighty-three before I doze off again.
When I wake, Frannie is still asleep, face pressed to the wall, her snores vibrating against the padding. With no window to the outside and no clock in the room, I have no idea what time it is. But I’m sure I haven’t slept that long. I get out of bed and quietly move to the door to look out the small window. I don’t see anyone in the hall. I try the handle and it is unlocked.
I slowly make my way down the hall, glancing through the window of each door. From what I can tell, everyone else is asleep. I’m still not sure exactly how many people are even here. I know of Frannie, the two men from the couches, and me. But the nurse said that they were getting full, and there are plenty of doors leading to plenty of rooms. Who else is here? I pause at a few of the doors to listen for any sounds of life. Nothing. I’m alone, in an insane asylum at night. I shouldn’t even be here. It feels as if an icy draft is blowing through the hall and the skin on my bare arms prickles. I look around, but there are no windows. No door has just opened or shut.
I pick up my pace and continue down the hall. I don’t stop. I don’t look back.
In the lounge, the TV is on, but muted. It is the same episode of Sesame Street that was playing earlier. I wonder if it’s just a recording that the hospital is showing over and over or if a television station is actually running a marathon of this particular show. Before I can think about it any further, though, I hear the sound of a toilet flushing and the door of the staff bathroom swings open to reveal the large male nurse who showed me to my room earlier. There’s no way he washed his hands.
I freeze. I still don’t know if I’m allowed to be wandering the halls or not. Will this midnight stroll cause me to incur some sort of penalty? Will this show I’m obstinate, not a rule-follower? Will I have to stay longer?
He startles at first when he sees me, which actually surprises me a bit. I wouldn’t expect someone of his size to be easily startled.
“Up early, are we?” he says. I glance over at the clock on the wall. It’s four-fifteen. I try and come up with some good reason to be out here. Something that won’t get time added to my sentence. But in the blur of sleeplessness, I can’t.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t know if I was allowed to be out here. It was just, I couldn’t sleep and my roommate,” I begin.
“It’s alright,” he says, waving his hand in dismissal. “Patients are allowed to be out here. That’s why I’m out here.”
“Oh,” I say. “Okay.” I look around at the room, trying to decide what to do next. There really isn’t much.
“Feel free to take a seat, I can unmute it if you like,” he says, gesturing towards the television. Big Bird and Elmo are singing a song with a group of kids and I shake my head.
“No,” I say. “You can leave the sound off.”
“Yeah, this stuff is supposed to be soothing to patients. Evoke a youthful calmness. But I find it quite grating. Those voices, just awful.” I take a seat on one of the couches and the nurse returns to his stool in the far corner. He picks up a magazine and starts reading.
I sit, watching the muted show and I actually do start to feel a bit comforted. I don’t ever remember watching Sesame Street as a child, but there is something to it that takes you back to that childlike feeling.
“Actually,” I say, turning around to face the nurse. “Could you turn up the volume just a bit?” He stretches over to the counter next to him, grabs the remote, and hits the volume button a couple times until the sounds becomes just audible. “Thanks,” I say, turning back to the TV.
As the show continues, I start to understand the appeal. There is a sense that you are being cared for, looked after, guided. It’s definitely a feeling I crave at the moment and I let myself sink into it. I don’t know how long I’ve been watching, but soon, I notice the early morning sun beginning to spread across the mountains outside the window.
“So yesterday,” Dr. Rodgers begins our session this morning. While I feel completely exhausted from my night of little sleep, she seems extremely rested. She’s obviously had the time to sleep and refresh herself. And once again, her beaming smile contradicts the mood of the situation. Or at least my mood towards it. “You said you were here because the police made you.”
“That’s right.” My stomach grumbles from the cocktail of terrible hospital food I had for breakfast.
“And you don’t think their concerns for your mental welfare are valid?”
“No. They seem more fixated on me than with finding my daughter. My husband took her and I have no idea where he’s gone and the police don’t seem to be able to help at all.”
A good mother wouldn’t be in this position.
She’s gone and it’s all your fault.
I hear my mother’s voice for the first time since arriving here and I cringe. I can’t let it show. They can’t know this. That I hear her. That she mocks me. That she judges me constantly for all my failings. That I know she hated me. I can’t give them more reasons to keep me here.
“Well, I’m sure they are trying their best.” Dr. Rodgers smiles. “How about you tell me a bit about your life back home. You know? Before you came to Canada.” Why do people keep asking me this? How is this important in finding Millie? But, I want to be seen as cooperative, so I tell her a bit about my background. My job, the house, raising Millie.
“So, when you were at work, who looked after Millie?” Dr. Rodgers asks.
“Tucker mostly. We had a pretty good system that was set up so that when I had to go to the university, he could work from home. I would teach three classes a week and have a couple meetings, but other than that I could do most stuff from home.”
“And Tucker was always able to accommodate that with his work schedule?”
“For the most part. When he couldn’t, there was a daycare in his building where he would take Millie.” My stomach clenches again and I feel like I’m going to be sick. “Could I get some water, please?” I ask.
“Of course.” Dr. Rodgers gets up and goes to the small table in the corner of her office where there is a pitcher of water and a stack of plastic glasses. She pours me and glass and hands it to me before sitting back in her chair. The cup in cold in my hand and the icy water calms me as I swallow it all in one gulp.
“And this all worked for you?” she continues. “The balancing of work and home life?”
“Yes. This coming semester is going to be a bit tougher, though. I’m going to have to be at work more.”
“So, will Millie have to go to the daycare more then?”
“Yes. Which I don’t really like. I’m not all that comfortable with other people watching her.”
“That’s understandable.” She genuinely seems to get my worry. I relax a bit and my stomach settles. “Did you ever take Millie to the daycare?”
“No, just Tucker. He was going there anyway, so it was easy for him to do it.” She writes something on the legal pad that she balances on her lap.
She can see it.
She knows you’re a terrible mother.
“Did you ever have a conversation with anyone from the daycare? A parent meeting or a phone call?”
“No. Not that I remember.” Again, she jots down a few notes.
“And did anyone else ever look after Millie? A family member or babysitter?”
“No. We never needed anyone else to. Why is this relevant to Tucker taking my baby?”
“I’m just trying to get a complete picture of what your life is like. What about play dates? Did you attend any mommy groups?”
“No. Millie and I would go to the park or the beach by ourselves occasionally, but I never really fit in with the group situation.”
“And what do you mean by that?”
“It’s just that I went to a couple mommy group things before Millie was born, but I didn’t feel like I really clicked with the other women. We didn’t have much in common. And after she was born, I just never really felt the need to try again with another group.”
Because you’re not enough as a mother.
You aren’t good enough.
“Do you have any other mom friends?” Dr. Rodgers asks.
“There is one woman at work. Sasha. She gave birth a couple of months before me.”
“And do you two share a lot? Talk about your children, your experiences?”
“Sometimes. I don’t really share much of my personal life at work.”
“I can understand that. What about showing each other photos of your babies?” I realize now that I never figured out what happened to all those pictures missing from my phone.
“No,” I say.
“Not even a birth announcement picture?”
“No.” She scribbles something at the bottom of her page of notes and then flips the paper over to a fresh page. Does this woman have a child? Maybe she’s one of those judgmental mothers, thinking I failed my own child simply because I didn’t want to announce the birth to the world on some cheesy card or all over social media. I am starting to get worked up, upset with this woman and her presumptions of me when she looks up from her notes and smiles. There is something in her eyes that says she thinks she’s figured me out, like she knows what I’m hiding from her. But I’m not hiding anything.
Yes, you are.
“Tell me about Millie’s birth.” This catches me a bit off-guard and I have to take a moment to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. My stomach churns again.
“It was tough,” I finally say. “Long labor, hard delivery. At least, I think so. To be honest, I don’t remember a lot about it. They had me on so many drugs. I wasn’t handling the pain well apparently. I know I had a C-section.” I run my hand along the spot where the scar raises up under the thin fabric of my pants. “It wasn’t planned. Things weren’t going smoothly. And I know that there were some issues when she was born, but again, it’s all a bit foggy.”
“Do you remember anything from just after the birth? Holding her? Your time in the hospital?”
“I’m not sure.” I try to think back to that day, but there’s a cloud blocking a lot of what I’m trying to see. A memory flashes. Sirens in the room. Everyone moving very quickly around me. Crying. Beeping machines. But then it slips away.
“Maybe try telling me about your husband on that day.”
“Tucker? He was at work, I remember that. I called him and he hurried home to get me to the hospital. I remember him holding my hand. And then he was crying.” I can see him. The memory is sharp, racing back in vivid clarity. Tears are streaming down his face. Flooding really.
“And were they happy tears?” she asks.
“Of course. We finally had our baby. Why wouldn’t he be happy?” But his face flashes in my mind again and I can only see hurt through the tears. My stomach clenches again and I know what’s about to happen. I launch myself across the room towards the small trash can just next to Dr. Rodger’s desk and make it just in time. I can feel Dr. Rodgers squatting down next to me, her hand on my back. When I finally feel there is nothing left in me, I make my way back to the couch.
“I’m so sorry,” I say. “I don’t think breakfast is agreeing with me.” None of this is agreeing with me.
“That’s quite alright.” She smiles at me and pours more water into my glass. I drink it slowly and the cool water calms my insides again.
There is a long silence before Dr. Rodgers speaks again.
“Do you want to continue?” she asks. I just want to get this all over with, so I nod.
“Okay,” she says. “Let’s jump ahead to your time here, in Canmore.”
“Yes,” I say, glad to be getting back to what’s important.
“You say you had an accident skiing and that’s when Tucker took Millie?”
“Yes. I was off skiing and he was supposed to pick her up from the daycare and wait for me to join them. But he left. I never saw him after that. I feel like the two events must be connected. Like Tucker arranged for that man to run into me.”
“I mean, I didn’t get to tell the police this, but I went to visit Brent, the man who hit me, in the hospital. This hospital actually. He was recovering here. I don’t know if he’s here anymore. But I got a strange feeling like he was hiding something. I think he knows Tucker. I think that maybe it wasn’t an accident that he ran into me.”
“Well, I can’t say whether or not he knows your husband. But after reading all the police and hospital reports, I have to believe that your skiing accident truly was an accident.”
“But Brent is such an accomplished skier. I can’t understand how he wasn’t in control.”
“August, Mr. Howard had a minor stroke while on the mountain. Just before the accident. When he ran into you, he had no control over his mind or body.”
A stroke? The accident had been just that. An accident. A complete coincidence in timing. There was no connection between Brent and Tucker. No plot to kill me. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“So then,” I say. “Where is Tucker?”
My stomach is silent. The voice in my head is screaming.
Hi there! Thank you so much for reading my story. If you liked it, go ahead and click on that little heart button below. And if you really liked, and are feeling a bit generous, a tip is always appreciated. Help me keep writing things for you to enjoy reading.