“Night and Day” By Marni Berger

06 March 2020 on Nonfiction   Tags: ,

1. The Awakening.

I’m waking from a sad dream. In the dream, my husband Leo is uncharacteristically crying at me, saying, “When was the last time we were really happy?” His face is older, lined, and I immediately feel responsible for everything: his distress, his fatigue, the passage of time. He looks like he hasn’t slept in years. He is me and I am him, in the dream: I feel the same, exhausted. My heart breaks. Leo speaks like he’s swallowing a rock. When was the last time we were really happy? Then he cracks the code, answering his own question in a way that feels true to us both: “Back when we used to binge-watch Netflix all day.”

I wake each day a pessimist, positive I won’t fully shake sleep, that it will trail me like a shadow through the day. My alarm clock is a human I love, two years old, who speaks mainly in third-person: “Where’s Mona’s Mom? Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, where’s Mona’s mom?”

The kid hasn’t seemed to have broken a recent pattern of waking at 5am, the exact time Ferber says the night has ended and advises against any sort of sleep-training. She has also begun experiencing nightmares, at midnight and 3am. The pediatrician says it’s developmental—she’s learning about her surroundings; she’s growing wise to what she loves, and what she doesn’t.

We sleep in three hour chunks, like when she was an infant, except now she speaks, moves—runs.

For a second, I wonder if the black-out curtains have failed. That spring is torturing us with the sunlight we prayed for all winter, until I open my eyes and find it’s pitch-dark. The time is 4:44am. On principle, I wait until 5, covered in my blanket, hiding.

For a little while, she’s quiet.

“Mommy. Mommyyyyy. Need diaper changed, Mommy.” I move slowly. She doesn’t sound too distressed. But she shakes the gate to her room. “Need diaper changed,” she says again. Then: “Putting something in Mona’s nose, Mom.” She’s incredibly articulate. And clever.

Anxiety is my close second to coffee as a motivating force: It’s you against the Doomsday Clock, I tell myself. Are you raising an environmentalist or a warmonger? Don’t fuck up.

I sit up. I feel so achy, like I was punched in the back, and remember I took a shovel to a dead plant in the garden the day before: The first spring in our new house and Mona’s first introduction to death. “It won’t make flowers like the others,” I said.

“Because it’s dead,” she said slowly, trying out the new word matter-of-factly. Across the lawn, the new rhododendron bush was blossoming pink flowers, despite the dogs’ daily attempts to dig it up and my buyer’s remorse for its $69 price tag at Broadway Gardens, a local joint. How helpful is going local, I thought bitterly, when it takes from your child’s non-existent college fund? I stabbed the earth, wondering why all the plants had died in this particular spot, so close to the house.

My husband woke early with her yesterday. He has rolled onto his side. I stand. It’s my turn. I trudge into the hall. The munchkin’s bed-head peeks over her gate. She smiles, her teeth all grown in, making her into a kid, not a baby. I’m swallowed, each day, by her changes, by my cognitive dissonance, by always feeling, somehow, touched by everything, and by being, simultaneously, in love with my child’s past and present selves. Growth presents a kind of grief I never knew existed before Mona was born, the flip-side to fortune. A part of her dies the older she grows, and I don’t want to lose any of it.

She looks at me earnestly, and I find myself fifty-percent wakened by my love for her, fifty-percent less zombie; I can’t help but smile. She scowls like a twin from The Shining, her chubby fingers clutching the top of the gate as I bend to unlatch it and feel the heaven that is her soft hair against my face. I’m all in.

“Want out,” she says.

I move the gate away slowly, careful that she’s not still leaning on it, that she doesn’t trip. “Good morning, Momo,” I say, smiling. “Watch your fingies,” I say gently.

She mocks me in a sing-song voice, while moving her fingers away. “Watch your fingies,” she says.

She is standing, staring at me in her footie pajamas and a pair of red cowboy boots that she asked to sleep with—and, it turns out, was able to don—when she says slowly, carefully sounding out the words, “What’s Mona’s poop named?”

My daughter is wide awake.

2. Nurse.

“I want to nurse,” says Mona, nodding her head, eyes wide, before breakfast. “On couch.”

I lazily agree, wanting to avoid whatever process weaning could entail. While she nurses, she reflexively kneads my skin like a cat, and picks at my freckles, and I have to position her hands in such a way, until she frees them.

At the same time, I love nursing her, having her close to me, snuggled, like a baby again; it almost feels like time has stopped or, better yet, reversed without stealing anything of what we have now. We are so close. I am paying to slow time with my body. Of course, it won’t work.

“I love you, Momo,” I say, and she blinks at me, moving her hand up to the ceiling, twirling her fist slowly, watching her body, daydreaming, I suppose. “Forever and always. No matter what.”

She unlatches momentarily and says, “Sank you, Mom.”

I sigh. I feel, immediately, like I was born to be a mother—among other things.

Then, she picks a mole on my back, and it bleeds all over my shirt. A new adventure of parenthood.

“Owie,” I say, both annoyed and guilty about feeling annoyed, swallowing my tears and trying to be an ideal person—assuming a parental tone, neutral, even. But she laughs. Because I’d like to avoid her growing up to be a sociopath, I uncertainly show her the blood, and she bursts into tears.

Motherhood seems to me, in this moment, a series of single acts that are as desirable as they are undesirable. I want coffee. I do not want crying. I want to wake up. We are listening to the news.

The news mentions that the world may or may not be ending.

Is that news? I like the get it over with—the daily shock at the state of the world, the heart attack that transforms, out of preservation, to sheer disdain for the rich. And then the magical thinking, the hope, that an asteroid will come to destroy only those with the worst carbon footprints. Who knows? Maybe the dinosaurs were assholes.

And that’s why we’ve been left with birds!

Birds are great!

We listen just enough to be informed.

The news says something to the effect of Not sure when the world will end.

I strain harder to hear if there’s anything we can do.

Leo’s making coffee. Coffee. Fuck. Yes. I smell it. I inhale it. My soul is full of hope. Coffee is coming. I think: Maybe the world isn’t ending anyway.

That’s when the news says: The world is probably ending and there’s likely nothing we can do, but if there is anything anyone can do at all, now’s not the time to look for signs; now’s the time to invent them. Basically: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Doesn’t sound promising.

“Can we change it now?” I ask Leo.

“Definitely,” he says, with a hot mug. He doesn’t know if he should place it on the table or in my hand and hovers in such a genuine state of uncertain kindness, it pisses me off.

Mona’s nursing again.

“Gosh,” he says, seeing the blood. “Are you okay?”

We could be raising a child at the end of the world, but there are more pressing matters.

“Can you just hand me the coffee?” With remorse: “Please.”  

3. The Walk.

Three hours later, we drop Leo off at work to an early meeting, and my body threatens a caffeine crash too soon. A migraine hovers. It is a sunny day. Playgroup won’t start for a half an hour, so Mona and I walk up and down the sidewalk bordered by townhouses and manicured trees, searching for any kind of birds, though “orange ones” are ideal. Mona thrives outdoors and adores walking the city sidewalks. She enjoys pointing out anything obvious that is most overlooked: a cigarette bud, a small tuft of grass sprouting out of the sidewalk, a dead worm that I tell her is sleeping and just really needs rest.

I hold her hand. Her small fingers are gripped around mine. Her pink rain boots are finding each puddle. I think: I will remember this forever.

Mona finds a weeping cherry tree and sits on a stoop, positioning herself behind the bare branches—a week later I will marvel at how they burst into pink buds, overnight. For now, she grins behind the bony shelter. A sparrow scuttles along the curb.

“Hello, little birdie,” says Mona. “Whatchu doin’? How you doin’. You are my dear one. I love you forever.”

She’s paraphrasing lines from a sweet book about a mother who tells her daughter she will love her, no matter what—which is our credo, too. The easiest thing is to love Mona—but I remind her regularly.

As a mother, I feel wise, now, to the brazen goodness of the world, and seeing my child in it. In terms of how to protect such goodness—I am foolish, and the responsibility so clearly outweighs me; it manifests, on occasion, as an asshole migraine that looms.  

4. Playgroup.

I’m both at ease and nervous in the Waldorf-inspired playgroup. The basic toys of wood and wool ignite Mona’s imagination, and she’s making a goat and a sheep eat grass as I speak to the teacher whose job it is, also, to assist parents in any early parenthood questions. Other parents are late, and last night after bed time, Leo and I ignorantly watched the Michael Jackson documentary after the Mr. Rogers one. Reverse order would have been more sensible.

In which case, I’m not sure what’s real: my coffee-crash or my former high, but I find myself immediately worrying myself, entering a rabbit hole of frustration, as I try to speak in codes to the teacher, a language Mona won’t interpret or repeat, asking what to do about family members who kiss Mona even when she says no. I’m thinking of her birthday party a few days before—how close relatives, one by one, asked to kiss her and she courageously told them, one by one, “I’m feelin’ a little bit shy,” craning away from them, scrunching her nose. My heart soared—she’d found words to express herself, to set boundaries, to clarify the distinction between politeness and forced affection. But later in the party, someone asked again, she responded accordingly, and they didn’t listen; she started to cry. I moved her away, racked with guilt. She had found the words to protect her dignity, and they had failed.

“I want her to know consent,” I say to the teacher at playgroup. “I’m firm about my principles.”

The kind teacher nods. “It’s important to teach that,” she says evenly.

I’m really tired. The teacher offers me tea. I take some, imagining it’s coffee. It staves off the migraine barely. “But maybe I’m imbalanced when being firm about my principles starts to feel painful? It’s not like they’re creeps.”

The teacher doesn’t speak, just nods, and opens her mouth as though she will say something wise. There’s a pause. Then she says something to which I nod automatically, immediately forgetting what she said, and then, too ashamed to ask her what she said, I continue—

“I had this revelation the other day,” which is true, “that I cared so much about my dogs before Mona was born—well, and still do—and wanted only to protect them with reward-based training, because my childhood was—” Another parent and child enter. The little girl is a blonde, blue-eyed ray of grinning sunshine and adores Mona.

Mona tolerates her.

Eventually, the two sit opposite each other on a wooden boat. We all softly sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The toddlers stare into each other’s eyes, grinning.

When Mona is across the room playing with a doll, the teacher says, “I’m sorry—what were you saying earlier?”

“Oh, I can’t even remember what I was saying,” I say honestly.

Then I remember, with the cattle-prod alert aligned with remembering anything while sleep-deprived, and the sense that something else must be forgotten, or wrong, but what? The other parent is included too. They are both listening, nodding, listening, nodding, and it’s great: I’m hungry for someone to listen to me, to nurture me, to nod at me, to mother me. “I just think I was so protective over my dogs, first, before Mona was born, because there was a divorce when I was a kid.” I pause. They are still listening. “And, you know. All the dogs died.”

The teacher has an excellent Poker face, and the other mom smiles sympathetically, but I detect a grimace in one of them, or just in the air, or maybe in myself, that makes for my immediate regret. I just want to think of good things, while I’m a mom, to spread good upon Mona, and for her to do the same, to the world, which needs it. Why did this bad thing just appear? I decide playing it cool is the best chance I have for normalcy so I say, “So maybe I’m projecting my childhood experiences onto Mona. My boundaries weren’t respected when I was a kid, and I don’t want hers to be crossed.”

The teacher nods.

Mona is narrating her play across the room: “Baby is sleeping. Baby needs nap.” She covers a soft, handmade baby with a silk blanket with such care. “There you go, sweet baby. You are my dear one.” The baby’s arms and legs are hanging half-way off the bed as though she’s been drugged. Mona strokes the baby’s face.

The more my daughter grows, the more I love her, and the more easily I fall victim to the unanswerable question that pings my brain on a regular day, every hour, on the hour: How can you protect her?

The same question, on a bad day, spirals into a statement: You can’t protect her forever.

And on a really bad day: You didn’t protect her that one time you could have—even when I can’t remember any one time, specifically.

On a really, really bad day it’s You failed.

I want this to be just a regular day. Sleep-deprivation has its own agenda.

“I think you’re doing a good job,” says the other mom. It feels so good I almost cry.

I don’t believe in screen-time for Mona, but at home I erratically refresh my email on my phone, guilt-free, while peeing because Mona’s “pooping right now” in the playroom. I think my email will provide an answer to a question I never thought to ask, and my addiction to my phone surges during moments of anxiety—and fatigue; I’m most tired midday. It is midday.

There’s an email about a meal-train. This is one of many emails about how to support the lead teacher at Mona’s future preschool; the woman appears to be a saint. I’m thrilled to send Mona to her in the fall, two mornings per week. But apparently, the lead teacher is experiencing my worst nightmare. I read and freeze. Her child has just died of Leukemia.

I think about my grandmother, like a mother to me, and her death, how her skin turned a kind of bright yellow that would have been really, really pretty under almost any other circumstance, before she died. That death presented a kind of darkness I couldn’t find a way out of for years. I don’t want to think of it ever happening again.

Everyone I love, I think, has to live forever.

I finish peeing. I stare at the screen, refreshing again and again for some sort of cosmic guidance. Mona’s safely in the playroom “still pooping right now.” We are oddly in-sync.

I plug in my phone. I wash my hands. I take two Advil. I fix Mona ham and cheese and swallow my emotions, smiling, still wanting to cry and periodically continuing to check my email. I can hear Mona playing—she has named her new toy bunny “Dash,” and for some reason related, I think, to revenge, Dash has stolen our “real” dogs’ bones.

There’s an email from my aunt, something astrological about the moon being in Pisces, which means I will have insomnia while also really, really needing sleep.

5. Naptime.

“Sometimes I like Mom,” says Mona, as I slip her pee-stained pants into the hamper—reminding myself I will wash them soon. “And sometimes I don’t like Mom,” she muses, as I put on her clean pants.

I can’t blame her—I feel the same way about myself, while I love her wholly.

I say earnestly, “It’s okay to like someone and not like them, too. Thank you for telling me.”

In bed, we read Horton Hears a Who—which is a thousand times longer than I remember but has a message that makes me want to sob: people matter, even small ones. We also read a hand-me-down book she picked out called Christmas in July, in which Santa loses his pants because a character named Rich Rump won’t give them back. It hits me while reading this book that this must be why Mona’s been asking Leo and me where our pants are, even when we’re wearing them.

Eventually, she says goodnight easily.

The migraine is lurking, but I have the perilous idea to wallpaper while she is napping. For the first time in three months she doesn’t nap within ten minutes. Instead, she goes to her gate, and screams, cries, hysterically.

I try to ignore her. We started sleep-training months ago. I don’t know if I believe in it, sleep-training; just kind of ignoring someone’s distress calls. I did like, however, that it worked in one day, so I didn’t have to question for too long if I believed in it. And then it was working for months, until now, and I was also sleeping. I liked that. I like rest. I don’t like knowing my child is feeling pain. She announces it now, through huge sobs: Mom. Mom. I’m feeling a little bit sad.

I am on my knees and covered in glue.

I tell myself I understand a concept of limit-setting.

I ignore the screams.

My blood-pressure rises. There’s an animal mother in me begging to get out, to run to her, to hold her. There’s a pragmatic mother in me telling me this will cause a regression, a dangerous thing, leading to real sleep problems. The exhausted mother in me keeps wallpapering.

I am weighted by thick folds of paper, patterned with giant pink flowers, and whimsical grasshoppers that I realize too late are hanging, as Mona would say, up-smy-down on the wall.

Mona screams. I am holding an X-acto knife which is getting slippery with wet paste. Paste gets on my hands and knees, my socks. Somehow, I lose track of the wallpaper smoother, the plastic scraper-thing. I nearly self-induce an aneurysm, swearing and fuming, trying to find it. It is under my knee. I’ve only wallpapered once before in my life, and during that time completely gave up, went to bed, and made Leo finish.

“I’m feeling a little bit sad,”she wails.

I begin to burst into tears along with my child, muffling them so she can’t hear me, with my wrist, my only dry body part. Crying both relieves and intensifies that headache, like a balloon released of air while being injected with more. The frustration of wallpapering is an indisputable first-world frustration. But if the guilt of motherhood—of all parenthood, let’s say—is the flip-side of love, then I’d like to think that spans space and time, and I’m feeling it now. Guilt. Love. Who gave me so much power? Who thought I was qualified to handle another person’s life? Who thought my mother was? Or her mother?

It strikes me that we’re all just being raised by other people. It explains a lot about the world. My mind.

I feel angry at my mother right now. For being a person, two hours away and not here to help, though she would if she could. I am angry at her for being the sort of person I need to be two hours away from. I am angry at her for not being what I needed her to be when I was small, in every moment that she could have, and I’m scared I won’t be that for Mona—so scared I won’t be there for her whenever she needs me that I tell myself I have to be perfect. I must. I’m sobbing and remembering a lot of things now—

It must have been love. My hopeless romantic mother blared the music, singing with her four little kids in tow, in a maroon caravan, leaving my stepfather as fast as she could—facing the unknown. I grew up on such terrible music. I grew up with, in part, a terribly unstable man, who jokingly pretended to be a dog when I was five and bit my leg so hard it bled. There was a half-moon on my thigh, red and cut like teeth. He hadn’t known his own strength, his own imagination. My boundaries. My mom was angry. But she hadn’t stopped it in time. It was too late. Even when I was small, I resented my mother—I couldn’t count on her to immediately take us from a bad place—as much as I revered my grandmother’s reliability. We escaped to Grammy’s house, her walks in the woods, her magic, the fairies, until we left completely.

It was a great day. The day we left my stepfather. I loved that song. It must have been love. The windows were cracked.

“Smell that fresh farm air, boys and girls!” my mother said.

“Manure!” we squealed.

It must have been love.

It was a great day. But I can still hear the dogs barking, from their chains tied to trees. Their sounds faded with distance, then remained, like ghosts in my mind.

He put them all down. My stepfather could barely take care of himself, my mom later told me, sympathetically. And she had all of us.

None of us knows much what to do.

We escaped.

What should I do now? 

Now Mona is crying, “Got coffee for you, Mama. Got coffee.”

The good thing about hysterical crying pre-nap is that I have completed the wallpapering in a desperate no-fucks-given manner (but with lots of fucks actually given), rapidly and by the time she drifts off with Pete the Cat in front of her face.

I am exhausted and grateful. It’s my day off, too. I work part-time tutoring, and yesterday, at the beginning of a session, a student announced he hated all his classes and that his friend had just committed suicide. Because I didn’t know what to say, I said, “My friend committed suicide too. Once.”

He looked at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

My friend was a beautiful person with blue eyes. I always wondered how her parents felt. The nightmare of losing your child to Leukemia could only be topped by the nightmare of losing your child to suicide. Did my friend’s parents wonder if they’d loved her enough, or if they’d showed enough, in a language she understood, that they’d loved her enough? I cruelly think: Maybe they didn’t love her enough.

“I don’t mean to belittle your experience,” I said to the student, thinking of love, of Mona, of if I were showing love to her in a way she understood. I could think of nothing worse than a miscommunication of love.  

The student just kept looking at me.

I text my husband that I have Frankensteined the wallpaper to the wall, the patterns pretty much fucked. I tell myself I don’t care, but I tell him I do care. “I’m sure it looks great,” he says, and then I ask him if he always agrees with me, and if he does, how am I ever supposed to grow. No response for a while. Then he says, “I don’t know what to say.”

“I just want to grow,” I say, gnawing on dried mangoes from Trader Joe’s.

“You must be exhausted,” he says. “How about I rub your back later?”

“I’m just sitting here,” I say. “You must be exhausted.”

“That’s okay,” he says.

“What kind of asshole squints at the seams of wallpaper anyway?” I say.

“Agreed,” he says.

“I gotta’ start writing now,” I say. “Just an FYI. In case my responses are slow.”

“Good luck!” he says, “You got this!”

I drink a lot of water. I do twenty pushups, so I feel like a badass. I allow myself to sit. I recharge. I eat a lot of candy, because I first ate a big salad. It is amazing. I browse West Elm. I create a twenty-grand, fantasy shopping cart. I think about my student debt and how I should be focusing on my writing—the source of my inspiration, and my student debt—more than I should be thinking about tutoring, which is only useful because the salary is so low I can remain on my income-based repayment plan for the loans I took out for writing school. That’s not true: tutoring is also useful, because it forces me to think about people besides myself, and my family.

Masochistically, I use my free time to pay our credit card bills a little early, and I muse on something Leo once said when I was up all night panicking about my student debt, just post-2016 election (I’d been banking on Hillary lowering my interest rate): “Money isn’t the only value.” I didn’t realize this very obvious truth applied to me specifically until I had a kid who didn’t give a shit if I made a cent if I would just sit the fuck down and nurse her. This is probably why I don’t know how to wean—I see it as my value. And it kills me when she cries.

I text Leo: “I haven’t written a single word.”

My migraine has made itself fully known. I take more Advil.

“That’s okay!” he says.

“Are you sure you’re not just agreeing with me?”


6. Grocery Store.

At the grocery store, there’s a story hour—which, I think, is a genius move by the grocery story management—and before shopping, we caretakers and kids sit in a circle and sing songs about wanting to ride on a firetruck and feeling giddy for marching like dinosaurs and doing the hokey-pokey. And I like to joke to myself: What would all this would look like if the adults were doing this with no kids around? I tell this joke to another parent who laughs: “It would look like we were on drugs,” she says. “Or just really happy!”

Mona is silent until the last song when she starts singing more loudly than all the other kids, “I feel peace like a river in my SOUL.”

Later it’s “I love you, Mom” for the first time, in the shopping cart.

“I love you, too, Momo!” I say.

Both incidences make me feel like I’ve succeeded—as a parent and therefore a human with value on the planet. No pressure.

An old man walks by and Mona says, “That guy is very bald.”

No one seems to hear her.

“It’s true,” I say.

Then she hugs herself and a sweet smile comes over her face. “I love him,” she says.  

This also makes me feel successful, somehow.

7. Dinner.

We pick Leo up from work, and come home. I give Mona a big pile of shelled pistachios on a plate in the kitchen, while she stands on her Learning Tower—a magnificent hand-me-down that is just a glorified stool, elevating her to counter height.

After about twenty pistachios, Leo, probably remembering the time he gave Mona so many pistachios she threw up all over him, says in what I hear as a condescending tone, “That’s a lot of pistachios for a little baby,” and I’m not sure if he’s talking to me or Mona. Then I give her some noodles. I know she’s hungry. She not able to wait for us to plate our food all prettily. I try to avoid tantrums, when I can at least. She coughs on a noodle.

“We should cut those,” Leo says.

I stare at him.

“I’ll do it,” he says before he realizes: “You’re right. She doesn’t need them cut. She’s been with you all day. You know what you’re doing. No worries.”

He doesn’t actually say anything after “I’ll do it.” But I tell myself I’ll remind him to, later.         

8. Moon.

“When the sun goes down, the moon comes up,” I say. “And that’s when it’s almost bed-time.”

She stares at me and says thoughtfully, “Moon says no to sun.” She shakes her head. “Moon no like sun.”

“Oh! Well, the moon does like the sun. But the sun needs a rest sometimes, and the moon is saying, ‘Come along, Mona, have nice dreams with me.’”

She smiles and turns to the window, peering outside. “It’s moony out,” she says dreamily, licking the glass. An ice cream truck is coming our way from a stop-sign up the road. He must be getting ready for summer! —I think excitedly, and then about how the best parts of parenting are re-experiencing the best parts of your childhood with someone you love. Ice cream on your wrists on a hot summer day, after a bike ride, or a walk in the creek. The smell of cut grass. A concert in the park. The weightless irresponsibility of imagination, of warmth in your bones. I want all that for Mona. The world, I think, is so wonderful; wait till she sees it! My headache is almost totally gone.

I squint at the driver. He is speeding past our window. He is texting.

“What’s he doin’?” says Mona.

“Uh, I dunno’,” I say absentmindedly, wondering about the state of the world, again.

In my moment of uncertainty, Mona turns to the brown dog with a villainous grin and says, “Eek says George!” and pokes George in the eye.

George bites Mona, and Mona cries so hard she throws up the pistachios.

9. The Chocolate, the Vitamins, and the Bright Blue Pill.

Mona eats two chocolate chips each night. Enough sugar to incentivize sleep-time, not enough to keep her up. Leo routinely puts the chips on a floral-printed, glass dessert plate. Mona stands in her tower, sucking her dessert and swinging one leg back and forth.

George takes her bright blue pill with some peanut-butter. The pill is made of milk-thistle and Sam-E. Something both the holistic and regular vets prescribed after George’s liver nearly failed from a surprise infection post-Christmas, one that led to an overnight vet visit that killed half our savings and cracked open my realization that I couldn’t, in fact, protect us all from bad fortune.

George was diagnosed with chronic hepatitis, so even while she acts normal, we have been told a flare-up could happen at any time. Death at any time—that’s what you get with life. I don’t like being able to predict how she’ll go.  

George was Leo’s first dog. We adopted her when she was ten weeks old. We were a year into dating. She was our baby but always an old soul, the third-wheel to our child-less NYC, in-home date weekends, when we’d drink beer after beer and eat sushi on the bed, buzzed, sharing edamame with George who knew how to de-shell it, somehow; and making fun of Indie movies on Netflix for hours.

I take my vitamins, including prenatals for breastfeeding and/or getting pregnant again, though we’re not really trying.

I think: Motherhood doesn’t define women, but a body poised to create life, whether you can or can’t, choose to or not, should define women as sorceresses, at least. I wearily wonder if sorceresses question their level of perfection as much as I do.

And why women are not seen as sorceresses, in this day and age, generally-speaking.

Were we ever?

10. Come on, Eileen

I’m really excited it’s almost bed-time, a chance to reflect on the day’s good work. I delay pleasure with more pleasure and begin singing the lyrics to “Come on, Eileen.” Mona is standing in her tower by the counter, sucking her milk, and I realize I don’t know any more words besides the title, so I yell at the Echo: “Alexa, play Come On, Eileen. Please.” We always say please to Alexa, for obvious reasons, but we mumble it, lest the additional word confuse her, and her confusion frustrate us.

Leo looks a little tired for this.

“Is this okay?” I say to him.

“Of course,” he says resignedly.

Then I say: “Alexa! Raise volume to five. Please.”

Leo raises his eyebrows. I nod. He smiles. I ask Mona if she wants to dance. Mona exits the Learning Tower.

Her parents begin flailing—dancing—in the kitchen, à la Elaine Benes. I tell Mona what I always tell her when we dance: “This is what good dancing looks like.”

She shakes her butt around the kitchen. Leo and I exchange grins at the miracle of her existence.

“I can’t believe there were two of us,” I say, “and now there are three!”

I’ve forgotten I’m annoyed at Leo for the noodle thing. Or the pistachio thing.

11. Darkness, my old friend.

My headache is gone. I’m almost asleep against Leo’s chest, the computer screen glaring before us. Game of Thrones ending optimistically, which is amazing and maybe a good omen, despite the fact that a lot of people have died anyway in battle. I read too much into everything when I’m falling asleep. And when I’m awake. 

I briefly wonder what it would feel like to be fully rested. I try to recall it—a pressure lifted. A clean breeze. The ability to recall details, to hold a conversation, to level my mood. Oh! And to feel more confidence.

The computer closes. We kiss goodnight.

My eyes fade. My heart slows. I feel it, rest in my mind, in my bones, thoughts turning off, one by one, like lights in a house.

My husband changes positions, rocking the whole bed like a row boat cast at sea in a hurricane from hell. But even though the last thing he hears before drifting into unconsciousness must be, “Don’t fucking move,” we exit each day with optimism.

We’d be fools not to.

Downstairs, the black dog Ralph, afraid of the dark, barks, and Leo gets up automatically to bring him upstairs. George opts to sleep with one ear open downstairs, guarding us all. Don’t ever die, I say to her daily before saying goodnight. I don’t have a plan for this.

I regularly tell Leo he has to live forever, too. “No way. I don’t want to live forever,” he once said. I said, “Well, I’ll die first. Selfishly, so I don’t have to be without you.” I laughed. But he looked scared.

Death is always approaching. The night is the tax on day. The dark is the tax on light. Risk is the price of love. I’m so happy, I’m sad. I miss my grandmother. I wish, sometimes, she could see all this love we have and validate my feelings, conveniently with a special blessing, something like: Wow, that’s a whole lot of love. It’s a whole lot of love, and it must feel like a whole lot of responsibility. Fortune is so wonderful, and terrifying. You wonder when it will leave you.

It floats over me, while I’m falling asleep, like dreams do from the night before, what the teacher said at playgroup, the thing I couldn’t recall just after she’d said it; actual words from the living, coalesced in my brain, at last: “You don’t have to be perfect in front of your daughter, and maybe it’s better not to be, in effectively teaching what it’s like to be human.”

The black dog climbs into bed between us like a child. Leo covers him with a blanket and one of us, I can’t say who, mumbles, “It’s gonna’ be okay, bud. You’re doin’ a good job.”


Marni Berger holds an MFA in writing from Columbia University and a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic. Marni's work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Motherwell, Lotus-Eater, COG Magazine, and more. Her most recently published short story "Edge of the Road with Lydia Jones" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (Matador Review). Marni is currently working on a novel entitled, Love Will Make You Invincible. Marni lives in Portland, Maine. She has taught writing at Columbia University and Manhattanville College. She currently teaches creative writing at University of Southern Maine. You can learn more about Marni’s work on her website.

"Daisies in the Dark" is a digital image by William C. Crawford, a photographer based in a North Carolina. He invented Forensic Foraging, a throwback, minimalist approach for modern digital photographers.His new book, DRIVE BY SHOOTING, is available on Amazon.com. You can find more of his work at his website.

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