“No Daddy! watch out!” I woke up to these jarring words at 2 am. My daughter had taken to sleeping with us at night because of her nightmares. We spent close to a month with me having to go to her room in the middle of the night to comfort her before I decided it was just easier to keep her in my room. My wife and I didn’t really understand what all this was about, but her dreams were so real to her that she woke up really believing something bad had happened. What this bad thing was, she never could give a coherent account of, but it left her trembling each night. To be perfectly honest, her 2 am screams didn’t do much for my psyche either.
We sat stroking her hair, trying to comfort her as she wept. “Mommy! we have to stop him. Daddy, this can’t happen. I want you. Mommy! No, Daddy!” I sat trying to hold back my own tears as I twirled one of her soft curls around my finger. I couldn’t help but notice how much she resembled me as I watched her crying for us each night. It normally took about 20 minutes to convince her that everyone is there right beside her, safe. To watch her cling so tight once she did realize that was sweet but heartbreaking as I realized the reason for the tight embrace was fear of losing us.
I don’t know where this fear came from; we have never left her. I do work long hours to keep up with the ever-increasing bills that come with living life, and my wife works as well, but we are both there with her every night and on weekends. Despite some rocky beginnings, we have all stuck together through thick and thin during all six years of our daughter’s life. Our daughter is really what brought us together as a family. My wife’s family is a toxic group, ready to tear apart anyone who comes in their path. I basically saved her from that situation. I often wonder if she purposely got pregnant just to keep me around so she wouldn’t have to go back to them. We really were on the brink of a separation when she gave me the news.
My wife knew me well enough by then to know I wasn’t going to leave my child. So, despite the issues that had begun to be a drain on me, I was going to stay with her to make sure my child had a daddy. She has promised me multiple times that there was no plan, but I have never been sure. However it began, we are here together now, and we are making this family work. So why did my daughter suddenly become so scared? Something had to be causing this right? I didn’t know what to do, and my wife was getting ready to head out on a business trip, something to do with a training conference, and my daughter was adamantly opposed to her going. In the end, I did the only thing I could do, I convinced my wife to take her along.
I told her I would go as well, but there was no way I could get out of work. After much debate, it was decided My wife would take our daughter, and the lady that babysat for us was willing to go as well. This way, I figured, everyone could be relatively happy. My daughter seemed reluctant to leave me alone, but she consoled herself with the idea of being with her mom. It helped that I promised to check in at least once a day. During the days leading up to the trip, my daughter seemed calm, but the nightmares continued to increase. She was obviously still scared of whatever she thought was coming. These nightmares continued to unnerve me, but I figured I would have some peace from them soon, so I continued to comfort her each night.
The day of their departure came quickly, and I found myself soon sending them off with smiles and goodbyes. My daughter gave me one last look as she walked off through airport security, smiled warily and turned away. That look haunted me as I drove home. What was going through her head in that moment? Was she still determined something bad was about to happen? I had no idea, and I finally convinced myself it did no good to dwell. I reminded myself I now had the house all to myself. It was going to be a nice reprieve to be alone and able to walk around in my boxers as I wanted and put my stuff wherever I wanted. I told myself to enjoy this while it lasted. Well, enjoy it when I wasn’t at work anyway.
The week went along rapidly. It wasn’t long before I realized my family would be coming home the next day. As I had promised my wife, I took the car up to the airport for her to get herself home, and had a friend pick me up. As a “last night free” celebration, we decided to go out for a drink or two. I had been able to forget the nightly terrors of my daughter through the week, but as the return of my family moved in, I found myself thinking regularly about the nightmares. I was thinking of it so much, I found myself telling my buddy about it. He was so drunk at this point though, that all he did was laugh about it. I wished I could laugh about it, but I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling these thoughts gave me. I was so unnerved, I began to really think something bad was about to happen. Since my celebration was turning into a freak show, I decided to call it a night, and caught a cab home. There was no way I was riding home with someone as drunk as my friend was.
I didn’t sleep well all that night. I couldn’t stop thinking about my daughter. What did she think was about to happen? Did I need to worry about this? Had she seen or heard something that brought these nightmares on? I couldn’t come up with any good answers. I kept telling myself to just wait until tomorrow. By then my family would be on their way home, and all my worries would be proved unnecessary. I was just about to fall asleep, when I realized I hadn’t called my family that night. I looked over to clock and realized it was 3 am. There was no point in calling now. My daughter would just have to be upset with me.
I woke up around noon the next day. It was a good thing today was my day off, there was no way I would have been functional at work after a night like that. My family should be landing now. I checked to see if I had missed any calls and found a message from my daughter reprimanding me for not calling, and reminding me they should be home today. I guess she forgot the deal her mom and I had made about the car because she reminded me to pick them up. I figured she would figure it out when they got there. I still figured there was no point in calling them, so I made my way to the kitchen to find something to eat and begin cleaning up before my house was taken over again.
I was coming to the end of my cleaning when I heard my phone ringing. My thoughts had been back on my daughter’s nightmares again, so the sound actually made me jump. I recovered myself and answered finally, just to hear an official voice on the other end asking me if I was Malcom Tate. “Yes”, I responded uncertainly. “Mr. Tate, I am afraid I have to inform you of an accident. We think we found the bodies of your wife and daughter among the wreckage, but we need you to make an identification.”
I was frozen for a second, unable to speak. I forced myself to think carefully, then asked where I needed to go. I could hear the woodenness of my voice as I asked. I found I was being directed to a twisty area of the highway between our babysitter’s house and ours. Why would they have me come to accident sight? Was there something that made them believe this wasn’t an accident? That was the only reason I could think of. Maybe they wanted to gauge my reaction. Whatever the reason, I needed to get out there to identify the bodies. I forced myself to take a couple deep breaths before I left. Within 30 minutes I found myself at the scene of a messy accident. It looked as if the wreck was a one car accident, so I figured at least I could know no one else was hurt.
I made my way to the group of official looking people and introduced myself. “Come with me” one somber looking man said. What could I do? I followed him to what was left of our family car, mangled and unrecognizable. I could just see forms inside what used to be a car, and realized they were about to make me look at the end results of whatever accident had happened. I turned away for a second, but after seeing the look the officer was giving me, I took a deep swallow to steel myself, and followed him along. He handed me a couple items they could find around the wreckage, and I recognized my wife’s purse and phone, as well as my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. I hugged that toy close to me as I followed his gaze to the car.
“It will be a little while before we can remove the bodies, but it would be helpful if you could verify the bodies, though your reaction to these items seems a good verification to me.” I looked at him for a second, then cautiously made my way to the forms. I peeked in as best I could, and tried to see what I could. The bodies were mangled and bloody, but I could see my daughter’s beautiful curls and my wife’s butterfly tattoo on her wrist. I turned to the officer, “I can’t be fully certain, but my wife does have that exact tattoo, so it must be them.”
The officer, seeing me shaking, offered his hand to help me away from the scene. “What happened?” I asked. He couldn’t give me any information, but they believed something had happened to the brakes, and my wife was unable to slow down around the curve of the road. He assured me they would be in contact with me as soon as they had more information. So, I was left to wait, and think.
Think I did. I thought about all the nightmares my daughter had. I thought about how guilty I felt for the anger I had towards those nightmares. I thought about what the police would find to account for the accident. And, I thought about what I was going to do now that my family was gone. I had a good two weeks to think through all these things. Two weeks went by before I heard anything. So many times did I want to call and find out what was going on, but I remembered the officer saying they would be in contact with me. I had just decided I didn’t care and I was going to call when there was a knock at the door. The same officer was there in front of me. My legs partially gave out under me, and he had to help me stay up, but I managed to get my bearings again and moved aside for him to come in.
He had come to inform me the investigation was over. They had found a small break in the brake pads, allowing them to give out. He assured me there was nothing that could have been done. All I could do was stare at him as he told me my family was gone to an unavoidable accident. After all, I had managed to drive the car to the airport with no issues, how was I to know anything was wrong. “we checked the security cameras to make sure no one had been around the car, but nothing came of that. It is officially being considered an accident.”
As I couldn’t find anything to say in return, he decided our interview was over. He apologized for my loss, and was gone. I stared after him for a long while after he was gone. I was now back to what was I going to do. I knew what had always been my plan, but now that all was over, I couldn’t be sure I wanted to continue that path. I had always thought I would be happy once all was over. I had been unhappy in my marriage since the beginning, and had been ready to end it. I had been scared about being caught, but now I realized I had been careful enough through it all. Well, almost careful enough; my daughter was never meant to be part of it. What had she heard or seen that gave her a hint? The moment she started having her nightmares I knew I would have to get rid of her as well. She obviously knew something.
This is what kept me from being happy to be done. I hated sacrificing my daughter, but she left me no choice. Now that it was all over, I couldn’t stand to go to my girlfriend. She knew nothing of this of course, but I still blamed her for the loss of my daughter. If she hadn’t come along I would have continued to live the lie with my wife and my daughter would still be here. What should I do now? If I didn’t contact my girl soon, she would come looking for me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to look at her without thinking of my little girl. So, I did all that was left for me. I packed up what few belongings I needed and took off. I don’t know where I’m going, but anything is better than what was before. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.