Appendix A. The two nanny stories from the entry “On Vicarious Motherhood.”
Rush around the house as soon as she arrives to elicit the image of being constantly in motion. Tidy things up, put the dishes in the washer. Wipe the kitchen counter. Chatter on about the same things: what time he got up, what his mood is like. Discuss his bowels. Dig enthusiastically through your purse to make sure you “have everything.”
You are an epicenter.
She, on the other hand, is a fuck-all English graduate with purple streaks in her hair who leaves Chekov and Joyce novels laying around; this is her leisurely reading. She is the type to tell everyone the truth and here you are in your power suit, coffee in one hand, fancy leather briefcase in the other, kissing your kid goodbye and putting on your business smile.
You are terrified of her.
And she loves your kid; she is great with him. She loves your kid and he loves her back.
Mainly, you need to focus on what you don’t need to do: don’t spend any part of your day picturing them. Avoid picturing at all costs. Do not think of him possibly laying his head on her shoulder when she lifts him out of the crib after his nap. Or of him mistakenly calling her “Mama” and her not correcting him. People at the drug store complimenting her on what a gorgeous son she has. Do not think of her making him laugh so hard—oh, the sound of your child’s laughter—that he does that thing where he closes his eyes and just radiates a smile in her direction for a solid few minutes. Do not think of his little hand reaching up for hers as they take a walk through the woods. Slow dancing to your new Etta James CD. Having a picnic by the river with yellow and red leaves slowly fluttering down on an autumn breeze. Running at full tilt into her on a partly cloudy day—cumulus, painting the sky a fluffy landscape—in a field of wildflowers somewhere with those tiny Levis on that you got him last weekend, hugging her impulsively. Etc., etc.
You really could drive yourself over the edge with thoughts like these.
Once a month or so, call the nanny and apologetically tell her that you need to stay late at work, is that okay? Tell yourself you are not asking permission. Do not stay late at work; instead, go to a movie. A romantic comedy. You hate romantic comedies and this one will be no different, but go anyway. Once you are in the theater, roll your eyes occasionally. This will make you feel better, that you aren’t falling for it.
Spend the film thinking about how contrived romantic comedies always are, how annoying the formula is. There is always the falling-in-love montage, the fight that later becomes an amusing misunderstanding. The kiss at the end. Your life was not like this. There was the fight—quite a few of them, actually—but no kiss at the end.
As you leave the theater, vow to never again waste your time with this genre.
Go next month.
On your birthday, you come home to what appears to be an empty house. You call into it and hear rustling and insistent whispering. Your child appears in the kitchen doorway straight ahead of you holding a sign that says “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!” upside down. A hand and part of an arm appear and turn the sign around. There is more whispering.
“Haa-ppy to yooou, haa-ppy to yoooooou, haa-ppy to yoooooooou!” he sings loudly and off key. Drop your purse without noticing it, and run to him, fall to your knees, laughing, hugging him. This is what it’s about, you think. You made this little guy, this miracle. He’s yours.
Look at the nanny with shining eyes and thank her genuinely. You have no idea how she knew it was your birthday.
The first time he cries when the nanny leaves, hold him and stare out of the window after her, watching her flip her purple hair to unlock her car, watching her start the car and drive away. Think of what a horrible mistake you are, not comprehending why your brain chooses to loop on this idea. Let this thought consume you, because in subsequent events you will be more numb, so it’s good to revel in this pain a bit. You may or may not cry.
After a bit, spend time thinking of “more numb” versus “number” and wonder at how the two can never mean the same thing—although they should—because “number” is a completely different word. Try to think of other examples.
See any number of things mothers should not see, things that will probably someday require the equivalent of her yearly salary in therapy.
These things include, but are not limited to: watching her carry your sleeping baby up to bed when you come home late one night, shushing her finger to her lips to remind you not to wake him, the way that he runs and bangs into her and giggles and kisses her loudly all over her face whenever he hugs way that he runs and bangs into her and giggles and kisses her loudly all over her face whenever he hugs her goodbye, her lap not being vacated upon your arrival home from work, and various other tiny monumental occurrences.
Make sure that you do not ever admit to her that she has taught him anything. When he starts making his dinosaurs eat the tops of the trees in his train set, or calls his bath toy a “daw-fin” instead of a “fish,” or says “holy cow,” or actually counts to five instead of always counting “two-free-two-free-two,” smile and pretend to yourself that you taught him that. You sort of remember mentioning that the little toy Beetle he has was a Volkswagen, so that’s why he calls that car his “deedee (little) whe-woah (yellow) Wokswayon.” You speak his language; you usually understand what he is saying when other people do not. Your son is your second language.
There was an explosion of vocabulary directly following the introduction of the nanny, but it’s his age. All kids have such spurts when they reach the age of two. If you could stay home with him all day, he would be developing just as quickly. He wouldn’t rub his temple as he ends sentences with “I think” as you have seen her do, but he’d do something just as cute.
You are the mother. It is your frightening and divine right to be able to take credit for whatever you want.
The dad calls long distance from time to time. The baby is too young to talk on the phone, just holds it to his ear and smiles nervously, looking at you for answers. It is your job to fill the dad in as best you can. New words, anecdotes.
Talk about how great the nanny is, about how lucky you are to have her. Smart. Dependable. Punctual. Use the kind of words you might find in a guide to writing resumes. Oversees all aspects of child care; introduced word “dolphin”; initiated proper counting techniques.
The dad is doing well. The dad is always doing well. Be glad for that, though, because it is kissing cousins with the monthly child support checks. Love the checks, their regularity, what they represent: his responsibilities to you. You have no responsibilities to him anymore.
Stare at the wall, and—when he talks—tell yourself over and over that you’re going to get through this, you’re going to get through this. Love has not been kind to you, no one can dispute that. The sound of his voice fills you with a nauseating concoction of sticky adoration, wanton energy, and overwhelming disappointment.
Sound happy. Pretend you’ve just sucked down a pot of coffee. Black coffee. You want it all. You have it all.
After you’ve said goodbye (again), sit down at the kitchen table with a genuine and heartbreaking sigh, put your elbows on the table, and press the heels of your hands to your eyes. Stay here. You are thinking so fast you can’t hear a word of it. Things are happening.
Your cat will stand outside your shower and mew distractedly, worried for you, wondering how you got in there with all that water: water everywhere, water falling from the ceiling, water all over you. Your cat will pace nervously and paw at the shower door, trying to think of a way to get you out.
Identify with her.
Be outwardly cordial to the nanny, while inwardly you are completely out of control. A menace. Something involving fangs and unseemly juices. The evil villain with the oblique twinkle, the just audible gears turning. Put on your atmospheric tapes before bed and repeat softly to yourself over and over your new mantra: you are lucky to have her, you are lucky to have her.
Read in Working Mother about a woman who hires only non-English speaking nannies and only for six months at a time. Marvel over her selfishness, her possessive detriment. That woman is not a good mother. You are a rock. A breadwinner.
On Saturdays, wiggle toys in front of his face. Attempt different voices when you read books. Put on music and ask him to dance; shake distractedly, telling yourself you are not embarrassed to dance in front of your toddler son. Turn on a video; “Jay Jay the Jet Plane” seems to be his favorite, although you think it’s so asinine it’s almost unwatchable. When he gets fidgety and fusses, wonder briefly to yourself how she does it, keeps him entertained all day. You try to keep him happy, he throws a tantrum, you have a fight, you lose your temper, you stomp out of the room. You remember that he’s only two and come back, hug and kiss him.
She didn’t bear him, you did. It’s your claim to fame, and also your Pearl Harbor. Waterloo! You bore him, and now you just…bore him. You can see it in his eyes, can tell when he sighs quietly and walks to the window like a little man. He is looking to see if she is coming up the walk. He wants real entertainment, not romantic comedies. An aquarium, not a rock.
Go on dates with men you meet through ads. You always told yourself you would never go out with someone who would put an ad in the paper, but you’ve resorted to it because you don’t meet people other ways, so certainly if you would do it, there must be other good people who have no alternative either. Not just fat men and perverts.
They can’t all be foot fetishists.
On these days, be overly confident. Smile and talk loosely and candidly about the difficulties of juggling career and kid. Act knowledgeable and driven. You want it all; you have it all. Tell a few stories about how fulfilling work is and a few stories about how cute your son is. Joke that you are never happy, because at work you miss your kid and at home you miss your work. Then lean in—into the candlelight, making sure that it illuminates your cleavage just so—and say that there aren’t enough hours in the day for how much time you want to be with your son. The weekends go by too fast!
Men your age want someone who will nurture them. Someone who is a good mother.
Perhaps it was your over confidence which scared them away.
The dad is coming to visit. The dad is coming to visit. The dad is coming to visit. It is your involuntary mantra. Wonder if it’s healthy for your inner child to allow you to go shopping for a new outfit and get a facial. Decide it doesn’t really matter; you can’t help it.
The dad looks amazing. The dad always looks amazing. Less hair, but on him it’s sexy. Dog shit and whiskey vomit would look good on him to you. That’s the sad part. One of many. He’s flirting with you and you’re falling for it again. What a bust. Love. Adoration, devotion. It is a hole you fall into over and over; it is something you have to wash off your shoe with very hot water.
Make yourself remember that he left you for another woman. Not even a younger, more attractive woman: a woman eight years your senior and twice your size. You have walked around with an invisible hand held to your cheek since hearing the news.
All the confidence drained from your body the moment he told you he was leaving (everything already packed, the bed made, hospital corners; the baby already in your belly, unknown) and hasn’t yet reappeared. Did it make a noise when that final blow hit you? It must have. Like the air being let out of a balloon.
He’s flirting and you’re not falling for it anymore, at least not as much. How could you allow the man who made you an insecure, barely functioning wreck to seduce you? Close your eyes and revel in this revelation. Of course, when you open your eyes, he will not look less attractive. It’s just not that easy. But it’s a step.
Manage to maintain your integrity for the entire evening: no crying, no apologizing, no apologizing for crying or crying for an apology; this is a first. When it is time for him to leave (again; you can’t help but think it), beam him a smile, hug him quickly. Watch with new appreciation as your son denies him a hug, stands behind you clutching your legs. You are on the same team, your son and you. Shrug at your ex-husband and try not to smile too much at this. Say something like: Well, he doesn’t really know you…
It is important to let this sentence trail off.
You get home a few hours early one afternoon. They have their coats on and are zipping up a bag. Your “summer bag,” a cutesie woven thing with short straps. You got it on your honeymoon. They are about to go to the pool, she says. She has to take him; he would be disappointed because they’d been talking about going all morning. Do you mind? You could come, she says brilliantly.
Okay, you say automatically and then wish you hadn’t.
In the locker room, you have to change in front of each other and your child. You do not want to be prudish and opt for a bathroom stall. You try to act comfortable. Fearless. Naked. Hideous. Act like you couldn’t care less what her body looks like. Stare intently at your son. Watch as he looks from one of you to the other.
These are yours, you want to scream at him, a sagging naked breast in each fist. These belong to you, you little pig! She never breastfed you at two in the morning, did she?
Instead, pull on your suit quickly but not noticeably so.
He calls for her when she swims away: holds his arms out towards her and repeats her name over and over. She tries to act nonchalant about it. She lets you hold him most of the time and doesn’t go too far away, just smiles at you and wiggles your son’s foot. Talks about how nice the water is.
She was a synchronized swimmer in college, she says, smiling at you.
You fight the urge to laugh. Ask her if she’s seen the SNL skit with Martin Short. This seems like the perfect passive-aggressive statement, until she smiles at you sympathetically—condescendingly really—and says yes.
She talks then about how difficult of a sport it is; the intense practices were long and murderous; it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. The stress. She was a ballerina for ten years, she says, and bloody toes are nothing compared to a synchro competition. She could hardly sleep the week before a meet.
Her body had never been so fit. She was all muscle, she says, a hard body. A rock.
Ask her if she’ll show you some moves. Take your son out of her arms. Say: go on, don’t be shy. Secretly hope that she can’t do any of it.
She says that really, she needs nose plugs; it’s difficult to do anything in synchro without them.
Plead that surely there must be something she could show you.
She starts to swim out a bit, giving herself distance. She begins floating on her back. Your son starts to scream, flailing in your arms, reaching out for her. She sits up, swims back over. I think he thought I was drowning or something, she says.
Maybe some other time.
Wake the baby up sometimes in the middle of the night. He used to do this on his own, but now he’s outgrown it. You miss how necessary it made you feel, and you know he’s only getting older.
The nanny calls you at work. She is obviously crying. She explains that she is at the hospital. The baby will be fine, but there was an accident.
Leave work immediately.
Arrive at the hospital visibly shaken, wide-eyed and frantic. The nanny says with brimming eyes that he had fallen backwards off a swing and landed headfirst. Right on his forehead, she says, voice shaking.
Ask very calmly and with an edge to your voice where exactly she was when the baby had taken it upon himself to fall backwards off a swing.
She starts crying again, and you fight a natural urge to put an arm around her. Pushing him, she sobs; I was just pushing him.
Ask very calmly and with an edge to your voice why she was pushing him in such a manner that he would fall off the swing. He’s only two, you say. He can’t do very much on his own. He isn’t very strong. He can’t be pushed like a kid when he’s barely a toddler. She is silent. Say: I’m sorry, but…I really need to have peace of mind when I’m at work. I can’t get anything done if I can’t stop worrying and wondering over when the next time my son gets rushed to the emergency room will be.
It was an accident, she says with disbelief. It’s the first time anything like this has happened; it won’t happen again.
You’ve made her nervous. Finally.
A nurse wearing a smock speckled with cartoon babies all over it comes down the hallway carrying your son. He has a huge bandage on his head that is somehow endearing. Stitched him right up, the nurse says, giving him an affectionate shake. She looks at you: you must be the mother, she says.
Yes, yes, yes. You are the mother. Smile at her, say thanks. Take the child from her a bit too protectively and glare sideways at the nanny. Tell her you’re not sure what you’re going to do. Tell her you’ve been thinking of day care; he should be learning to socialize. Tell her that she’s done a great job, and that you recognize it was just an accident, but that you’re not sure you could ever sleep at night if something like this—or worse—happened again. Tell her it’s nothing personal, and that someday—someday when she’s a mother—she’ll understand.
You will give her a good referral.
Driving home, with baby safe in his car seat, realize how easy it is to hate the woman who was basically raising your child; how ruthless, how senseless. What a cop out.
You’d wanted to open up your home to her; you should have wanted to. It’s hard, though. It is. It’s hard to share your space.
It had been easier at first: it had gone well. You had enjoyed the chatter with her; you had not felt threatened. But it’s hard to get to know people past the acquaintance stage, isn’t it?
She had started to act weird after a little while, too. Always making him perform in some way when you got home, showing you what she had taught him. Putting her talents on display under the guise of your son. Had acted more protective of him. But then, it can’t be easy to raise other people’s kids. Can’t help but get attached. If the relationship’s not good with the parents, you’re kind of assured of never seeing the kids again after you leave. And you will have to eventually leave. And what kind of abandonment issues does that leave the kid with?
After this internal monologue, sigh.
Maybe if you’d rented out an office, a Switzerland. A place outside of your personal space. You could’ve met her there every morning, picked him up in the evening, driven back to your house, yours and his. You would’ve had separate lives: she would’ve had your son during the day, but not your life. Having her come to the house was too much like handing over everything for the day. You didn’t want to give anyone else the keys, and really…who could blame you?
You want to leave your life waiting for you at home while you go to work, and pick it back up, right where it was, when you come home.
Look back at your son, bandaged and buckled in nice and safe. He’s getting sleepy; his eyelids are heavy. You will take him home and carry him up to bed, tuck him in. You are a rock.
An island. But, you think to yourself, you are an island that is part of a small chain of islands. A chain of two. And that something is enough, it has to be, because it’s what you have.
IT’S WHAT YOU HAVE
You are a writer, and so you write what you know. You never knew you wanted to be a mother.
You know about being a nanny; you nannied for a little boy for a year and still babysit for him and his half-sister regularly in the evening.
Write a story about it.
You write fiction, so you are supposed to write out of what you know and into what you don’t know. Base the nanny somewhat on you, base the kid on the boy; for the latter you have little choice, him being the only kid you’ve ever really known. Think about “nanny folklore” and incorporate that; that is the part you don’t know, the part you must write into.
Create a mother who is both sympathetic and insane. Create a mother who is nothing like the mother you worked for, mostly because the character is expected and more interesting that way.
You want to make it a more compelling story than it actually was.
In all actuality, you barely dealt with the mother at all. She was already gone when you got there in the morning and still hadn’t arrived home when you left. You dealt with the father. You got along with him, exceedingly well, in fact. You got along with both of them, actually. You would see her at birthday parties, events, sometimes in the evenings if you babysat. They were without question some of the best bosses you’d ever had: they treated you with respect, as an equal, they paid you fairly and on time. The mother worked as a lawyer for employee rights, and such things were important to her.
Create a mother who is a single parent, who has a terrible relationship with the nanny. She doesn’t treat her with respect, she is jealous of everything, she doesn’t know how to parent her child.
All these things are different from what actually happened, but that is fiction. It makes for a better story; people don’t want to read about nanny and mother sitting around drinking beer and talking after the kid has gone to bed on a Friday night.
You are a writer, and so you write what you know.
You write a scene based on events that actually happened: the mother had gotten off work early one day and come home as you were about to take the kid to the pool. She came with you and the three of you had a lovely time, laughing, swimming together.
Again, this is not the stuff of good fiction.
Recreate the scene when you write it, but twist it around. The mother is embarrassed to change in front of the young nanny. Put in some interesting stuff about the duality of the female body, young versus old, pre versus post motherhood. Have the kid cry every time the nanny swims away.
All these things are different from what actually happened, but that is fiction.
It makes for a better scene this way:
An early draft of the story wins honorable mention in a contest. The finished draft gets placed in the Red Cedar Review.
It has been a little while since you nannied for them full time, but you still babysit for the family a couple times a month. The mother comes home and the kids are in bed, so you and the mother crack a few beers and catch up.
Tell her you’re getting published again, this time in something bigger than your past accomplishments. Laugh a little—you are into your third beer at this point—and tell her that, interestingly enough, the story that is getting published is about being a nanny. Tell her that you are sort of like the nanny, her child is the kid, but the mother is definitely not her.
Later, looking back on this conversation, you will think about your innocence, that seemingly innocuous thing. Hindsight hardening you, you will look back at yourself and laugh, but it will be a bitter, cynical laugh. You had the best of intentions.
It seemed like the honest thing to do.
True enough, she never would have known. The publication was not something that a lawyer might have lying around. Also, while the mother is an avid reader, she once confessed to you—upon hearing that you were a short story writer—that she hated short stories.
She is a woman who loves and hates things; you knew this about her. Black and white, and don’t try to argue with her opinion. Also she loves a fight; you knew this about her too. She always needs to be fighting for a cause.
You knew all this, but you told her anyway.
So you e-mail her the story. You e-mail her, and you are excited to hear back from her on it. Check your e-mail every day after you send it to see if she has responded to it.
Maybe she was busy. Maybe she hadn’t had a chance to get to it yet. Who knew what was happening at work.
You e-mail her again. Remind her that you are visiting a friend on the west coast for the next two weeks, but would she like a babysitter after you come back? You will get back on Wednesday, how about Friday night?
Maybe she was busy.
Who knew what was happening at work that she couldn’t respond to your e-mails.
In two weeks you return home to Michigan from the west coast. You were homesick and hadn’t been expecting it.
You see your roommate, one of your best friends. He is the reason you met the mother at all; she is an old friend of the family.
The two of you catch up on your vacation, happenings you had missed in Ann Arbor while you were gone. You mention that you had e-mailed the mother about babysitting on Friday. Had he talked to her? Did she want a sitter?
The air in the room changes.
You know. You have to ask, but you know.
Did she…read the story?
Yes, your roommate says, no longer able to make eye contact with you, she did.
So…she didn’t like it much.
Your roommate pauses. No, she didn’t.
You look at your roommate. Your roommate looks at you.
Actually, he starts, that’s an understatement. She hated it.
Your stomach feels funny, like you might throw up. She did.
I don’t want to get in the middle of it, your roommate says.
Of course not. You ask if you should call her.
That’s probably not a very good idea. I don’t think she wants to talk to you.
You realize that you are standing, but you’re not sure how. You’re thinking, okay.
Ask him about the kids.
There is a pause that stretches from one side of the room to the other, up both of your bone-numb legs. The pause lifts you slightly above ground level and carries you slowly toward the couch. Midway through your passage, the pause ends with the words: she doesn’t want you to see the kids anymore. The words make you want to stop, make you want to collapse in your tracks, but the motion is somewhere inside and it takes you to where it throws you: face down on the couch.
Read the story again.
Wonder what part it is that reminds the mother of herself.
Focus your energy on the parents, on the anger. Do not let yourself think of the children, that sweet little girl and the boy you couldn’t love more if he had come from your own womb.
It’s keeping you up at night. You read until you are tired—sometimes rereading sentences up to twenty times because you are so distracted—and turn out the lights. The hit of darkness smacks you awake, and your mind tickertapes through all the things you want to say to her, all the defenses.
So many harsh, angry words. So many apologies.
You start and stop speeches, rewrite them in your mind. You try to order your thoughts, fail, try to order your thoughts, fail again.
Your roommate told you not to call. He said perhaps she would cool down in time. He mentioned that she had been badmouthing you to everyone. Her parents, friends, neighbors all know what a terrible person you are. How you maliciously wrote a slanderous story about her and didn’t try to mask it.
Perhaps you are a terrible person. Perhaps you are, and you just didn’t know it.
After three nights, you can’t stand it anymore, and write her an e-mail. You apologize. You explain again that it wasn’t about her. You carefully spell out the main points you’ve been going over and over in your head for the last three nights. Write: “I can’t stop you from burning this bridge but I don’t see who wins if you do” and hope that she will read it the right way, the way you meant it. Words are funny like that. A sentence can be read more ways than one, and if it is true that she hates you now, she will no doubt read it in a tone of voice you did not intend.
Maybe she was busy.
Your fiction workshop leader, who has been nothing short of outstanding since you met, tells you that your story is great. He understands why you’re sad for personal reasons, but he suggests that you actually take it as a compliment.
As writers, he says, we are always looking for universal truths. The fact that the mother identifies enough with a character who wasn’t based on her means the story says something about the human condition.
The dad calls you—coincidentally on your birthday—and leaves a message. It is non-descript and you are feeling optimistic. You were friends, you always got along.
Call the dad back the next morning on your way to work.
The dad tells you he doesn’t want you around his family anymore.
The dad tells you (three times) that you need counseling because you have no ethics, releasing that story without letting them read it first.
You can’t see his family anymore because he doesn’t want them to be fodder for any more of your stories.
He says the word “stories” as though he is cussing. The way a vegan might say the word “meat.”
The dad is yelling at this point and says he has to go, he’s at work. He hangs up.
Your mouth hangs open, full of all the things you want to say in response. For example: you hadn’t been circulating the manuscript out to anyone, you had sent something else and the editor had asked you to send two more stories so the board had something to choose from. You had mentioned that you were writing the story, and she hadn’t seemed very interested. You’re not the type of writer who hands out your new story to all your friends. Most people have to ask two or three times before you’ll actually give them something to read. You didn’t see why you should have to show them the story just because it is about a nanny and you were their nanny. The story is not about them. They don’t own it, and they’re not in it.
Obviously you handled it in a way that offended them and for that you are truly sorry. But everyone makes mistakes. They should give you the benefit of the doubt. This is your first offense.
Your life is starting to resemble your story more and more.
The typeset version of your story comes from the Red Cedar Review. Nothing like this has ever happened to you before. You have not sent your stories out very often; you’re rejection letter file is still what could be called thin.
Centered at the top of the page: your story’s title.
There it is: your name in print. You never liked anything as much as seeing your name in print. There is no sweetness in the moment though. You look at the typeset version of your story and sigh. You love this story, but it has caused you more trouble than it’s worth.
Read the typeset version. You have to, to check for mistakes.
Tick off the sections in your head as you read them: that didn’t happen; nope; nope; that didn’t happen; that sort of happened, but not like that; nope; nope.
Briefly allow yourself to think of the kids and what they might be thinking.
Start to take it personally. One of the main characteristics of the fictitious mother is that she is threatened by the nanny to the point of madness; she hates the nanny.
Wonder what part it is that reminds the mother of herself.
Give in. Watch the videotape you took of the little boy and his sister. The polar bears at the zoo skinny and yellow, prompting the boy to say “wheer da beers?” over and over, even though you were pointing at them; a number of random days where you’d taped him doing anything. There’s a great two minutes, his little face filling the screen with a look of wonder as he contemplates ducks in the Huron River, thoughts manipulating his eyebrows, finally looking at you (the camera) and calling them good friends. “But are dey best buddies like me and you?” You’d made a copy of the zoo scenes for them and now you wonder what they’ve done with it. Certainly they can’t watch it, your voice and sometimes whole person a large part of the action.
They must’ve destroyed it, hid it in a box somewhere, thrown it away. Must’ve taken down the self portrait you’d done in crayon that had hung on the refrigerator for over two years with those of the kids; scratched the numerous sticker pictures off of the fridge, walls, phone, etc.
Watch the video twice. Don’t hold back; no one is watching. Watch the duck part, the last one on the tape, four times, and then tape over the scene. They must’ve erased you from their house, but you still have framed pictures of the kids in your room, living room, kitchen. You have drawings they each did in a file folder. Hang them up in your closet, behind your clothes. Occasionally, move your hangers to the side and stare at them.
You have fantasies—elaborate fantasies—that the mother runs a red light and smashes into your car, almost killing you. It disturbs you, getting so much comfort from this masochistic scenario. You are not quite sure what it means, are not quite sure what you think would actually come of such an incident.
It strikes you that the mother might have the exact same fantasy.
It is not the only thing you share.
Truth be told, you had written the story about yourself. The nanny is you physically, and through her relationship with the boy; as far as the mother goes, there are emotional similarities. You wrote it about the deepest, darkest corners of nannyhood, the part you had hidden away from everyone. That is the irony of it, really—that you and the mother share these spaces that have been revealed, and it is what has split you apart.
Because of this, because you understand these emotions that have alienated her from you, you are able to feel a great deal of compassion for her. This is distracting, and while you are happy in some ways to love your enemy, it was less complicated to just hate her.
Flash forward six months. Independence Day. You are working at a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor and all your coworkers have gathered on the patio to watch the parade.
A huge cloth dove held aloft by six people fluttering in the slight wind, peace signs of all sizes and colors on sticks, a whole group of drummers banging on buckets. Your coworkers are clapping and cheering, you are laughing when you notice, at about ten o’clock in your line of vision, the family. It strikes you as ironic that they are in the peace section of the parade. They are holding hands, the two kids in the middle, both staring, mouths open, over their shoulders, directly at you. You freeze, then wave enthusiastically. The girl waves over her shoulder, the boy just keeps staring at you, his incredulous face ducking around the people that move between you, until you cannot see him anymore.
You stumble inside to the bathroom and throw up. Not a lot, but enough to make a point. What that look meant has made you sick. It was the look of someone who has seen a ghost, someone back from the dead.
Two weeks later, a scene too sad to retell, an event branded on your mind that you can’t force yourself to put words to.
The scab is off and you’re right back where you started. You cannot ignore the kids anymore. Dream of the little boy nightly. Sometimes his half-sister is there, usually saying your name over and over as she would back in the days when you were with her often. In the dreams, you are usually carrying the boy, carrying him different places as you did when he was barely a toddler, back when you first started nannying for him.
Wake up from these dreams every night and turn on your light. Somehow the anger was better than this sadness that you can’t find a place to keep. There is a dent in the middle of your ceiling that has always looked inexplicably like a helicopter to you. Stare at it and remember how he used to say helicopter: “elly-ca-ca.”
You never knew you wanted to be a mother.
Remember different things you did with him. Watching the leaves fall one autumn, you explained the seasons to him, explained that everything is always growing and changing. When you asked if he could feel himself growing, he paused so long you assumed he’d forgotten the question. It was then that you felt his little hand grip yours as he said, “I can feel myself growing!”
You can feel yourself growing too. Not in a direction that you wanted to, but growing nonetheless. In a funny way, it makes you feel more like a writer, estranging people with your work. All writers must have such tales of their abilities to disturb.
Perhaps someday you will see him again. Perhaps someday the mother will come to her senses. Maybe you’ll have to wait until he gets to an age where his parents no longer get to choose his enemies.
The dreams continue. Will he start to age in them? Will you watch him grow up through your dreams?
He was one of the best friends you ever had, and there’s nothing you can do to fix the situation. But that is enough, it has to be, because it’s what you have.