Where's the baby?
I called out in the dark.
Half asleep, I sat up in bed.
Where’s the baby? I asked again.
I’d been troubled recently by dreams of abandonment
and forgetting—vague, formless visions and fragments—
the only tangible evidence most nights, a sweat-soaked
pillow. No clear images or stories I could relate the next
morning. But tonight I was awakened by worry over a
baby, a child we hadn’t really even considered seriously. I
called out and my wife mumbled her response;
We don’t have a baby.
Then she rolled over and went back to sleep. The
dog paced the hall and stood in the door, looking up
at me. I could just make out her shape in the shadows.
Emptiness settled over the house again and I tried to
quiet my trembling brain.
Some nights I wondered if I was still recovering.
It had only been a few months since sickness racked
my body, leaving me dehydrated from vomiting and
suffering non-stop searing headaches that made it nearly
impossible to move or sleep or think clearly. It felt as
if someone was trying to shove my eyeballs out from
the inside. I spent almost a week in the fetal position
before I was admitted to hospital, given a spinal tap,
and diagnosed with viral meningitis. I couldn’t think
straight for a while afterward, my brain slowly emerging
from the fog of infection. I tired easily, had trouble
eating, and lost 17 pounds in two weeks before I started
Two nights after my baby dream, I sat up in bed again,
awakened by a new noise this time. Something loud and
sharp. Unusual and shattering. Out of context. Outside
and unwanted. I slipped on a robe and walked to the
back of the house. I opened the sliding glass door and
peered up into a shark-bittten sky, ragged with clouds.
The air felt cold on my chest. I heard something out in
the street, some kind of commotion. The dog bounced
behind me, her hackles stiff, and the neighbor pets
howled a warning call.
What could it be?
Who is out there, in the dark?
The eyes of streetlights burned overhead like Orson’s alien
ships and the air looked like it had been scrubbed clean,
shined, and buffed clear, as if I was staring through glass,
at the night scene captured in a jar. I walked through
the weedy yard, the dog tracking at my heel, and peered
around the garage. In the street, a Jeep lay on its side,
the wheels exposed to my view. Three boys in baseball
caps stood around. Nobody seemed hurt. But I heard
one of them say, “It’s leaking gas,” as another boy dug
out his cell-phone.
They’d taken the corner too fast and rolled their
We lived at an intersection, a corner where a short
side street that fed into a series of boxy apartment
complexes T’d into another street. Police sometimes
parked on the side street to catch cars speeding down the
other one. The corner wasn’t an especially noisy corner
and it was located across from a large flood-control
basin perfect for walking the dog. That night there was
nobody else around. Just us and stars.
It was late, well past 2 a.m. and I should have gone
back to bed. But I tiptoed closer, barefoot in the wet
grass, because I wanted to see more. The boys were lucky
the Jeep didn’t roll all the way over. I watched them and
I could see the panic in their movements, the worry in
the way they put their hands to their heads. They were
probably drunk and hoping the police didn’t show up.
I saw those boys, vulnerable beneath the streetlights,
and thought of my own youth gone, the memories of
similar misadventures with friends, and I wanted to
help. I wanted to tell them to run or rush to their side
and help lift the Jeep—which they tried to do without
my help, to no avail. I wanted to reach out to them,
but I was nearly naked beneath my robe; and I knew
that perhaps the best way I could help them was by not
calling the police.
I watched the boys’ friends arrive in a SUV, and the five
of them, working quickly, tied a tow-rope to the roll-bar
of the Jeep and then used the other truck to pull it back
upright. It was an impressive display of teamwork and
togetherness, of problem solving and common sense—
the sort of things I imagined any father would want for
his son; and I felt a strange surge of pride. I wanted to
cheer as the boys untied the rope, jumped in the Jeep,
started it up, and drove away. The dog and I walked
back into the rented house where we lived, not a home
so much as a stopping point, an intersection between
youth and something else. I moved on my skinned feet,
back to my wife, over the night floors dusted with the
expectant promise of those words:
We don’t have a baby.
I still couldn’t shake the language of my wake-up
dream, not this night, not with the moon so fat, not
with empty rooms calling. Through the sprinkle of
broken window glass on the asphalt, I’d seen the tar of
my future, thick with hope for a child, and I could not
run from it.
In the Summer of 2001, just months before 9/11 would
change the world forever, a serial rapist stalked Fort
Collins, Colorado, prowling neighborhoods at night,
slipping in through open windows, unlocked sliding
doors and assaulting women. Everywhere were the
sounds of denial:
“Things like this don’t happen here.”
“I never lock my doors at night.”
“It’s just too hot. I have to keep the screen door
“This is Fort Collins.”
Things like this don’t happen here.
We lived two blocks from campus in a tiny house
with purple trim. I worked an 8-5 job, advising students
on how to get into classes or how to appeal a parking
ticket or how to avoid getting suspended; and I spent
much of my time anticipating, dreading, attending, and
loathing the odd theater of office staff meetings.
If I was extremely lucky, I could combine my
caffeine jitters with the occasional sugar rush from
a donut or nut-crusted muffin. The more meetings I
attended the less and less I said. I made $27,000 a year
and thought there was a pretty good chance that I’d be
doing that job—or one like it—for the rest of my life.
We didn’t own a house. We each drove 12 year-old cars
and we were up to our necks in credit card debt.
And we were trying to make a baby.
I am a notoriously light sleeper—known to bolt
upright in bed at the slightest noise. Always have been.
And I’d been thinking a lot about this baby. I felt
unsettled. A bit off. Spinning in something of a mental
One night as my wife slept next to me with the
windows open—possibly already pregnant--I awoke to
the subtle sound of our side gate, rattling and opening,
a sound I knew because I’d made it myself thousands
of times, a sound I knew intuitively as a harmless,
simple sound, but also a sound that my brain, even in a
semi-conscious state knew was only harmless in certain
I looked out the window to see a tall dark figure
walk past the frame. I followed him with my eyes as
I stood and moved toward the open back door, just a
screen door between me and the dark. I wore nothing
but a pair of boxer shorts. As he came into view again
out the back door, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Get
the fuck out of here. Now, motherfucker!” and the man
stumbled, clearly startled by my outburst.
He said, “Whoa, man,” then paused, struggling to
stand completely upright and said, “Whoa,” again.
“Get the fuck out of my yard now, motherfucker!”
I barked again.
“What’s going on?” my girlfriend asked.
“There’s someone in the yard.”
“OK, OK, man. Jeez,” the man said and lurched
toward the back of our yard.
The man was clearly drunk and bewildered.
“Goddamnit,” I muttered, as I watched him stumble
blindly toward the wire fence at the back of the yard. I
tried not to laugh when he hit the fence full stride and
fell back into the grass like he’d been punched.
It was funny for a moment. But then he got up
and walked back toward the house and before I could
even start screaming at him again, making as much
scary noise as I could muster, he raised his hands in
defeat and shuffled back down the side of the house,
crashed through the gate, and left it swinging open as
he disappeared into the night. I thought about following
after him, taking him aside, helping find his house. I
didn’t want him to get hurt, but I had the news reports
rattling around in my head. What if he had been the
rapist, and he was searching for an open door? What if I
hadn’t been home to protect my wife? I called the police
and told them that I had just chased a man out of my
yard but that I didn’t think he was the rapist.
“I think he’s just a drunk college student,” I told
them. “He’s probably harmless,” I said. Probably
someone else’s kid. Just trying to find his way home.
“Probably,” the voice said.
The night we brought our first-born child home from
the hospital, I knew the colors of my world had changed
forever. We lived in the same tiny two-bedroom house
just a block from campus, located right in the middle of
the rowdiest student neighborhood. Just two days old,
our son slept for only a couple of hours at a stretch, and
it was my turn to be up with him. I checked the clock
and turned on the TV. It was 3:00 a.m.. I paced around
the small house carrying him in the crook of my arm,
bouncing and singing songs, just trying to soothe him
back to sleep.
He chortled and I looked down at his red and purpletinted
body, all shriveled up like a tiny old man with
these enormous white-socked feet. His neck drooped
like a wet noodle; his fists curled into tiny wrinkled balls.
The blood in his veins coursed just beneath thin new
skin, and the soft spots on his skull pulsed rhythmically
with his heartbeat.
The theme song for Northern Exposure, one of my
favorite shows, had just started when I heard a racket
at the side-door—the sound I knew instinctively as
someone turning the knob, pushing against the deadbolt
lock, trying to get inside our house.
I looked down at our son and felt this instant click
of resolve in my gut, this whir and hum of images,
impressions, colors and sounds. I felt suddenly—quite
surprisingly—incredibly protective, almost animal. My
hackles raised, I peeked around the corner, not sure
what to expect, my senses tingling, ready for anything.
Standing at the side-door was not a burglar, intruder
or rapist, but a pudgy girl in a black hooded sweatshirt—
maybe seventeen or eighteen, and quite obviously
drunk. I saw her through the glass. She teetered on the
porch, methodically turning the knob. I watched her for
a few moments, glad the door was locked up tight. She
kept turning the knob and pushing her shoulder against
I stepped up and rapped on the glass. The girl
didn’t move, didn’t even look up at me. I knocked again
and she finally locked her wandering gaze onto me. I
pointed at the baby curled up in my arm, his tiny red
fists clutched up to his chin.
“Wrong house,” I said through the glass.
She just stared, squinted her eyes, and then looked
down at the baby.
“Wrong house!” I barked.
She threw her hands up in a show of surrender,
turned slowly, and fell flat on her face in our flowerbed.
I called the police, laid the baby down in bed next
to my wife, and watched the girl through the door until
the cops arrived. She lay there in the dirt for a while,
then rolled out into the driveway, sat up, and pulled the
hood of her sweatshirt down over her eyes. She sat like
that until the police showed, their red and blue lights
pulsing and dancing across the walls of our living room.
I cracked the door and gave a statement to the police.
After trying in vain to question the drunken girl, they
loaded her into an ambulance and took her to detox.
After the police left I paced around the house for
a while, watching snippets of Northern Exposure; but I
was easily distracted. I couldn’t help but think about
how the situation might have been different. What if I’d
forgotten to lock the door? What if she made it into the
house? What if she’d been a man? What if she’d hurt
Strangely enough I wasn’t so worried about what she
might have done. Instead what worried me—frightened
me actually—was how quickly, coolly, and rationally I
had decided that I could destroy anyone or anything
that threatened my son. He was just two days old. I was
just barely a father, still green. But some instinct clicked
inside and I knew, as soon as I heard that doorknob
rattling, that I could kill to protect him from harm.
copyright 2018 OP19 Books LLC