Life is defined by a series of connected memorable moments. It doesn’t seem that way sometimes. It’s easy to believe that major life events happen independent of each other, with no correlation or lines to connect them to each other. It’s easy to create individual mountains, neglecting the entire range. However, I’ve learned that they’re all connected; the moment I learned to ride a bike, the day my parents told me they were getting a divorce, the night I lost my virginity, the morning I opened my acceptance letter to college, the day I graduated, meeting my now ex-husband, and giving birth to my daughter – these moments are all connected in a series of mountains and valleys to mark my journey to this point. Now, looking back, I feel like I’m connecting the events of an epic crime scene. There’s a map in front of me with pushpins and string and Post-It notes, and a team of experts busying themselves with identifying the pattern and pinpointing the exact moment everything went downhill.
Becoming a mother didn’t suit me the way it suited other women that I knew. The connection wasn’t instantaneous. Our daughter, Mary, was a difficult baby. She was the baby that old ladies talk about in nurseries – the one who stayed up wailing from colic, who needed special formula for her stomach, who didn’t sleep through the night for at least a year. We didn’t even attempt getting a babysitter for her first two years because we were embarrassed of just how much she needed from us. We both felt like parental failures, and we passive-aggressively batted our frustrations at each other in a never-ending softball game. I waited longer than anticipated to return to work because Mary needed me. She needed to be held and coddled and loved, and I didn’t trust anyone else to take care of her the way I did. I was determined to be a good mother, even though sometimes when I held her, I felt like I was holding a stranger – a stranger who had my eyes and my smile.
My husband, Mark, loved her the moment she exited my body. He stayed up with us during our long nights, dragging himself to work the next day with bags under his eyes. He helped me change her and feed her and bathe her, relentlessly loving her through the frustration. There was a part of me, a selfish part, that knew as his love for her grew, my slice of the “love pie” grew skinnier. I tried to quell my budding resentment, but there were days I couldn’t look him in the eye while he coddled and played with Mary because I knew the time spent with her meant less time with me – the love showered over her would turn mine into a trickle. This is why they say people shouldn’t have kids to save the marriage; because, if the marriage is already crumbling, the effort and time that should be spent saving it gets reallocated to loving someone else.
The day it happened is still a blur. It’s only been six months, but it feels like six years. I relive the moments I remember with violent accuracy, but everything else feels cloudy – like a dream. It was March 26thof this year. I remember calling in to work, feigning sick. I told my boss I had been throwing up, trying to be as gory as possible to ward off any questions. He let me off, reluctantly, and I kissed Mark goodbye as he left for the day. I liked having the house to myself with Mary because we had finally settled into a routine. I made a quick breakfast, turned on her cartoons, and resigned myself to the couch for the day. I pulled up the queue of movies I had recorded and settled on “Pretty in Pink.” With Mary in her playroom watching some show with a British pig, I soaked in the peaceful moment as the opening credits started playing.
I must’ve dozed off, because Mary came to me on the couch complaining that she needed to pee. “Potty training” had just started, and the continuous trips to the bathroom were exhausting. I tore myself away from the comfort and walked her down the hall to the bathroom, groaning as she excitedly repeated that she needed to pee in a constant loop no matter how many times I said I understood. As we walked down the hall, I saw the pictures from the wedding on the wall, hanging neatly with a little dust over the frames. I paused as Mary raced ahead of me, staring at a picture of Mark and I kissing in our wedding attire. We looked happy. As I watched the toddler bouncing in front of me, smiling and giggling, I felt the pang of resentment stir.
Around lunchtime, I decided to take Mary to the park so she could burn off some energy. I packed a small lunch, loaded the car, and we took off to our destination as she whined in the backseat. I knew her complaints would cease when she saw the park and the swings and the slide, but, as we made the drive, her voice sounded like nails on a chalkboard. I considered turning around, but we made it in one piece. She raced to the swings, begging to be pushed, and I instantly regretted my decision. I watched other children, much older than Mary, happily playing by themselves while their parents sat on the bench scrolling through their phones, and I felt jealous. I wanted this stage to be over. I wanted Mary to grow up, to move away, to fast-forward through her milestones and give me my life back. I watched her giggle in her little swing, and I gave a half-hearted smile while I choked back tears.
It was only noon, but I felt exhausted by the day – that’s how depression works, and depressed was a mild way to explain my feelings at that moment. It was a bone-deep sadness that ached. There were moments those days where I felt like a bystander to my own life. I saw Mary, I saw Mark, I interacted with them, but the real me was standing twenty yards away, watching it all happen. I would give her a nod when I saw her in the corner, but, no matter how close I came to her, I couldn’t marry us again. I couldn’t mesh the two people into one. She was in the room, but she wasn’t me anymore. We had separated.
Mary and I left the park with our lunches untouched. I reasoned we would eat when we got home, but she fell asleep in the car. Her naps were crucial to our day. If she missed one, the rest of the day would be ruined by her crankiness, so I let her sleep. I gently took her from the car seat, feeling her weight in my arms, and she suddenly felt heavy – like a boulder. As she had gotten older, I could see more of Mark in her face, especially when she slept. She had my smile, but she had his stoicism. When she was relaxed and sleeping, she could have been his twin. I carried her inside, put her in her bed, and went back to the couch.
The couch had become my safe place. I slept there a lot during her newborn months, with her on my chest. At the time, contact had been the only way to settle her down. She refused to sleep alone in her crib, so Mark and I took turns holding her while she slept and feeding her throughout the night. Sometimes I would wake up, feel her on my chest, and panic because I had forgotten her existence. I had forgotten she was in our world now. The momentary panic would subside, giving way to the crushing responsibility. I was amazed how someone so small, so fresh to the world, had already changed mine. I had been catapulted into motherhood, and she had no idea that she was the reason everything was upside down.
During our fights after she was born, I would always take the couch. Mary would sleep beside Mark, and I would retreat to the safety of the couch where I could sleep alone – where I could shirk the responsibility of motherhood for a night. It was the closest I could come to a break, so I would instigate fights in an effort to be banished from the bed for the night. I was safe there, away from Mary and Mark.
I dozed off again while she napped. I woke up to Mary crying in her room. She had wet her bed, again. I looked at the clock and it read 2:30, so she had been awake for some time, probably crying for attention while I slept in my safe space. I couldn’t even feel guilty. I was tired, morbidly so. As much as our daytime routine rested on her naptimes, I also needed to sleep. I changed her clothes and cleaned her up, her tiny frame shaking from the cold of the washcloth as it dripped water down her body. She looked up to me, confused. She always looked confused. The world was new to her, and I was standing over her with my exasperated stare while she tried to figure out what was going on and why she felt so cold.
I had thoughts about killing her before. They were fleeting and small, but they were there the entire time after she was born. I was excited throughout my pregnancy, ready to meet my daughter. I envisioned bonding moments in the bathtub and nights spent in a rocking chair, holding her while she slept and gazing into her face with the glow of motherhood illuminating the room. I read every book, talked to every mother I knew, and did hours of research. I wanted to prepare myself for the influx of love I was going to experience, but I never considered that I might go the opposite direction. I read about post-partum depression, but I thought it was negligible in my case. I just knew I was going to love her fiercely.
Then, she drained me. She was born, and she started taking things from me – like a petty thief. First, it was sleep. I was sleep deprived and verging on insanity, but she still needed more. Then, it was Mark. I was lonely and needed attention, but she still needed more. She took my job, because I couldn’t return to work until I knew she could be left alone with someone other than me or Mark. She took over areas of the house with her toys and clothes. She stole my identity – right down to my green eyes and crooked smile, which she wore on her face almost out of spite. I loved her, but she still needed more.
I gathered a load of laundry with her soiled sheets as she sat in the playroom, tossing her toys onto the floor and laughing to herself. The next few hours are fuzzy. I knew Mark wouldn’t be home until after six, so I tried to busy myself around the house, tending to Mary as she needed. I packed a bag, but I don’t remember why. I did that a lot when I was home alone. I would pack a bag with clothes and toiletries, planning a reason to leave for a few days but never following through. Mary still hadn’t eaten lunch, and she was getting hungry. The sandwiches I made were soggy, so I made her a fresh one and stepped outside while she ate, hoping the fresh air would help me wake up.
I came inside a few minutes later to find Mary had torn her sandwich apart, throwing the pieces across the kitchen. She giggled at her mess, but I yelled. I yelled so loudly that I startled myself. She started crying, understandably, and I went to work trying to clean up the crumbs and wipe the peanut butter off the cabinets. I put her in her room for “time-out.” The more I tried to clean and wipe up the mess, the angrier I felt. It was never enough. I had taken the day off work to spend time with her, and she had re-payed me with neediness and messes. I cleaned until my fingers felt numb and the fumes from the products started to make me dizzy. I could hear Mary crying in her room, but I tuned her out. The clock said it was 4:45, but it didn’t feel so late. The whole day had been wasted, and I hadn’t even managed to feed my child lunch yet.
By the time I went to her room to relieve her of her punishment, she had fallen asleep in her bed. I looked at her little face, dreaming away the frustration from the past twenty minutes, and it all boiled to the surface. The anger, the resentment, the frustration – it all overflowed and poured onto her tiny, sleeping body. I didn’t plan it. I grabbed a small pillow from the bottom of her bed, pressed it over her face, and sank my weight into it. I felt her push against me. I could hear her muffled cries underneath the pillow, but I didn’t ease my grip. I didn’t stand up. I pressed harder and harder until she went limp, and then I held it there for a few more moments, ensuring she wouldn’t wake up.
Mark came home to find me still sitting there beside our lifeless daughter. He pushed me off the bed, grabbed Mary’s body, and raced to the car. He drove her to the hospital, but she had been dead for hours at that point. He confessed that he thought I had killed her, and the police showed up within the hour. I was taken in, and I confessed instantly. There was no reason to lie.
Thanks to my instant admission of guilt, the trial was relatively quick. When a mother kills her child, she has to undergo a battery of psychiatric testing. It came as no surprise that I had been suffering from undiagnosed post-partum depression. Mark sent divorce papers to me in jail last month, and I signed them, hastily. I thought about our wedding photos, and I realized he would never forgive me – I would never be his wife again.
Mary was almost three years old when I killed her. When I let my mind wander, it fills with happy memories – her first laugh, her first steps, the excitement when she finally used the bathroom like a “big girl.” It’s crippling, so I keep myself busy. The guilt and regret are most potent at night, when the cells are filled with women crying in their beds. Some of the higher-pitched girls even sound like Mary, and I press my pillow over my own face – the same way I held it over hers.
Like I said in the beginning, it’s easy to assume that big moments in life standalone, independent of each other – it’s easy to miss the mountain range that ties them all together. The day I killed Mary was a big moment, and, sometimes, I trick myself into thinking it was the result of one bad day, singularly. I tell myself if I had just gone to work or maybe skipped the visit to the park or made a ham sandwich instead of peanut butter, Mary would still be alive, and I wouldn’t be in jail. I would still have Mark and my marriage, and we could’ve spent the last six months repairing our lost love.
Now, all I have is time to connect my mountain range. One bad day didn’t turn me into a murderer – it doesn’t happen that way for anyone. The day I killed Mary was just another day in the life of a mother, filled with frustrations and intermittently interrupted with smiles and laughter and peace. No, the day I killed my daughter is just as connected to that “bad day” as it is to the day I learned to ride a bike or the day I drove a car for the first time. I see a therapist now. I told her my theory, but she didn’t seem impressed. She’s forced to see me, and I can tell she dreads our visits. I’m hoping, however, that if I can figure it out, connect my mountain range, maybe she’ll warm up to me - maybe I won’t be the social pariah of the jail.
I like to believe that if I could explain to everyone, even Mark when he’s ready, that I have a story – an entire journey – they’ll come to realize that I’m more than the woman who killed her daughter. I’m more than my one bad day. Until then, I just sit here on a loop, reliving the day I killed Mary. I’m stuck somewhere in those hours, and I see myself in the memories. I’m standing on the other side of the room, watching myself hold the pillow over her face, and I can’t break free. I can’t help. I can’t look away. I imagine that all those moments I felt like I was being watched by the “real me” as I went through the motions, it was the me from jail – tuning in to get research, to denote the landmarks, to complete the map.